This Swedish-Inspired Liquor Found in Chicago Is Not For Everyone

Food & Drink

This Swedish-Inspired Liquor Found in Chicago Is Not For Everyone

In the bar scene, some drinks are known for being really good – which is why people order them, right? But, what about those that aren’t so good, or those that even taste awful?

Well, if you’ve ever been to a bar in Chicago, or know anyone who lives in the Windy City, you may have stumbled across a liquor called Jeppson’s Malört. Otherwise known as Malört, this Chicago staple originated in Sweden and is a household name to those who call Chicago and the surrounding suburbs home.

Carl Jeppson, who first sold his homemade liquor after emigrating from Sweden to Chicago in the 1930s, is who we can thank for Jeppson’s Malört. The awful (to most) tasting liquor is Chicago’s local beskbrännvin – a style of bitter, wormwood-based, Swedish schnapps. When Malört first was created and introduced, it was used for its medicinal benefits because it contains wormwood, an herb known best for its ability to kill parasites and cure indigestion.

According to the Jeppson’s Malört website, it was the most common Swedish drink in the early 1900s. When Swedes emigrated to the United States, their Malört came with them. Before liquor was legal in the States, Malört drinkers in Chicago claimed they were using it solely for medicinal purposes.

“Honestly, a huge part of its appeal is as a gag,” said Jake Howell, a bartender at The Daily Bar and Grill in Lincoln Square. “Local Chicagoans encourage their visiting friends to try this new, amazing Chicago liquor and then prank them with the awful taste of Malört.”

He added that Chicago is known for its diverse community, which includes many with Swedish heritage and background.

“Other than Malört, I’m surprised more Swedish foods and drinks haven’t caught on. Swedish kebab pizza is the best,” Howell added.

The original label on the bottle of Malört read, “Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate…we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson’s Malört after the first ‘shock-glass.’”

Howell added that there are two types of Malört drinkers: first-timers and people in the industry. He said that about 98 percent of people, from his experience, hate it.

While Malört is a fixture in Chicago, it actually is bottled and produced in Auburndale, Fla., but ironically not sold anywhere in the state. At one point, Malört was produced in Chicago, but the company outsourced the production and bottling to Florida in the 1980s.

While Jeppson’s Malört isn’t readily available outside of Chicago and if you don’t live anywhere shown on this map, it can be ordered from Liquor Barn or Binny’s and delivered to your front door.

If you’re interested in giving it a try, we found a recipe from the Tampa Bay Times.

The Auburndale

  • 1 oz. Jeppson’s Malört
  • 1 ½ oz. white grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz. Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters
  • ¼ oz. agave nectar

Combine all ingredients together with ice and shake in a cocktail shaker. Shake, then strain into a cocktail glass and serve with a Florida grapefruit. 

Skål!

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