The Rise of Malort
How one unique liqueur became Chicago's drink of choice.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: September 20th, 2012
"It's fun because if someone's never had it before, they'll take a shot, be fine, then make a terrible face."—former bartender Kevin Toomey
alort: for some, the word is foreign, but to others it brings instant memories of a bitter-tasting drink, one they've managed to avoid since they were first coerced into trying it. It's a distilled liqueur, made with wormwood—Malort is the Swedish word for wormwood, which is the same plant used in making absinthe. It's produced by the Carl Jeppson Company, named for Carl Jeppson, the Swedish immigrant who first popularized and sold the drink in Chicago. Over the past five years, though, the drink has gone from being a relatively unknown player in the bar scene to the star forward. How?
Though it's been on shelves in northern Illinois for decades, it wasn't until a sports bar in Brookfield, IL, called Brixie's, decided to come up with as many Malort-based cocktails as they could in order to spread Malort to the masses that the liqueur took off. They now have a list of close to 20 different drinks.
And upscale cocktail bars like The Whistler, located in Chicago's trendy Logan Square neighborhood, have begun offering Malort in pricey drinks that have been concocted with the intention not to mask Malort's powerful flavor, but to showcase it.
But aside from being popularized in bars, more and more people are getting their non-Chicago-dwelling friends to try it, under the guise of, "It's great! You'll love it!"
Malort is now distilled in Florida, but the company is still run out of Chicago by current owner Pat Gabelick. Interestingly, she says she hates the taste of Malort.
But not everyone thinks so. We talked to former bartender Kevin Toomey of Chicago, who said, "I don't think it tastes terrible," but noted that it's entertaining to give to people who've never had it.
"It's fun because if someone's never had it before, they'll take a shot, be fine, then make a terrible face."
And a terrible face makes sense—this video on YouTube (which was, oddly enough, not produced by Jeppson's) tries to grasp exactly what you'll taste when you swig Malort, and as seasoned vets of the beverage, we're inclined to agree:
But even though it tastes terrible the first time around to most people, not everyone stays disgusted. The bottle even says, "The first shot is hard to swallow. PERSEVERE. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever."
Have you tried Malort before? If not, we dare you to wrangle a handful of friends and try it out.