Of everything I wrote or filmed during my years as the nightlife reporter at Chicago’s commuter paper RedEye, nothing is more referenced than my participation in our staff-wide Jeppson’s Malört tasting. Every few months, some acquaintance will send me a Facebook message: “Hey, I saw you in that Malört video!” This is my legacy, and I’ve made peace with it.
Why does that video endure like a digital cockroach? Because Malört.
Malört, for the uninitiated, is a bitter, yellow-hued liqueur, which you some might call a digestif, except digestifs aid digestion and Malört makes most people want to hurl. It has a long, complicated association with the Windy City, despite not actually being produced in Chicago. That changed this morning, when news surfaced this morning that Chicago’s CH Distillery had purchased the rights to produce this singular beverage.
Those from outside Chicago might not understand the impact of the news, so allow this former Chicagoan to attempt an explanation. Malört is beloved in Chicago not in spite of its flavor—which to me tastes like a piquant combination of wormwood, burnt rubber, and gluesticks—but because of its flavor. Some folks claim to actually enjoy it, but to me, Malört shots are more of a bonding ritual. Like Chicago winters and the Route 66 bus, Malört is a communally endured trial. It puts hair on the city’s collective chest, and Chicagoans don’t expect outsiders to “get it.” As its unofficial theme song states, “Your Jeppson’s is here people, don’t be distraught, just go on, hold your nose, 1-2-3. Because whether you’d drink it on purpose or not has got no f—ing business with me.”
After I moved from Chicago to Phoenix, some Chicago-based friends flew out to visit me. The only souvenir I wanted from the city, I told them, was a bottle of Malört. Yes, they brought it with, and yes, I still have a quarter bottle of it left on my bar cart, ready for consumption should the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup. Returning production of this divisive liqueur to the only city on earth that could love it just feels right. Malört, you’re finally home.