Tumbler of the Beast: Jeppson’s Malört
Tired of the same old well whiskey and plastic bottle brandy, but don’t want to feel like an asshole ordering some bullshit digestif like a hipster? Welcome to Tumbler Of The Beast, our guide to the most metal liquors on earth.
Liquor: Jeppson’s Malört
Place of origin: Chicago by way of Sweden
ABV: 35% (70 proof)
Musical accompaniment: Eyehategod, Dragged Into Sunlight, Lord Mantis, Cobalt
Hard liquor doesn’t taste good, and that’s how it should be. Yes, there’s the occasional scotch that tastes like the spicy sap of a comfort tree, but most booze worth drinking assaults the palate. It’s why we wince, gag, and salivate profusely when we do those shots; our bodies are very aware that we’re systematically poisoning ourselves, and want out of the deal. But among the many flavors of the many boozes us drinkers are willing to quaff on a given night, no taste is quite as gross as that of Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s surefire cure for nancyboyism.
As chronicled in the fall issue of Modern Drunkard Magazine, Malört’s foul roots are in Chicago’s Scandinavian immigrants and hard-boiled drinkers. It was created by Carl Jeppson, who sold it to both homesick Swedes (who have been drinking a form of this booze for ages now—it’s technically a kind of brennivín, and ‘malört’ is Swedish for ‘wormwood’) and brave drinkers who “disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.” But it wasn’t until Prohibition, when every drink felt like a misdemeanor, that this crime against the tongue blossomed. After Jeppson sold his recipe, liquor distributor George Brode continued hocking it as a tough guy drink—Jeppson’s Malört, “the two-fisted liquor.”
In an age where absinthe can be found at any bar, one might think that the average 2016 boozehound had a set of taste buds seasoned to withstand a drink like Malört. But this far underestimates the complete revolting package of this liquor. The first sip does have notes of absinthian liquorice at its head, lulling the boozer into false comfort—and then, the bitterness. The wretched face-contorting tire yard-esque bitterness. Like bug spray mixed with medicine and topped off with pot pourri. It hangs around the mouth, making ever smack of the lips or swallow of spit a renewal of its unpleasantness.
But it’s not just that. It’s the thin consistency, that reminds one of solvents and gasoline. It’s the fact that the aftertaste is as jarring and unpleasant with every subsequent sip. There’s no real acclimating to Jeppson’s. One small glass later and the drinker feels sick to their stomach, not drunkenly but rather as one does after having survived a traumatic experience. The trick, then, is to shoot it as quickly as one can, so that the miserable experience of drinking a robot’s amniotic fluid can end and a light, flavorless beer can be gulped. Rarely does one have to drink away the pain of drinking away the pain, but Carl Jeppson found a way.
If you’re ugly, insecure, and filled with self-hatred, Jeppson’s can be ordered from various liquor distributors, and due to its recent popularity among the hipster crowd can be located at bars in most major cities (track it down here). But a piece of advice? Unless you run a bar, don’t order a bottle. For once, I’m not going to urge those of a curious palate to experiment here. This stuff is raw and gross. If you drink a bottle of it, then so are you.