Jeppson’s Malört, the notorious spirit Chicagoans love to hate, has been a tavern staple here for nearly a century.
The bitter liquor’s origin can be traced back to Carl Jeppson, who immigrated from Sweden to Chicago in the mid-1880s, according to Malört’s website.
By the 1920s, Jeppson started to produce Malört — his take on bäsk brännvin, a Scandinavian liquor distilled from potatoes, grain or wood. He skirted Prohibition regulations by marketing it as a “medicinal” product that could rid the body of stomach worms and other parasites.
Although Jeppson had a cigar shop in the city, Prohibition also forced him to sell his drink door-to-door, or even out of a suitcase on the sidewalk, according to a previous Sun-Times report. By the end of Prohibition, Malört had enough of a reputation that Jeppson was able to sell the formula for the drink with his name attached to it.
And while production of the liquor has shifted from Chicago to Kentucky to Florida and back, its name and notoriety among Chicagoans has remained.
So we asked Sun-Times readers to tell us how they would describe the taste of Malört to someone who’s never had it before.
More than a thousand responses poured in, ranging from creative to disgusting to very, very Chicago. Instead of suffering through a shot of it yourself, read these descriptions that’ll have you wincing anyway.
“It’s a baby aspirin wrapped in a rubber band rolled in pencil shavings and covered with bug spray.” — Tom Kief
“It’s like if shame and regret were left to ferment before being distilled through an old, sweaty shoe.” — Nora Rose Allen
“Pure, unbridled hatred. Like Skittles drenched in gasoline, stuffed into a sock. Then someone beats you to death with that sock. Like how getting dumped in high school feels.” — Mike Amarilio
“Sweat squeezed out of hockey pants then aged for five years the poured on hockey pants squeezed out and aged another five years in a keg tub left over from a frat party that a cat drowned in.” — Mike Smolarek
“Imagine rotten grapefruit with the lingering after taste of a tire fire. Pretty much that.” — Karen Rose
“It’s tastes like when you go camping and walk past someone putting on bug spray and you catch it fully in the mouth. Also grapefruit.” — Tiela Halpin-Moss
“When I was a kid in the 60s we would chase the bug sprayer truck and inhaled the DDT. It tastes like that mixed with licorice.” — Thomas McInerney
“I did several shots of this one trip and decided it tastes like a forest fire, if the forest was made of ear wax.” — Brittany Benson
“Gasoline on the rocks with a twist of regret.” — Gloria Chevere
“It tastes like you mowed the lawn with your face.” — Nick Wright
“You know that taste in your mouth when you have food poisoning and there is nothing else left to vomit except stomach acid?” — Tim David
“It’s like french-kissing a desk from Ikea.” — Lindsey Monroe-Bougher
“Tastes like the Chicago River.” — Patrick John Kane
“Gasoline served in a dirty ashtray.” — Paul Scott
“A slap in the face followed by a warm hug.” — Sara Bergs
“Hipster tears that have been left in the trunk of your Corolla through all of Chicago’s seasons.” — Maritza Lilliebridge
“Like the Dan Ryan Expressway.” — Sean Seamus Somers
“It tastes like old spice mixed with basil. It is tart and makes your mouth feel dry and pinched. It leaves a hint of dried orange peels and newly mowed grass on your tongue.” — Niclas Fohlin
“Imagine doing a shot of vinegar mixed with pickle juice and turpentine.” — Jim Lewis
“Like a stale fart mixed with the juice at the bottom of a dumpster in August.” — Ole Campos
“Like a fermented jolly rancher.” – Brenda Torres-Figueroa
“Nail polish remover.” — Pat Pfaller
“Potpourri and rubbing alcohol.” — Liz Allen
“It tastes like if you took a baby’s soiled diaper after they’ve eaten a jar of cigarettes soaked in liquid smoke, ring it out and get the juices from the said diaper. Mix the juice with the yoke of a rotting egg and strain it through a dirty jockstrap soaked in liver and onions for no less than one year. Absorb the fluid from the mixture in a high school boy’s sock following an August football practice. Bury the sock under the nearest chicken coop overnight. Remove one ounce of fluid with an eyedropper and place it under your tongue. That taste is just a little better than one shot of Malort.” — Thomas Cairns
“It’s like being forced to down Elmer’s glue by grade school bullies with an aftertaste of candle wax.” — Walter Brzeski
“It tastes like crying alone in a bathroom stall.” — Sean McGill
“Throwing up in your mouth then swallowing.” — Bob Abplanalp
“I describe it as taking a full ashtray off the table, dumping the cigarette butts out and licking off all the ash that’s caked on the ashtray. I also add: ‘You should try it!’ in a really cheerful voice after that description.” — Anthony Velasquez
“Pencil shavings and depression.” — Richard Hunt
“Earwax and shame.” — Jessi Tully
“It tastes fine, then suddenly tastes like someone filtered vodka through burning garbage and finished it with smoke from a tire fire.” — Michael C. Krauss
“Lysol disinfectant blended with hops and bug spray.” — Debra Rose
“Tastes like victory.” — Frank Nova
“Take an old Christmas tree with the lights still plugged in and soak that in grain alcohol for a week, strain through a hay bale.” — BJ Levy
“The love child of licorice and rotting cabbage.” — Chuck Boswell
“Licking the bottom of a well-worn Doc Marten after eating the rind of a grapefruit.” — Becca Cleeland
“Batteries with a splash of gasoline and some burnt rubber on top.” — Monse Rizo
“Take an old, soggy running shoe, fill it with sweat, underarm perspiration, under boob sweat and belly button juice with a shot of toe-cheese.” — Yeni Marlen
“Rotten grapefruit rubbed in motor oil.” — Lisa Streitmatter
“It’s the year 2020 in a bottle.” — Tom Kief
“You don’t. You tell them to do a shot.” — Marc Piszkiewicz