Chicago's Malört Liquor Is Famous For All The Wrong Reasons

Malört is a name bound to provoke blank stares from most people, but in Chicago, where it's a fixture of the local bar scene, you're likely to encounter some strong opinions. Most folks hear Chicago and think deep dish pizza, hot dogs, great beer, and Italian beef. Of course, the city is so much more than that — it's a true melting pot, full of just as much culinary diversity as New York or Los Angeles. Yet, even in a place with so many great things to eat and drink, Malört stands out as a unique icon of the city. It's a drink that, as Eater notes, holds a special place of pride in locals' hearts.

For the uninitiated, Malört is a bitter liquor that, until recently, was sold exclusively in the Chicago region. According to NPR, it's the product of Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson who created his own version of besk (or bäsk) during Prohibition, which claimed to aid digestion. It survived to modern times thanks to a local lawyer who bought the recipe and because it was quickly favored by Chicago's growing Polish and Hispanic communities. Since then, it has slowly worked its way up from dive bars to become a city tradition, even moving into the high-end cocktail scene. If you get ahold of it, you'll quickly understand why it is so well known.

Malört has a reputation for tasting terrible

Jeppson's concoction is flavored almost entirely with wormwood, an unpleasantly named herb also used in the purportedly hallucinogenic alcohol, absinthe, which is no doubt part of Malört's appeal. According to Food & Wine, it has become popular over the years as a way to test wills — something awful consumed intentionally, either as a prank or a way to bond out of solidarity. Its reputation is best summed up in the phenomenon of the "Malört face," the disgusted reactions people often have after taking shots of it that have been documented on social media. It's social drinking meets self-flagellation.

Malört does inspire a certain kind of poetry in people who know it, mostly using words you would never associate with a wine or liquor tasting, let alone something purportedly consumable. Just a few phrases locals used to describe Malört to the Chicago Sun-Times include "gasoline on the rocks with a twist of regret," and "pencil shavings and depression." A reviewer said to Paste Magazine that Malört's taste starts off as grapefruit and honey, but with an aftertaste of gasoline, earwax, and bug spray. It might be the most literal form of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one you should make sure you have another stiff drink on hand for, so you can wash your mouth out as quickly as possible.