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For some, malört is Sweden’s worst offering of all time. It’s worse than lutefisk. It’s worse than ABBA.
The 70-proof, wormwood-flavored alcohol has an incredibly bitter taste and has been described as having notes of gasoline, poison, earwax, rotten grapefruit and decaying flesh. Some say the aftertaste is more repulsive than the initial flavor.
"Malört is mankind’s most foul-tasting alcohol," says Matthew Wright, a former Milwaukee bartender who says he’s consumed more than 20 shots of it, mostly after losing bets or darts. "It never grows on you. Every shot is worse."
And yet, malört has somewhat of a cult following – particularly in Chicago – and is reported as being particularly popular with bikers and newbie drinkers who consider it a "rite of passage" to alcohol consumption.
"What this spirit has become is the ‘I'm more hardcore than hardcore’ shot for many to try. Congrats to you and your toilet in the morning," says Josh Pietrykowski, a longtime bartender and bar manager. "I, however, like enjoying the taste of what I drink, and have no desire to take part in this fad."
Malört has also been said to cure indigestion, although some claim it’s only because the flavor is so awful that anyone with stomach pain will forget about it immediately after tasting the repugnant refreshment.
The appeal of malört is often tricking someone who’s never tried it to take a shot just to witness their disgusted reaction. There have been many photos and videos on social media of unsuspecting people sampling the offensive spirit for the first time. (Some refer to this as "malört face.")
"I have a buddy, who videotaped his girlfriend doing a shot of it the first time. She was talking sh*t, saying there’s no way the spirit is that awful. She takes the shot, looks at him, coughs a few times, and pukes it back up," says Pietrykowski.
Malört is available at many local bars and restaurants, including Sabattic, 700 S. 2nd St.
"I think it's gross, a waste of money and most people who drink it have it ordered for them," says Devon Weisend, a bartender at Sabbatic.
Carrie Wisniewski also serves it as Redbar, 2245 E. St Francis Ave., primarily as a punishment for people who lose a dice game. It’s replaced – and is worse than – the usual loser’s libation, rail gin.
"It's definitely the shot that keeps on giving. It isn't terrible at first but then after two or three seconds, something awful happens," says Wisniewski. "I think it tastes like what death smells like."
Not everyone is repulsed by the beverage, however. Kathleen McCann says she tends to like drinks with a tangy or bitter edge – rather than sweet – and has enjoyed a couple of cocktails made with malört.
"A bartender at The Hotel Foster made me a tasty cocktail with it. I also had a delicious drink called the Thigh High at Violet Hour, the iconic Chicago craft cocktail joint," says McCann.
(The author also tried a shot for the first time for article research and found it way less offensive than most did. It wasn't an all-time favorite, but it wasn't abhorrent, either.)
Despite the fact so many people hate the taste they will also agree that the marketing is genius.
"They are making money by getting people to drink something solely to experience how truly awful it is," Wisniewski says.
Malört – which is Swedish for "wormwood" – is an old spirit invented in the 1800s by a Swede named Carl Jeppson who brought his recipe to Chicago, where he eventually moved.
In 1934, Jeppson sold the recipe to George Brode, a lawyer who started the Carl Jeppson Company. It was made in Chicago until the mid-70's, when the distillery that produced it for the company closed down. Currently, it’s made in Florida.
In 1999, Brode died and left the company to his secretary, Patricia Gabelick, who still runs the company today and sells the product under the name Jeppson’s Malört.
There is also another brand on the market, R. Franklin’s Malört, which is said to be equally as soul-crushingly terrible but anise flavored.
"Wherever your palate lies, it is very rarely able to tolerate, let alone enjoy, the taste of malört," says Pietrykowski.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.