There are many reasons to love Chicago. Our food. Our architecture. Our friendly citizens and biggest-small-town-in-America warmth. Our music. Our athletes.
Malört is not one of them.
Malört is a Swedish liqueur introduced to Chicago by Carl Jeppson in the mid-1930s. It tastes like vinyl; or like pencil shavings and heartbreak, says John Hodgman; or like “swallowing a burnt condom full of gas,” according to Joe Swanberg’s imagination. It is “the most disgusting liquor of all time,” with “the pungency of gasoline, then the bittersweet tang of grapefruit.” It is “The Champagne of Pain,” like “getting mugged in a prison shower” or “eating a tire fire.”
Wormwood is mostly to blame for that kind of lyricism, but Malört is so bad that it transcends any traditional idea of taste. It is a prank Chicagoans play on outsiders to make ourselves feel better about the winter.
Most of the city’s bars and liquor stores carry it, because it’s an inside joke in a bottle—if your idea of a joke is what it tastes like to get dumped. And for many Chicagoans, it is. You have to be a bit self-deprecating to live there; after all, this is a city of corrupt politicians and Cubs fans and the chunky, pale beach body. Taking a joke means getting through a week of Chicago weather. Malört is the punchline.
At last weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival, we took a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört—the OG of them all—and rounded-up a cast of brave out-of-towners to try it for the first time. The weekend was sweltering, interrupted by a Saturday afternoon downpour that further muddied an already swampy day. What better time to foist our rudest liquor upon unsuspecting strangers? It’s tradition, after all.
Gifs by Tyler Trykowski
Justice, 22, and Daphne, 21, St. Louis
D: What the fuck?
J: It tastes a little bit like…antifreeze.
D: Yeah. I don’t know how you know what it tastes like, but it definitely tastes like…something.
J: Like alcohol and pickles. It toasts your mouth.
Stephen, 28, and Jessica, 28, North Carolina
S: That is delicious! It’s so good. What the fuck did I drink? That’s so not good! It’s really bad.
J: It tastes like…(waves arms around in air)
S: A rollercoaster. There are no words.
Adam, 27, and Ruby, 27, North Carolina
R: Oh yeah.
A: I feel like…fresh-mown grass in the morning.
R: I just can’t talk. that’s disgusting
A: I feel rejuvenated, I feel great. It shows you what the bottom can look like.
Corey, 31, Atlanta
Oh no. Oh no, no way. Got in my nose a little bit too. It tastes like children’s cough syrup but way worse. Yeah, no, I don’t like that.
I feel like a hint of absolute sunfire in my face. Other than that it’s great. I’d try it again.
Anthony, 26, Indiana, and Danielle, 26, Santa Barbara
D: Oh ho!
A: What is that taste? That’s like a spice you cook with—and I gargled that shit. That was bad.
D: It’s not that bad. I feel like my mouth is cleansed from all the whiskey I snuck in here.
A: You could preserve a dead body in this stuff. That’s terrible.
John, 33, Chicago
It’s not as… eh. It’s got a taste. Tasting notes? Burning. Burning and turpentine.
Nathan, 22, Iowa
That’s awful? Wow. At first I was okay with it… now I’m not. Vinyl. That’s just… [retches] I’m in my friends’ hands now. Just sadness and defeat and regret and rage. And bad acid trip. That acid that gets you. I’m gonna get fucking wasted here, man.
Sarah, 34, Lauren, 33, Toronto
S: Oh wow.
L: That literally bored itself—what is that?
S: I taste gasoline. Burning.
L: It’s not burning in my chest, it’s just my tongue feels like…
S: Hashtag tastes like poison. Give us another.
Adam, 35, Toronto
Okay. Mouthwash? It’s really horrible. Wash this down with one of those hot dogs you guys have around here? Very bitter? I just taste bitterness.
Shannon, 23, and Miriam, 23, Ontario
S: Tastes like gasoline.
M: I don’t even know what I tasted but it’s disgusting. It was on my list though, to try in Chicago.
S: Like gasoline and battery acid.
M: I still have a little bit left but I’m not drinking that.
Kate, 23, and Retro, 23, Atlanta
K: Breathe out. Like, blow out. That is absolutely awful.
K: Tastes like a Christmas tree? I don’t even know.
R: Tastes like perfume. Never again.
Liz, 21, and Kevin, 22, Chicago suburbs
L: It’s not as horrible as I thought!
K: Nice rusty flavor. I dig it.
L: It took me five seconds to actually taste it. So that’s a good sign! Definitely resonating with my tongue. What about you, bud?
K: I like the zing. I don’t have a good comparison for it. Earthy flavor…
L: Rubbing alcohol?
K: Nothing compares to Malört!