/ Europe2017

A chance of free beer

More about the headline later, but first a test?

What is "Unicum"?

Oh, I bet some of the answers are rude, whilst others are exploring the Latin "with one" translation. The answer is ...

A bitters drink, very popular in Hungary. The warehouse, museum and shop is just down the road from the campsite. Something else we only discovered thanks to the hop-on, hop-off bus. Tours seem reasonably priced and the bus will collect us from outside so that's the first port of call for today.

Unicum is made by distilling and macerating over 40 different herbs in cheap corn alcohol. The actual recipe being a Zwack family secret since it originated in 1790. Back in the 70s the family was forced into exile in the US, taking their recipe with them but production continued in Budapest; to protect the recipe a fake recipe was produced so the Communist government could carry on producing this national favourite. But in 1988 Peter Zwack returned to Hungary along with the secret formula and production of the real Unicum started once again.

The spirit of matured in huge barrels. The initial maturation is just the herbs and alcohol, then after a period 11% sugar is added and further maturation takes place. One of the ancient first stage (unsweetened) casks is old and 'weeps' a sticky tar like residue of the drink. A dab on the finger. By heck, that's bitter, very bitter, incredibly toe-curlingly bitter. Wow!

After the large barrels, maturation continues in smaller ones before being shipped off to the company's bottling plant. One of the smaller barrels had a convenient optic on and so we tasted. A good measure of spirit mid-morning is what you need to start the day, especially when the spirit is deep, bitter and herbal. 

Not a young person's taste perhaps, so a few years ago the company produced a version where the maturation takes place over a bed of dried plums, the fiercely bitter product assumes much more sweetness from the plums and although the strong herbal notes are still there it becomes a softer, sweeter, rounded product more like a 40% abv herbal port than bitters. I know this because, of course, it was the second tasting of the morning. 

After the guided tour we were left to wander the museum with its fascinating snippets of history of the product and the Zwack family, it's 10,000+ bottled miniatures and this anamorphic advertisment.

Of course all this free booze was just to soften us up to buy a bottle. We did! We actually like it and the idea of a post-prandial digestif appeals, partly because the last few meals we've had we've been given a complimentary digestif, either bitters or plum brandy and it's a nice way to round off the meal.

Hop-on, hop-off at Budapest's Western Railway station, designed by August de Serres (him wot done the Eiffel Tower). It's 140 year old imposing architecture and royal waiting room should have been imposing and grand but it was all just a bit tatty. The faded grandeur was there, for sure, but rather more faded than grandeur. We missed going to McDonalds on the other side of the station. A mistake apparently as it is often dubbed the most beautiful McDonalds in the world. Obviously they've restored that side a little.

Hop-on, hop-off the Great Market Hall, a large vegetable market and tourist trap. The meat and vegetables stalls are genuine enough with a lot of local trade but they are interspersed with stalls selling paprika, palinka (local plum brandy), tourist tat and Unicum. Upstairs are fast food outlets, clothes and leather bags stalls galore. The predominent accent is American. We don't stay too long but after my munching on a hot paprika pepper last night Liz feels she needs a small quantity for home.

Now at the risk of upsetting my American friends, I know that for most Americans world affairs is like World Series, anything out of state is considered foreign but for goodness sake make an effort. You've got a president to make you all look stupid, you don't need to make it a personal individual life goal too. Yes, lady who referred to the mighty Danube as a canal, I'm thinking of you. Yes, sir, who picked up an obvious bottle of Tokaji wine and asked "if this wine?" I'm thinking of you. You all carry guide books around with you. How about stopping and reading one sometime!

I needed a rant because it's hot, very hot, 30° again and we need a beer. Fortunately Jonas bar, one of the best brew pubs and craft bars in the city, is only 10 minutes walk away. We walk there. It is closed. Signs say it is open all day but it's definitely closed. We're hot and we're thirsty. A further 10 minute walk is the Kaltenberger restaurant that brews its own beer. A huge restaurant and definitely not a beer hall so we get formally seated for our (rather good) beers. Considering this must be a tourist venue in the evening English seems an optional extra when ordering and the staff just all seem to be sitting around. I know at 4pm in the afternoon is probably a slack time but surely there must be things to do 

Anyway back to today's blog title. Two beers (one each), about £4 so we mime for the bill. A new waiteress person comes over with the bill and also a small leather cup bearing 3 dice. It's a restaurant tradition that a throw of 3 sixes means the bill is on them. In true experienced gamer fashion I roll 1-1-2 and reach for my wallet.

Still perhaps it was for the best Jonas was closed, we would have missed that and also the architecture in this (currently closed for restoration) museum


Back to the campsite for a simple meal of local ham (remember yesterday's farmers market), cheese and bread. Liz does a machine load of clothes washing and I wash up. On the way over to the sinks I notice several bats overhead. Don't know the species but they are much larger than the usual UK pipistrelle. Quite large indeed. And here in the Carpathian basin we are but a stone's throw away from Transylvania!