Friday, December 31, 2010

A Taste of Malört

I was sitting at the bar at The Violet Hour when Toby Maloney, the founder of the Chicago cocktail haven, instructed the bartender to pour me a shot of Malört. "This will make you feel like a wimp for liking Fernet Branca," he said. I took a sip and shuddered. It was, indeed, a stronger customer than Fernet, more bitter and austere and raw. But I did not dislike it, and I could see getting used to it, particularly if my life was hard, and I needed something harder to drink to make existence more endurable.

It was only natural that I should first sample Malört in Chicago. The only distributor of Malört in the United States is the Carl Jeppson company of Chicago. The company is named after a Swedish immigrant who popularized and sold the liquor in Chicago. (It's been made for Jeppson in Florida since the 1970s, but is still mainly seen and consumed in Chicago.)

Malört is a liqueur derived from wormwood, the infamous botanical long associated with Absinthe. It is Swedish in origin, even though Maloney led me to believe that the drink was favored by the Poles that once populated Wicker Park, the neighborhood Violet Hour is in. (The word malört is the Swedish word for the wormwood plant.)

Malört has enjoyed a small resurgence of late, with Chicago mixologists toying around with it and using it in cocktails. Not everyone is a fan, however. When I mentioned the intoxicant to Lynn House, the respected mixologist at Chicago's Blackbird, she shivered. "I can't stand the stuff," she said. "It's popular right now, against my wishes."

(Photo courtesy Cocktail Database.)

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