Chicago is loaded with icons, from deep-dish pizza and Wrigley Field to Michael Jordan and blues music. But unless you’re a local or have spent some quality time in a Chicago bar, you may not be familiar with the Windy City’s signature liquor: Jeppson’s Malört. And even then, you may never have had the apparent guts to try this Rodney Dangerfield of the alcohol world.
Yes, it seems Malört doesn’t get much respect. Humorist John Hodgman has described it as tasting like “pencil shavings and heartbreak”; another writer referred to it as “the worst drink to ever happen to Chicago.” Even the makers themselves once claimed — right on the label — only “1 out of 49 men” will ever drink Malört a second time. No respect, I tell ya.
But this wormwood-based liqueur (think absinthe) — a kind of Swedish–style schnapps — has endured for more than 80 years. Its longevity has perhaps been mostly buoyed by Chicagoans buying shots of Jeppson’s Malört for their out-of-town guests, just to see the resulting scrunched-up facial expressions. But bartender Dan Rook is out to provide a little redemption. His Swedish Seed cocktail smooths out Malört’s bitterness with sugar, honey, lemon, egg whites, and a healthy dose of self-respect. Next time you’re in Chicago, ask for a Malört cocktail to experience this legendary Chicago drink, without having to make a funny face.
And if you’re wondering where to get some Malört of your own, check out the Jeppson’s site. They promise not to spam you, because, they say, “drinking Jeppson’s Malört is punishment enough.” Sheesh.