Chicago is no longer a one-Malort town.
The Carl Jeppson Company of Chicago first produced the bitter Swedish-style spiced liquor in the U.S., but are now getting a dose of competition from the craft cocktail makers at The Violet Hour.
Since the new year, the speakeasy-style cocktail lounge has been serving up its house-made version of the spirit as part of a partnership with Chicago-based Letherbee distillers. According to Chicagoist, the distillery is helping the bar produce an exclusive version of the liquor that's being mixed into new drinks on the menu.
Malort has been described as tasting like rubbing alcohol, bile, gasoline, car wax, tires and paint thinner, but is a staple of most Chicago dives. Carl Jeppson Company distilling production has since moved from Chicago to Florida, but Chicagoans are pretty much the only people daring enough to ingest the stuff. The New York Times Dining Journal blog makes a note of this, pointing out that "[Malort] is consumed almost exclusively in Chicago and rarely seen outside city limits."
Still, Malort's kick-in-the-teeth taste has drawn plenty of attention, with BlackBook noting an uptick in nationwide coverage, including the New York Times and Washington Post. Anthony Bourdain also took a taste of the Chicago favorite when he stopped by the L&L Tavern during the Chicago episode of The Layover.
RedEye took a recent sample of The Violet Hour's craft version of the wormwood-based liquor ("Malort" means wormwood in Swedish) and deemed the small-batch version still bitter like the original, but "balanced with enough bright citrus and a slight sweetness of elderflower to render it palatable."
Also worth noting, The Violet Hour's version is a stiff 100-proof compared to Jeppson's 70-proof.
The Violet Hour is at 1520 N Damen Avenue.