If you're not from Chicago or haven't spent much time there, you may not be familiar with the legendary drink that is Malört. Well, one can call it a drink, but it might just be an elaborate troll. You see, this bitter, wormwood-flavored liquor of Swedish origin may be the worst-tasting alcohol in the world. Through some great on-the-ground marketing, however, the liquor has become a favorite in the Windy City, where it enjoys a cultlike following.
The most popular version in Chicago is from Jeppson's, which began when a Swedish immigrant to Chicago produced his own version of bäsk brännvin. Brännvin just describes any kind of liquor (or “burn-wine") made from potatoes, wheat, or other grains – basically vodka. Bäsk refers to a brännvin flavored with wormwood (malört in Swedish). And that flavor is what makes all the difference in the world.
It is intensely, palate-contortingly, hard-to-hold-down bitter. Other bitter drinks like Campari or Fernet just can't compete. The only thing I've had to give it a run for its money in the bitter race is Amaro Dell'Erborista. That bitterness can throw people for a loop. It's even spawned a meme called “Malört face."
You can't say you weren't warned when trying it for the first time because the Jeppson's label contains some of the truest words ever written.
“Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort 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 Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, ‘My Malort 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”