Visiting the top of Sears Tower. Taking a photo with the Bean. Buying Lollapallozza tickets. Having your first Deep Dish Pizza. All of these Chicago rites of passage are nothing compared to your first shot of Malort.
If you haven’t had Malort yet, I’m going to have to stop you right here. Instead of continuing, I’m going to need you to strap on your walking shoes and march yourself over to the nearest bar that sells Malort (hint: You can use this Malort Map) and ask for a shot. Once you’re done, you can continue reading.
Congratulations. You’ve now tried the “Worst Liquor in the World” which was best described as one Reddit user as “imagine all your hopes and dreams being snuffed out at once. Put that into a shot glass and there you go.”
Despite being called “the STD of liquor. It’s never going away. It’ll be with you until you do something about it. You will taste this hours later,” by Chicago sommelier Jon McDaniel in this Thrillist article, Malort is the Chicago’s alcoholic equivalent to a cult-classic film. You just can’t claim Chicago citizenship without having tried it.
Other than the dirty-sock-rolled-in-gasoline-and-then-soaked-in-hairspray flavor, here are other facts to really get to know Malort.
Malort is made of Wordwood
It is similar to Absinthe because both are made with Wormwood. Unlike Absinthe though, Malort is missing Thujone, the key ingredient in Absinthe that was thought to lead to psychedelic hallucinations. That’s why instead of a trip, Malort just leaves the awful, lingering aftertaste.
There’s the Traditional way, and the Chicago way
Traditionally, Malort is to be drank neat, with a sugar cube, to offset the flavor. The Swedish inventor of Malort, Carl Jeppenson, actually had terrible taste buds and Malort was one of the only liquors he could taste. Eventually, Chicagoan decided that the sugar cube was for suckers, and that they would rather take Malort straight. Because why not.
#SpoonTip: Your bartender will laugh at you if you order Malort with a sugar cube today. Instead, opt for a “Chicago Car Bomb” which is a shot of Malort and a glass of Old Style.
It survived Prohibition by tasting terrible
During Prohibition, Malort was sold by door to door salesmen as a medicinal alcohol that could cure headaches (which is ironic, because I’ve only gotten headaches from drinking Malort). Because it survived the 18th Amendment, Malort remained the long legal product made of wormwood in the United States up until 2008 when liquor laws changed to allow the sale of absinthe.
#SpoonTip: Because Malort is older than Prohibition, the packaging only shows three out of four stars on the Chicago Flag, since it was created before the Century of Progress exposition in 1933.
Is Malort terrible? Yes. Should you try it anyway? Yes. Will you eventually get used to the taste and actually even enjoy it? Possibly.
Bottoms up, Chicago.