Das ist ein Unikum dr. Zwack!
According to the family legendry, everything started in 1790. Emperor Joseph II (Habsburg king of Hungary), who was struggling from severe stomach-complaints, tasted the herbal liqueur of his court physician dr. Zwack. Allegedly, his Majesty liked it so much that the Zwack ancestor owed him not only the honour of his Monarch, but the naming of his drink too.
‘Das ist ein Unikum, dr. Zwack!’ (This is unique.) – sighed when he tasted it. This is how the special story of the already listed Hungaricum Unicum and of the family Zwack began.
The factory comes first
In 1840, when the company J. Zwack and Co. was established, the factory was on Váci Road (Budapest). After becoming the official supplier of the imperial court, it overgrew its earlier headquarters and moved to Soroksári Road, where it still operates. It was the largest distillery of the Monarchy in its heydays and more than two hundred types of liqueurs and spirits were produced there.
The founding József Zwack was followed by his son and grandsons on the head of the factory. The success story of the factory was unbroken; the fruitful company seemed to be unshakable even in the WWI. They were able to adapt to demands back then. Unicum was filled into hip flasks especially for soldiers.
Family conflicts did not hinder the operation of the factory. By 1926, József Zwack’s grandsons János and Béla also joined the company leadership. The firm was profitable even between the two world wars despite that sometimes the brothers were not on speaking terms. According to family memoirs, there was a room between their offices, where a lawyer was sitting, who mediated between the brothers.
Naturally, the economic crisis affected the factory, but they found a solution again: they switched to producing light bulbs. During the WWII, they could owe their lives to good luck and the Swedish diplomats working in Budapest Raul Wallenberg and Lars Berg. Unfortunately, not only their lives were on stake.
The war ruined their dreams and the battles bombed the factory to the ground. Not only the building suffered bad damages. The arriving Nazi soldiers tapped the liquor depot and the Soviet soldiers who marched in after them used the already emptied barrels for building pontoon bridges.
Which is the original?
However, the family restarted producing and rebuilt the factory in 1945, they could not be happy for long. By the time the constructions finished in 1948, the state nationalized the mill. They were so much in despair that the idea of emigration seemed to be the only solution for them. With the treasured secret recipe in his pocket, János and his family immigrated to the United States. Nevertheless, Béla Zwack wanted to stay, so he and his wife remained employees of the factory. Shortly afterwards, they were relocated to Pásztó as class-aliens. Thus, the factory Zwack remained without the family Zwack.
Meanwhile, Magyar Likőripari Vállalat (Hungarian Liqueur Industrial Company) took over the right of making Unicum. Production and export – even to the United States – started on the basis of a fake recipe that Béla handed them. The fake Unicum reached János Zwack, who sued the Hungarian state for fakery, thus they removed the name Zwack.
The time of the family arrived in 1988, 30 years ago, when János’ son Péter Zwack moved back to Hungary in order to repurchase his family heritage. Nevertheless, those thirty years have not passed without traces. Hungarian consumers took to both the fake and the original Unicum liqueurs, thus both blends remained in trade for a long time. Probably, there are fake Unicum liqueurs hiding in the deep of cabinets and cellars even today.
Finally, Péter Zwack established the Zwack Unicum Company Limited by Shares in 1992: thus, Emperor Joseph II’s herbal liqueur and the family that fought so much for it arrived home for good.
Translated by Zita Aknai