05 January 2012

Eat Us: Jeppson's Malört

Eat Us takes great care to showcase the finest food and drink the Midwest has to offer. And occasionally some of the worst.

I consume (and construct) a lot of food writing in my time away from work. One of the hoarier cliches of the genre (and there are many) is to invoke music in describing a favorite dish, restaurant, or ambiance. I would imagine that if I wore a turtleneck, owned an NPR tote bag, and generally hated myself, I could compare the luxurious taste of a perfect foie gras terrine to Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," a hearbreaking elegy about losing a part of yourself gently sung by an undercover racist.

I loathe nearly everything about that whole scene, but I would like to dip into that particular well of cliche. Imagine, if you will, a shrouded corpse riding Hell's own steed through the scorched plains of a ruined earth. As the windswept cacophony of doom blazes ever closer, your ears begin to bleed with the screeching hymn of the Maiden:

"White man caaaaaame
acrosss the sea
brought us paiiiiiin
and miserrrrrry!"

This, my friends, is the iron hammer of synesthesia that only Jeppson's Malort can provide. Whereas a fine pinot and a bite handmade ravioli might call to mind the bittersweet memory of a lost loved one, Jeppson's Malort calls to mind a champagne toast in an abortion clinic.

And I love it. But let's pause for a primer.

Malört is a Swedish liqueur that amounts to wormwood-flavored schnapps. Wormwood, if you're unfamiliar, tastes as good as the name implies. It's made by The Carl Jeppson Company, based out of this small office on the North Side of Chicago.

View Larger Map

This isn't a regional thing. This isn't really even a Chicago thing. This is a Small-Portion-of-the-North-Side-of-Chicago thing. The stuff was brought over by Swedish immigrants apparently born with tongues made of bearskin and the iron will of conquering Norsemen. The taste is ... where do I possibly begin with the taste? It has been described, in basic, as having the flavor of:

- Pine
- Grapefruit
- Gasoline
- Cigar
- Tears of the unborn
- Yeti afterbirth

In Carl Jeppson's words:

"Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malört reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malört. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malört is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.'

"It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts - seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever"

That really does sum up the general aura, but there's so much more. You see, there's this unique quirk to drinking it. There's no burn. None. That fiery taste that makes, say Wild Turkey such a shit-kicker of an awesome liquor is absent. No, you don't pay with the esophagus and stomach. You pay entirely with your tastebuds. Most everyone's first try goes like this.

1. (Drinks Malört at friend/bartender's insistence.)
2. Oh hey, that's not so ....

If you don't believe my theory about the uniformity of Malört reaction, I submit this. It's where I got the lovely photo at the top. Look at everyone's reaction - pain, confusion, existential dread in the face of a cruel and overpoweringly uncaring universe. This is the good stuff.

It kicks in with such a delay that it reaffirms my Catholic school beliefs. If not of God, then sure as shit the Devil. I love it. I crave it. Every time I wonder how something can taste that bad, I need to have it again. It's not an addiction so much as a way to contemplate Edmund Burke's version of the sublime. You see, Malört doesn't just fuck you up, it gets you philosophical. And that, dear readers, is the biggest hangover imaginable.

White man did indeed bring destruction and misery to my fair city. And I thank them for it. From the heart of Chicago, I'd like to say "Skål, you magnificent bastards."


Jake said...

Wood Schnapps! I honestly didn't find it all that bad. It does however smell like Absorbine Jr., which takes a minute to come to grips with.

Rich said...

Mix it with Jagermeister. Then things get to crackulatin'.

Post a Comment