The Untold Truth Of Malort

In a city of great food and drinks traditions, like hot dogs with neon-green relish and deep-dish pizzas, one beloved Chicago spirit rarely makes it out of city limits. Jeppson's Malört, a "love it or hate it" bar staple, has been the shot choice of Chicagoans for years, and its unique nature permeates everything from its backstory to its polarizing flavor and curious marketing strategy.

The story of Malört begins just around the introduction of Prohibition in 1920. According to the official Malört site, the first bottles were distilled by a Swedish immigrant by the name of Carl Jeppson. His pioneering Malört was a take on a traditional Swedish medicinal liqueur brewed with wormwood and thought to eliminate various parasites, such as stomach worms. As the tale goes, Malört managed to make it through U.S. history's mandated dry period by merit of its decidedly palate-unfriendly flavors: "Jeppson skirt[ed] federal regulation given the recurring conclusion by law enforcement that nobody would drink his concoction recreationally."

What is it about Malört that makes a shot so shocking?

Post-prohibition, Malört changed hands several times. A local lawyer who purchased the rights from Jeppson was the first to kick off the spirit's enduring and forward thinking advertising campaign. Vinepair reports that bottles were emblazoned with dares such as "Are you man enough to drink Jeppson?" and "The first shot is hard to swallow! Perservere [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours... forever."

So what is it about Malört that makes a shot so shocking? The proprietary recipe has been under wraps since its inception, but legend has it that Carl Jeppson, a cigar shop owner, had some seriously tobacco-tarnished taste buds (via Thrillist). The intensity of his wormwood heavy spirit was due to the fact that he could hardly taste anything at all.

It's anyone's guess what the original wormwood spirit tasted like to its creator, and these days, even the most seasoned Malört drinkers have a hard time pinning down its flavor profile. Eater featured several sommeliers sampling the Chicago dive bar favorite and the responses were all over the board, and almost entirely unpleasant, ranging from getting your mouth washed out with pink liquid soap, to gag inducing combo of burning garbage and Ricola throat lozenges.

Consumption of the spirit has been steadily rising

"Malört, the Champagne of pain" and "Malört, tonight's the night you fight your dad" are just a few of the one of a kind taglines created by amateur ad men over at the spirit's unofficial fan page.

With slogans like those, one might think that a shot of Malört might be a once in a while indulgence (if you can call it that) for Chicagoans, but thanks to a heavy and humorous social media presence, consumption of the spirit has been steadily rising since production was brought back the city in 2018. The Chicago Tribune noted that CH Distillery founder Tremaine Atkinson was keen on adding Malört to his portfolio of spirits.

Although Atkinson is not originally from Chicago, his first shot of Malört made a big impact, so much so that he's taken it on himself to grow the iconic brand exponentially in a matter of years. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. In a interview with Great Big Story, Atkinson claims that on a daily basis, Chicagoans are taking down somewhere around 10,000 shots a night.