- 2 Mar 2021 5:29 PM
If the current Covid situation had not come to pass, those keen-eyed drinkers amoung us would have noticed a new kid in town from the legendary Zwack stable. Unicum Barista was, after three years in development, just getting onto the shelves of selected bars and restaurants at the end of last year when those shelves went dark...
So what can we look forward to? I’ll tell you 'cause I just got a bottle!
In a similar vein to Unicum Szilva (plum), the base is still that of the classic bittersweet Unicum recipe of 40 or so herbs and spices. This time however, the recipe has been given the additional ingredient of arabica coffee.
The tradition of drinking coffee with a side shot or pour of alcohol is worldwide.
Think of your Italian Caffè corretto, a shot of espresso with a small amount of booze, usually grappa and sometimes sambuca or brandy. The Hungarian farmer on a winter’s morning has been known to splash a little pálinka into his morning kickstart too. I won’t go into the Scottish Rugby Tea, but you get the idea.
Unicum and Unicum Szilva are awesome with coffee and coffee cocktails.
Along with the rest of the world, the recent coffee shop or café revolution has sped things up in terms of quality and interest generally. So understandably Zoltán Nagy, he of Budapest’s famous Boutiq’ bar, and Sándor Tóth, professional coffee roaster, barista (and all round coffee badass) put their heads together with Zwack to deliver a new Amaro (or bittersweet digestif).
The story behind the coffee deserves an article in itself.
In brief, Sándor Tóth met and now works with László Bányai, a Hungarian émigré to the US and now Costa Rica where he has his 11 acre coffee farm of 55,000 bushes. Apart from the cool fact that a Hungarian is producing the beans in Costa Rica to be then sent to Hungary, the process is a bit special.
Sándor calls it the Bányái honey method. Basically, when the beans are taken out of the berry, a layer of "honey" pectin is, unusually, kept on its surface and dried with it prior to roasting.
“Alright Mr. Bartender, so what's it like?!”
Served at room temp.
Aroma: espresso / cold brew coffee, vanilla, old cigar box, sour cherry, malty molasses - touch of marmite, anise
Taste: coffee not as intense as the aroma suggests it will be. Obvious blend with the original Unicum although interestingly reduces the bitterness which I wasn’t expecting as they have not increased the sugar content.
Finish: Cigar coming back then drying up with the familiar quinine, bitter chocolate, seville orange zest and minty notes of its classic Daddy.
Served chilled (5-6 °C)
Aroma: As expected, the aromas, especially the coffee, are quieter. Dark bitter chocolate appears with those molasses again.
Taste: The coffee and Unicum blend is much more integrated - it’s become one. Less bitterness so the chocolate/ cacao nibs are allowed to sing a bit more.
Finish: Ginger, some spices (cardamom, all spice, cinnamon?) and a clean old-school espresso that’s had a sprinkle of sugar.
What of the cocktail potential then?
It’s early days as bartenders haven’t really been able to play with it yet. Zoltán has produced a menu of simple long drinks with various tonics, creams and colas as well as a few more complex, shaken drinks.
My favourite being the J.Z. Martini, ( a sort of reverse French Martini for those of you shakers out there). Unicum Barista, Crème de cassis (blackcurrant) and pineapple. Pineapple and coffee are, perhaps surprisingly, great bedfellows.
So, welcome to the family and the backbar Unicum Barista. I hope we’ll all be able to try more of you and your cocktails in the not too distant future.
By Dez O'Connell, Bar & Drink Consultant