Malört - The Evil Spirit of Chicago
A liqueur so raunchy that nobody can agree on its taste, or even what category of spirit it even is
Americans know where I'm coming from on this; I guess for the Europeans, think about how rabid you are about your favorite football club. I am absolutely nuts about the Chicago Cubs baseball team. One of the billions of reasons is that they play in an old stadium right in the middle of an urban neighborhood. I have gone to Wrigley Field several hundred times in my life even though I live 100 miles away. It's a frequent summertime outing. And since Wrigley Field sits in the middle of about 30 or so taverns, and entering/leaving traffic is brutal, it is necessary to drink in these taverns before and after each game I attend.
Now, Cubs fans drink beer. Tons of it, usually 'in back' of a shot. What kinds of shots? Well, it isn't anything fruity, or minty, or sweet. Most of the time it isn't whiskey, even. Nope, what we're all knocking back one jigger at a time is an indescribably harsh, bitter and oily potion called Jeppson's Malört. Look at this woman's face. That's the Malört face.
Why are we drinking something this evil? I can explain this. First off, we're 'Murricans, and we're free to do whatever the hell we want, and if we want to drink raw uncut petroleum by gawd we will! Puts hair on yer chest!! Next, it is the only spirit made in Chicago. Outsized civic pride! Probably the best reason though? You have to drink most of an entire pint of beer to wash it down. Yum! The truly mega will only drink 'Chicago Handshakes', which is a shot of Malört followed back with a local 'legacy' beer such as Old Style. And I have to let you all know something: I'd rather drown in a lake full of Malört than finish one Old Style.
Alright, it's awful. So what exactly IS it, anyway?
Enough Malört to render a medium sized American city incapable of cogent thought
Nobody can really tell you what it is supposed to be. The current owner of the distillery describes it as "biting into a grapefruit, then drinking a shot of gasoline". There is a sizable Swedish immigrant area on the north side of the city. There, Carl Jeppson first distilled Malört, a Swedish word supposedly meaning 'moth-herb' or wormwood. Scientifically, wormwood is the Artemisia absinthium plant, so Malört is somewhat related to absinthe, which is, what, banned in most of the civilized world? Jeppson supposedly started selling it as a 'cure-all', and when sales went slack, he started drinking it all. He had destroyed his taste buds smoking tobacco, and Malört was the only thing that had any taste to him at all.
This was literally on every label of Malört until quite recently:
"Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malört reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malört. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malört is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.' It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! Perservere [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours... forever."
It's reputation is entirely based on its bitterness. People drink it in order to 'atone' for mistakes, to pay back bets, as a rite of passage, or as a statement of their self-assessed bad-ass-ness. I've heard Malört compared to Jägermeister, but that's bollocks. Jäger is a dessert drink compared to this swill. You may be intrigued, and want your very own bottle of hate. I think that is quite possible especially if you live in the States by visiting chdistillery.com/malort-locator/
The best place IMO to drink Malört
The Nisei Lounge Malört Five-Yard Run
I would be remiss if I did not mention the best place to drink Malört if you are in Chicago. The Nisei Lounge on 3439 N Sheffield Avenue is a dingy little dive bar a short walk south from Wrigley Field. It is the oldest continually run tavern in Wrigleyville, and there is absolutely nothing classy or sophisticated about it. They're a great Twitter follow, and they are of course the home of the annual Malört Five-Yard-Run. This breathtaking physical feat requires participants to slam a shot of Malört, then proceed fifteen feet to where glasses of Old Style await finishers. I tried to refuse the Old Style. The judges refused my request. I poured it towards my mouth but most of it hit me in the chin and neck. Good thing Nisei also provides bibs to all contestants.