Friday, March 13, 2009
Malört. It's a Chicago Thing.
I have been living and drinking in Chicago for 20 years but Malört was new to me when radio host Nick Digilio mentioned it during an interview on WGN. He associates it with Andersonville, which makes sense as that neighborhood was established by Swedes. Malört, as I have since learned, is a Swedish-style schnapps sold only in Chicago. The name is the Swedish word for wormwood, one of its ingredients.
Many people incorrectly spell it with two 'l's and no umlaut
In the United States, schnapps is not an official beverage category, but since Malört is a grain neutral spirit that has been flavored and sweetened, it is classified here as a liqueur. Malört is 70° proof (35% ABV). The closest thing to it in nationwide distribution probably is Jagermeister.
Wikipedia says Malört was created just after Prohibition ended. I suspect it was created before Prohibition ended, as it is exactly the sort of thing you would make from the nasty neutral spirits Al Capone’s distilleries in Chicago Heights were producing.
The maker of Malört is the Carl Jeppson Company. Their listed address is in a residential building close to me. The product is made for them by a rectifier in Florida. Jeppson, a Swedish immigrant, was the creator of Malört, but there is a similar product sold in Sweden called Bäska Droppar.
Although the company doesn’t seek publicity, the product comes with a sales brochure that challenges you to drink it because, “its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone.” Unsophisticated souls think it tastes bad because it is so strong but it actually contains less alcohol than straight spirits like whiskey or vodka. It just tastes bad. No one seems to think it tastes good.
I would describe it as sweetened cardboard with an oregano finish.
After reading many blog posts, it seems that Malört’s primary market is people who trick or goad their friends into drinking it so they can see the looks on their faces. A 750ml bottle is $15.99 at Binny’s.