Opinion: Peter Zwack 1927-2012


Sad news followed olympic gold medals for Hungarians on Sunday. Peter Zwack, re-founder of the Unicum production, head of Zwack Unicum Plc died in Italy on Sunday (05/08/2012).

Serious bartenders know the name Zwack. If you`re not a serious bartender, go to a bar that considers itself serious and look at the drinks shelf! Can you see a sphere shaped green bottle with a golden cross on it? That`s what I am talking about: Zwack`s Unicum.

This is one of the national spirits of Hungarians. Bitter as fuck, yet it is supersmooth and tender. With its bitterness it is the perfect companion to survive the absurdities of the daily life in central Europe. Unicum is a bit thicker than Fernet Branca, but it has more complexity as well. Made of more than 40 herbs and spices, it was our ultimate remedy for all the diseases and mental conditions during university years. I remember once drinking about 1.5 litres during a party. The following day I found out how it does not really cure the hangover triggered by its overconsumption.

The jolly green ball antidepressant for better or worse, our relationship to it was almost religious. Unicum had been a traditional sponsor of the national waterpolo team, watch them marching for their 4th olympic gold medal in a row!

The world surely would be poorer with another excellent bitter if it wasn`t for Mr Peter Zwack. The great-grandson of the founder and the original inventor of the recipe Joseph Zwack he had an adventurous life. Born in 1927, he survived the Holocaust in war torn Hungary, and fled the country with his father after the communists came to power in 1947. He went to Italy first and than to the US, taking the recipe with him. The commies were left with a fake recipe, and this was a lethal blow to the system, though it struggled on without genuine Unicum for a couple of decades.

Peter Zwack learned the drinks trade in the United States, he was as successful entrepreneur running a wine importing firm in New York. He did serious charity work raising funds for the refugees of the 1956 revolution of Hungary. He returned to Europe in 1970 to run the family company.  In 1988, around the time of the system change Peter Zwack returned to Hungary. He re-started the production of the genuine Zwack Unicum – by then a global brand – in Budapest in 1991 in the original factory. Later on he was elected to be a liberal MP. He passed on the leadership of the company to the 6th generation of the Zwack family in 2008.

Mr Zwack, thanks for the bitter shots, and the spirit!

Image source

About Author

Gergely Barsi Szabó

Gergely Barsi Szabó got his first sommelier job when he arrived in London a few years ago. As he puts it, 'At Le Bouchon Breton they gave me the wine list, pushed me to the floor, and pretty much that was it.' Starting out as a journalist in his native Hungary, Barsi Szabó moved closer and closer to the world of wine. At Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2005 he had a satori moment, realising that this was an actual industry, and a fun one at that. Ever since then he has worked, on and off, in the trade. He is most interested in what is in the bottle, and even more importantly, in the people involved.

Leave A Reply