Best Of Chicago

The New Malort: The Worst Drink To Ever Happen To Chicago… Again

May 31, 2013 2:00 PM

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Local writer Don De Grazia regales the Malort Girls with stories of his might and power at Underground Wonder Bar.

Local writer Don De Grazia regales the Malort Girls with stories of his might and power at Underground Wonder Bar.

By Mason Johnson

This town is barely big enough for one malort, let alone two. Do the crazies at Violet Hour care? No, they don’t. I tried their newly created R. Franklin’s Malort.

And I survived to talk about it.

Local writer Don De Grazia regales the Malort Girls with stories of his might and power at Underground Wonder Bar.

Local writer Don De Grazia poignantly explains how Malort is a metaphor for life at Underground Wonder Bar.

For Those Who Don’t Know

(Feel free to skip this section if you’re familiar with malort, keeping in mind that you’ll miss all my jokes and witticisms…)

Malort is an awful liquor that originated in Sweden (and therefore, knowing basically nothing else about Sweden, I can only assume this makes people from Sweden also awful). Flavored with wormwood, Chicagoans like to give their out-of-town friends shots of malort so they can watch the disgusted look on their unsuspecting faces after drinking the stuff. It’s created a term: “malort face.” It has (or rather, local authors Don De Grazia and Matt Martin have) also created “Malort Girls” (pictured to the right). Young ladies who walk around handing out shots of Malort at Matt and Don’s reading, Come Home Chicago, which takes place at Underground Wonder Bar.

To be clear, it’s not the initial sweet taste of malort that kicks ya in the gut, it’s the extraordinarily bitter aftertaste. It sticks around like an ex who won’t lose your number or stop stalking your facebook and even after you make your facebook completely private they somehow still see photos of you with your new love interest and make comments about killing your cat.

It’s pretty bad. Whenever I think about it, I imagine this video. (Note: if you don’t want to see a video of a dead fox slowly decaying, do not click…)

So malort is awful, but it’s also not that bad. I’ve had it so many times, I actually like it now. I find it easy to drink, plus, if I’m at a bar and have a tummy ache, one shot of malort will usually help me feel better (two shots will make me jump on the bar and shake my money maker as truckers throw quarters at me).

Most interpretations of malort come from Carl Jeppson’s Malort, which is widely known (in Chicago at least) as pretty much the only malort sold in America. (I have a theory that Malort is so bad that Sweden doesn’t even make it anymore, that the only ones stupid enough to drink it are us big headed Chicagoans, but who knows if this is true).

So yeah, there is was one malort, it is was Jeppson’s Malort.

R. Franklin’s Malort (Credit: Violet Hour's facebook)

Presenting: R. Franklin’s Malort (Credit: Violet Hour’s facebook)

A New Challenger Appears

Thinking they can do better, hip Wicker Park bar the Violet Hour has created their own malort. With the help of Letherbee, a Chicago distiller, Violet Hour’s manager Robby Franklin Haynes created his own personal monster: R. Franklin’s Malort. Heavy on the wormwood, you’ll find star anise, juniper berries, grapefruit peel and — I assume — a little love in this liquor.

But, most importantly, does R. Franklin’s Malort taste awful? Cause it’s supposed to right? That’s where it’s popularity derives from, so how could it not?

Yeah it tastes pretty bad, but in its own special way.

Initially, you get hit with a licorice-like taste. It’s not that bad. I don’t really like licorice, but I didn’t mind it here. If you love the taste, maybe this is the liquor for you.

After that, you’re promptly slapped in the nads by the bitter taste malort drinkers know well.

And then you feel the burn. R. Franklin’s Malort seems to have a very high alcohol content, and it sinks into your stomach like lava and then bubbles like a cauldron.

All in all, it’s not the worst experience I’ve ever had.

Jeppson's Malort (Credit: Jeppson's Malort's facebook)

Jeppson’s Malort (Credit: Jeppson’s Malort’s facebook)

How Does It Compare To Jeppson’s?

The initial taste of Jeppson’s is nothing like Franklin’s. While Franklin’s has the aforementioned, nearly overpowering licorice taste, Jeppson’s is just sorta sweet. It’s possible that the overstated taste of R. Franklin’s takes away from the bitter kick afterward, but it was hard to tell. Even if that licorice taste does make the bitter taste easier to swallow, the burning sensation of R. Franklin’s Malort is still there to torture you. By comparison, Jeppson’s, which is 70 proof, doesn’t have much of a burn at all. (Warning: R. Franklin’s Malort is 100 proof and seems to be VERY easy to get drunk off of. Tread carefully.)

The bitter taste of Jeppson’s seems to cling to your tongue for dear life. It doesn’t matter how many sips of Old Style you have after, it’s not goin’ away. R. Franklin’s Malort’s bitterness follows the burn down your throat. You don’t taste it as much as you feel it beating the crap out of your belly.

I don’t know which is better, Jeppson’s or R. Franklin’s. Likewise, I don’t know which is worse. Maybe there’s no answer here. Jeppson’s marketing revolves around tasting bad. R. Franklin’s Malort seems to have larger, more complicated ambitions. If there’s anything I can say about R. Franklin’s, it’s that they’ve made their own unique malort. It clearly wasn’t their ambition to copy Jeppson’s, but to make something that was their own. With this in mind, it doesn’t matter what’s better or worse, all that matters is that we now have two malorts to choose from, and that they both deserve to exist.

God help us all.

Mason Johnson has horrible tastes and shouldn’t review, well, anything.

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