As I was traveling around Hungary, and parts of Eastern Europe I began to notice something. Trips through towns, small areas, souvenir stands, even local grocery stores all seemed to carry an imbibing product that was ubiquitous. It was everywhere I went. Sitting on store and stand shelves stood bottles in the liquor section of a product that had a distinct mark. The mark contained a simple cross surrounded by a red background, it beckoned as some sort of medical cure all. AH HA! I thought this is something I must try, the bottle was intriguing, my mind raced about what would be inside. It's Hungarian made in Zwack, does it contain paprika? I was excited and figured it was some sort of digestif which it turns out I was correct. But what the contents included and provided to me was not what I was expecting.
Finally towards the end of my trip I set out and grabbed a small bottle to sample. I recommend that if you do want to purchase it in Hungary, do so out of Budapest because the prices of the product are cheaper. That being said, as days went by in Hungary the bottles kept calling out to me as if they knew I wanted it. Many bottles were also uniquely shaped. I settled on a standard round one which sometimes I would find decorated as a painted soccer ball. I came back to my hotel room all excited. Not bothering to ask anyone what it was, or research it, or what it tasted like, left me giddy and highly anticipating it. I put the bottle in my hotel fridge in the morning, and told myself it would probably be better cold and I should enjoy it after a nice day coming back in the evening, preferably after dinner. Ah I could come back after some sights, indulge the local cuisine, put my feet up, and then taste what was inside. I wanted to be surprised. And surprised is an understatement when I had this.
This is a bottle of Unicum liquor.
Unicum, is a Hungarian product made in Zwack (here is the company site link). It pours a very dark brown color out of the bottle. I looked at it. "Boy this sure looks like Jägermeister!" I thought. Which got me even more excited because I actually really enjoy Jägermeister. I already had joyous visions of myself carrying the product around Europe, occasionally stealing wondeful sips as I sat back on the train through the countryside. I took a whiff and it smelled like Jäger also, very herbal but one thing stood out. It was considerably stronger, and there was also a bitter smell. "Well..." I thought, "this should be fun!" I figured with much glee as I set forth placing a good solid few ounces in my glass, and placed a nice cool ounces of dark brown in my palate... swallowing in one big gulp. And the result and imbibing moment can be described as so...
This stuff... is absolutely AWFUL!!
"WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?!?!?" I kind of yelled out loud to myself... One thing struck me instantly after quaffing this FOUL stuff. This is SOOOooo bitter that it makes medicine taste attractive. The herb like Jäger smell was completely gone, there was no sweetness, but only a massive bitter taste that felt like a really bad Angostura pumped up on steroids. I sat down on the edge of my hotel bed, to think about what abomination I just consumed, only to feel the bitterness lingering and LINGERING and NEVER going away. This stuff sticks around in your mouth FOREVER, it just gets worse. The logo on the bottle now reminded me of medicine that was suppose to be of the variety that it tastes so bad because it's suppose to fix that horrible sickness you currently have. Only drinking this will make you feel as if you just got Dengue fever. I even thought what could you mix this with? and my mind suddenly shuddered at how this "thing" would just overpower and dominate whatever you would put it in.
The bitterness felt so bad that in my wrecked mind I figured if I had another bit of it, it could somehow wash the bitterness and get past it and taste something. Doing so validated only one of the most useful phrases that I have known. The definition of stupidity, is to do the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. I was REAL STUPID to keep trying to drink this thing.
This experiment WAS OVER.
Looking back and researching the product since being home they mention (like Jager) to serve this ice cold. Well it was in the fridge and not the freezer when I had it, but still I even have had cool and sometimes lukewarm Jager and I still enjoy it. I am not sure having it from the freezer would have made a difference. Their website also contained cocktail recipes which made me feel as I was looking at a horror movie. A sample of "Zwacktails" as they call them, made my stomach just cringe. Reading the ingredients for a "Zwackoff" included the Unicum with... Smirnoff Orange and a splash of Energy drink... Good friggin lord that sounds like the epitome of grossness.
Speaking of Energy drinks... why do people drink those things? I still don't get them they all taste horrible, and when I got to Hungary after surviving Unicum I figured a trip to Hell couldn't be worse. I was wrong.
I saw this hilarious looking can on store shelves. This is a "Hell" can of Vodka Energy drink. So... you have an energy drink laced with vodka at about 5% ABV. So what is the point of this? Is this for alcoholic marathoners or something? You're suppose to drink cheap vodka but then have the energy to maybe do the Boston marathon? Seriously... WHY?
I knew this was going to be nasty, one look at the pour and I was greeted with a fizzy head that disappeared instantly leaving a bubbling piss colored yellow glass. What is this? a fucking urine sample I am suppose to drink or something?
Worse is the smell. Sour apples, and... no joke... it smells like body odor. 20 day old sweaty gym socks.
Taste.. like a sacchariney typical energy drink, what vodka? you can't even tell it is there, is that a good thing? Not that vodka has any taste to begin with... What is this dysfunctional gimmicks angle? Frat parties I guess. Here you have a drink that basically cancels everything out, at 5% you probably couldn't even get drunk on this stuff, but spend more time at the toilet pissing like a racehorse after your 7th can. I gave the toilet the better benefit of the doubt and poured it all down the head. Poor toilet...
Actually the angle for this product wasn't that surprising. I remember back when energy drinks came out and trying one and hating it. They were of course not filled with alcohol either. However, one time I was taken out to a bar in Florida and I saw people ordering energy drinks with their shots. A couple of roided jocks were doing this (long story), and I soon discovered that people in bars did this so they could drink more... I also learned where I grew up that in Canada certain places caught on to this and local governments started banning the sale of energy drinks in bars.
That being said I sort of understand the appeal but once you get older the gimmick wears off fast. As you get older, you start appreciating alcohol for different reasons, mostly because you start realizing that drinking shouldn't be... a sport. We've all been there at some point (beer pong anyone?) but when it comes to true imbibing and joy, energy drinks are one thing I'll always stay away from.
There would be some even better imbibing in Hungary soon, but I would be staying away from these items. As I passed the grocery store isle at the Penny Mart in Tokaj I noticed other charming funny cans next to Hell which I thought about buying as fun souvenirs. One can was simply called "Don't Stop". I just said to myself, "Uh no thanks... I don't think I'll even start."
Update: November 17th 2010
FDA Calls 7 caffeine-alcohol drinks unsafe...