Does the world really need another Malört? The jury’s still out on whether the world actually needed one Malört to begin with, but Chicago’s Violet Hour is working on bringing a second version of the mouth-rending spirit into the world as part of a collaboration with Letherbee Distillers.
Like deep-dish pizza and hot dogs buried under eight pounds of salad, Malört is a Chicago thing. The Carl Jeppson Company started producing the spirit in Chicago in the 1930s, and until now they’ve been only place in the U.S. that produces the stuff.
The New York Times compares the flavor of Malört to rubbing alcohol, bile, gasoline, car wax, tires, and paint thinner. Most of the spirit’s fans would agree with that description, but it still turns up in some of Chicago’s fanciest cocktails. Spend enough time in Chicago bars, and a bartender will eventually offer a shot in a move that’s about half prank and half initiation.
Most people find their first taste of Malört highly unpleasant, as evidenced by the growing “Malört Face” photo pool dedicated to capturing the terrible faces people make when they try it for the first time. It’s some serious stuff.
But there’s something appealing about Malört’s face-twisting flavor and lack of mass appeal. The Jeppson’s Malört Twitter feed is almost entirely devoted to mocking its own product.
“Best part of my job: Telling people who I work for AFTER they do a shot then watching them compliment it while their face turns inside out,” the Tweeter crows.
But the shock eventually wears off and Malört starts to taste like a normal thing to put in one’s mouth. Apparently that’s a problem for The Violet Hour’s bar manager, who is looking to recapture that first rush with a new, in-house version of the spirit.
“The first time I tasted Malört five years ago,” said Robby Haynes to the New York Times, “I didn’t find it unpleasant, but I thought ‘Wow, what was that?’ It was intense and bitter and floral and all these things. Now, when I take a sip, I find it to be less remarkable. I don’t know if my palate changed or what happened. I wanted to make something that lived up to what Malört was like in my head.”
God only knows what he’s going to do to recapture that initial rush, but for starters it will have a lot more alcohol. Jeppson’s Malört is 70 proof, while Haynes’ version weighs in at 100. The new product will be called R. Franklin’s Original Recipe and is made with wormwood, grapefruit peel, juniper, elderflower, star anise, and other botanicals. It will only be served at Violet Hour and won’t be for sale to consumers.