|Manufacturer||Carl Jeppson Company|
Jeppson's Malört is a brand of bäsk liquor, introduced in the 1930s, and long produced by Chicago's Carl Jeppson Company. In 2018, as its last employee was retiring, the brand was sold to CH Distillery of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Jeppson's Malört is named after Carl Jeppson, the Swedish immigrant who first distilled and popularized the liquor in Chicago. Malört (literally moth herb) is the Swedish word for wormwood, which is the key ingredient in a bäsk, a bitter-flavored type of Swedish brännvin.
Malört is known for its bitter taste. It can be found in some Chicago-area taverns and liquor stores, and is growing in popularity there, but is hard to find elsewhere in the United States.
In the 1930s Carl Jeppson, a Scandinavian immigrant to Chicago, began marketing his home-made brew. He sold it from door to door for medicinal and other purposes, and one legend says he preferred the strong taste because years of smoking had dulled his taste-buds. Attorney George Brode purchased the original recipe from Carl Jeppson and created the famous Jeppson's Malört testimonial that once appeared on every bottle. Patricia Gabelick was hired by Brode as his secretary in 1966, and took over the business after Brode's death in 1999, running it out of her Lakeview apartment.
It was made in Chicago until the mid-1970s, when the Mar-Salle distillery that produced it for the Carl Jeppson Company closed. It was then made in Kentucky briefly, after which it was produced in Florida for many years. In 2018, Jeppson's Malört was acquired by Chicago-based CH Distillery, and in 2019 production was moved back to Chicago.
For many years the label on the back of the bottle said:
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.
The label was changed and now it says:
Jeppson Malört has the aroma and full-bodied flavor of an unusual botanical. Its bitter taste is savored by two-fisted drinkers.
While Gabelick acknowledged that the drink is a "niche liquor," selling a comparatively small number of cases annually, it has gained increased relevance among bartenders, bikers, and Chicago's Hispanic community, where Gabelick notes that it has become "a rite of passage." The satirist John Hodgman has also adopted the drink in his stage show, offering shots to his audience. In an interview with Gothamist blog Chicagoist, John Hodgman said Jeppson's Malört "tastes like pencil shavings and heartbreak."
For many years, it was only sold in the Chicago area. In summer 2013, Chicago bar Red Door featured Malört–infused snow cones (it has a summer tradition of serving snow cones doused with alcohol). The liquor is mixed with Benedictine and Angostura orange. West Town's Hoosier Mama Pie Co. used Jeppson's in 2017 for "a meringue-style pie", called the “Chicago Sunrise”.
In Joe Swanberg's 2013 film Drinking Buddies, drinking a shot of Malört is described as a Chicago tradition for erasing past mistakes. In it actor Jason Sudeikis riffs that Malört is like swallowing a burnt condom filled with gasoline. In a similar vein, Tremaine Atkinson, founder of CH Distillery, was introduced to Malört when he first moved to Chicago, he compared it to "taking a bite out of a grapefruit and then drinking a shot of gasoline". Malört makes up half of the beer cocktail called the Chicago Handshake; the other half is an Old Style beer.
In August 2015, the High-Hat Club was voted "Best Malört Bar in Chicago" and was awarded the Carl Cup, a perpetual trophy that is passed from past to future champions in a manner similar to the Stanley Cup.
While "Malört" is sometimes mistaken for the common name of the style of liquor, Malört is the trademarked brand name owned by Carl Jeppson Company. The company secured the trademark on November 3, 2015. Other distillers that produced a similar spirit renamed theirs beforehand. Letherbee reverted to the generic "Bësk", while FEW Spirits dubbed theirs "Anguish and Regret".
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- Peters, Mark (November 20, 2012). "In Chicago, a Spirit Rises Despite Bitter Reviews". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Wolinsky, David (November 11, 2008). "Taste Test: Jeppson's Malört". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
- Gentile, Jay (May 14, 2015). "We Made 3 Chicago Sommeliers Do a Malort Tasting". Thrillist. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
- Gray, Kevin J. (February 12, 2016). "Malort Is the Worst Booze Ever – And You Need to Try It". Paste. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
- McEwen, Melissa (May 10, 2013). "How Swedish Malort Became Chicago's Mascot Bitter Drink". NPR. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
- Wilmes, John (March 2, 2018). "Why This Off-Putting Chicago Novelty Liquor Is So Damn Special". Food & Wine. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
- Kurzius, Rachel (January 22, 2019). "It Might Taste Like Turpentine, But The Malört Shortage Has Some Washingtonians Bereft". DCist. Washington, D.C.: American University Radio. Archived from the original on January 22, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
- Garcia, Evan (July 3, 2019). "Like 'Biting into a Band-Aid': Malort Returns to Chicago". WTTW. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Trotter, Greg (October 5, 2018). "Pilsen Distillery Acquires Malort, Aims to Bring Production of the Bitter Liquor Back to Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
- Brown, Mark (May 6, 2007). "What Drink Asks 'Are You Man Enough?'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
- Chu, Louisa (February 22, 2019). "After 30 Years, Malort Is Home. Production of the Bitter Liqueur Returned to Chicago in October 2018 after being acquired by CH Distillery". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- "Malört. The Chicago Favorite That May Just Be the Worst Drink in the World". Drizly. May 21, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
- Rumore, Kori; Marx, Ryan (June 13, 2016). "Chicago's flag: The history of every star and every stripe". Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Watson, Bruce (September 11, 2010). "Turning Foul Flavors Into Sweet Success". Yahoo!. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
- Cavanaugh, Amy (February 2, 2013). "John Hodgman Loves Malort: "It Tastes Like Pencil Shavings And Heartbreak"". Gothamist. Archived from the original on November 3, 2014. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
- Conrad, Marissa (December 21, 2015). "Drink This: Malort takes another stab at being drinkable". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
- Wiley, Melissa (July 30, 2013). "Malört Tastes Almost Decent In Snow Cones". Chicagoist. Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
- Krapek, Chris (October 2, 2013). "Drinking Buddies Makes Me Want to Get Drunk". HuffPost. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
- Hernandez, Joseph (March 6, 2017). "Order a Chicago Handshake". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
- Wetli, Patty (September 22, 2015). "Best Malort Bar in Town: High-Hat Takes the Crown and Is Throwing a Party". DNAinfo Chicago. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
- McGrath, William (January 6, 2016). "Associate IP Director McGrath Details Malort's Challenging Road to Trademark Protection". The John Marshall Law School. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- "Malört – Trademark Details". Justia Trademarks. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- Sullivan, Emmet (March 27, 2014). "The Power of Malört". Chicago. Retrieved October 22, 2017.