Adventures in Budapest: Zwack Unicum Museum

“Das ist ein unikum!” the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II is said to have exclaimed upon tasting the now-famous liqueur, and naming it in the process. The linguist(s) amongst you would have translated the phrase already, but for everyone else Joseph said “That is unique!” If you have ever tasted Unicum ‘unique’ is probably the safest way to describe it, especially in Hungary where it has become the national ‘shot.’ Let’s just say that Doctor Zwack, Unicum’s creator, intended for it to be medicinal and that certainly reflects in the taste!

If you ever visit Hungary, and Budapest in particular, you’re likely to see this chappy staring down at you from the bar.

The famous Drowning Man

He’s known as the Drowning Man, and this iconic poster comes from the turn of the century. I assume they’re referring to 1900 rather than 2000. The Drowning Man is, I suppose, Unicum’s mascot, but does he remind anyone else of those “My Goodness, my Guinness! adverts? Anyway, the museum gives you the chance to become the Drowning Man yourself, without getting even the slightest bit wet!

Me as Unicum’s famous Drowning Man

So, into the museum itself. It’s important to bear in mind at this point that Unicum is a family business. The museum really does reflect this well; it tells the story of the drink (Edward, Prince of Wales, was apparently a fan) and the company (nationalised until 1989) but the main narrative is the story of the Zwack family. For you see, dear Reader(s) in 1948 Janos Zwack fled Hungary, to live in the USA whiilst his brother Bela remained in the factory as it was nationalised by the communist regime.

From this point, mentions of Bela become a bit scarce. However, the museum is full of stories about the American branches exploits, such as Peter Zwack who was at a First Aid for Hungary demonstration that got a bit out of hand:

“In our country, Hungary, we do not have baseball or the aiming would be more accurate,” he joked to the newspaper.

The Unicum Museum

You can certainly feel the american influence in the museum. It might not be obvious from the pictures, but there is certainly something ‘American’ about the place. It might be the slight cheesiness or it might be the family portraits but you can tell that the time in the US of A had an impact on the Zwacks. However, the museum is a charming treat, just make sure you find the right door (I didn’t, but the staff were very friendly and pointed me in the right direction).

Also, try the liqueur it’s not all that bad, it’s quite… what’s the word… unique.

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