If you find yourself in Chicago, don’t even think about leaving without drinking some Malört, the fairly, umm, aggressive-tasting tipple based on the Scandinavian wormwood-infused spirit, bësk (Malört actually means wormwood).
Jeppson’s Malört, launched legally in the Windy City in 1934 (but sold “medicinally” during Prohibition) was, and more or less the only game in town. In the past couple of years small, local craft distilleries have released spirits they called Malört, but the Carl Jeppson Company, which owns the original, filed to trademark the name, essentially forcing the others to remove it from their labels and call it something else (usually bësk). Some have yet to comply.
It’s hard to find a bar in Chicago that doesn’t have a stash of the spirit, but some are more conducive than others to putting you in the Malört state of mind.
Old Town Ale House: A bona fide institution, the 56-year-old dive bar’s dive bar is right around the corner from the iconic comedy mecca, The Second City. Some of the most legendary characters to grace the world-famous improv theater’s stage have sat atop Old Town’s stools over the years. Painted portraits of many of them adorn the walls—Aykroyd, Murray, Belushi, et al—as do other members of the Chicago glitterati, like the late Roger Ebert who deemed it “The best bar in the world that I know about.” You can bet they’d downed more than their share of Malört.
Lone Wolf: Much trendier and perhaps more hipster friendly, the West Loop’s Lone
Wolf has a fairly extensive craft beer (very 3-forward) and craft cocktail list. Malört-wise, I dare you to try the B.A.F. cocktail, which in addition to our favorite nectar of worwoodiness, includes the French bitters brand Suze, Campari, Yellow Chartreuse liqueur and Rittenhouse Rye. Yes, you guessed it, “B.A.F. stands for “Bitter As Fuck.” And indeed, it is that. Plan on drinking only water after having that because it’ll pretty much wreck your palate for the rest of the evening. But it’s nothing short of transcendent.
Scofflaw: The Logan Square cocktail bar is known for two things: its epic gin list and the fact that it lets drinkers mainline Malört. Okay, by “mainline,” I actually mean the stop is ON TAP! And it’s got an adorable tap handle in the shape of a Jeppson’s Malört bottle. “We go through a lot of the stuff,” the bartender told me.