The first time I had Malört, I was visiting Chicago several years ago. I met up with my old college roommate and he offered me a shot. I wasn't sure if I had just drank insect repellent or if this was something Chicagoan's actually enjoyed. I probably made a face similar to the one seen here.
According to the official Malört website, Malört is a brand of beskbrännvin, which is a wormwood-flavored Swedish liquor. (The world Malört actually means "wormwood" in Swedish). Apparently it was a popular drink in Sweden during the early 1900s. Lucky us, Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson brought it to Chicago shortly thereafter. During prohibition, it was sold legally as "medicinal alcohol". Some people love it, most people hate it. It's bitter after taste is quite intense.
Here are some recent comments about Malört...
Malort is so trash what the fuck is this it tastes like chemicals omg— Lauren Nostro (@laurennostro) June 14, 2015
@ResilientRabbit A shame. Malort pairs so well with moose nuts too.— Josh Seybert (@JoshSeybert) June 10, 2015
@MajaLeeg Malort is the worst-tasting beverage ever created. Only ppl who don't care about their lives or taste buds drink that.— Jade, M.A. (@Jade2thaMax) June 2, 2015
So what's with Chicago's Malört obsession? I wanted to get the scoop on this stuff, so I called up Roger Adamson at Binny's Beverage Depot. Adamson is Binny's Beer and Spirits Specialist at their Willowbrook, IL location. He's also a certified Cicerone. When asked about his opinion of Malört, he said, "It reminds me of bile - the chemical that your liver secretes". Adamson said Malört "falls into a category of Amaros, a bitter liquor often used for indigestion. Before Tums and Alka Seltzer, people would do shots of it to help calm their stomach."
A bottle of Malört costs $17.99 at Binny's. Shots are typically around $2.50 or $3.00 and are extremely popular in Chicago bars.
"The fact that it's inexpensive has a lot to do with it's popularity," said Adamson. "The initiation factor of Malört is huge - people love buying it for friends who haven't had it before and seeing if they can handle it. I've seen a number of people throw up from it."
So does anyone actually like Malört? I asked this question on Reddit, and while the majority of responses were a resounding "no", some people actually said they don't mind it's taste.
"It's just bitter, I don't see what the fuss is all about," said one person.
"Heck yeah. I don't know why, but I really enjoy the taste. It tastes the same to me as how others describe it (ashy, woody, stale, etc), but I just really like it.
"I love it, it's bitter and refreshing."
Malört is a novelty. To really understand it, you need to try it yourself. You won't have a hard time finding it in Chicago, but if you want to be extra sure, check out the Malört Map here.
Oh, and watch this hilarious video from Malört...