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Amateur Hour

Might as Well Zwack

by | Nov 14, 2020

Because what else is there to do right now? Halloween was sad and Thanksgiving won’t happen and the meds are barely holding you together. So why not try a new spirit?

I’m willing to bet you’ve never had Unicum, sold here under the brand name Zwack, let alone heard of this Hungarian herb liqueur, but that doesn’t matter, because it is the answer to all your post-election trauma!

Zwack is a perfectly balanced apéritif, less bark-bitter than fernet, but with not too much of the licorice-and-fennel of Jäger, either. It’s a digestif, which means it’s traditionally served to aid digestion. And it has an interesting backstory, one that serves as a good reminder of the cultural treasures immigrants bring with them when they come to this country for a better life. That’s especially important during these turbulent times, when hundreds of children of asylum-seekers have been ripped from their parents’ arms and lost in the system with no way to be reunited, ever. It’s perfect for a society that’s seemingly lost its sense of compassion (assuming it ever had it), along with its ever-loving mind. Zwack is the digestif for that sick feeling I’ve had in the pit of my stomach for five or so months now.

According to Zwack &Co., the liqueur was first served in 1790, to Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, by a royal physician named Dr. Zwack. In 1840, a descendent of the good doctor founded a company to make the drink, which is considered one of Hungary’s national beverages. During World War II, the Zwack factory in heavily bombed Budapest was leveled. By 1948, it had been rebuilt, but it was nationalized by the state and the Zwack family fled the country. Thus began a decades-long transatlantic battle to wrest control of the name and the apéritif from the Communist functionaries who’d seized it.


Long story short, the Zwack family was eventually able to return to Hungary and buy their business back. In the early 1990s, the original recipe was reintroduced to the Hungarian market. Owner and CEO Péter Zwack also served as Hungary’s ambassador to the United States from ’90 to ’91.

Now that you’ve voted to save our democracy, you can sit back and enjoy Zwack in many familiar classics. I started with a cocktail similar to a traditional Negroni. Like a Negroni, it is stirred, not shaken, and built over ice in an old-fashioned or rocks glass, garnished with a slice of orange.

photo/Jessie Lacey

Swing State of Mind
2 oz Zwack liqueur
1 oz sweet vermouth
12 oz Campari
12 oz lime juice
3 drops orange bitters

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