(Originally written November 20, 2012)
In Chicago, and only in Chicago, will people willingly and happily consume a beverage so awful that even the owner of the company that makes it won’t touch the stuff. Jeppson’s Malört, described by one bartender as “it tastes like [everything from] earwax to Band-Aids to burnt hair” to the Wall Street Journal, nevertheless sells 23,500 bottles a year to bars in the Windy City. This is despite the fact that the drink-maker believes “its Malört is enjoyed by only one out of every 49 drinkers who try it.”
Malört is Swedish for wormwood, one of the key ingredients in absinthe, and Jeppson’s reportedly draws its bitterness from said substance. As one of the first people to be granted a liquor license at the end of prohibition, the company’s founder, George Brode, got the recipe from a certain Carl Jeppson, who called it “a spirit favored by the city’s Swedish immigrant population,” according to the WSJ. Since then, Brode took on the challenge of marketing the undrinkable product until his death in 1999, when he left the company to his secretary. (“All my life I wish George had made a product I could drink,” she told the Journal.) Yet, despite its lack of medicinal properties, and a taste another bartender described as like “stomach bile and dirt,” Malört has gained a cult following in several local watering holes.
“It is a Chicago ingredient. There is almost a certain responsibility to find a good way to beat it into submission,” said an aptly-named Mr. Joly, beverage director at The Aviary. It’s also a good way to wish an ex-lover an unhappy birthday. As per the Journal, one Chicago resident recalls “the first time he encountered Malört. It was about a decade ago at a bar, and two guys who didn’t get along kept sending shots of it to each other.”
Is it any wonder that Malört has become popular amongst Cubs fans, those notorious gluttons for punishment? “Enthusiasts of the drink held their first Jeppson’s Malört night earlier this year, at a bar a few blocks from Wrigley Field,” the WSJ reports. Gee, if the stuff’s anything like folks have described, it would have to be the worst way to wash the bitter taste of defeat from your mouth, wouldn’t it?