If you're not familiar with Jeppson's Malort, it's probably because you've never lived in Chicago, where nearly all of the polarizing spirit is sold and consumed. To many Chicagoans, Malort is considered the local spirit, despite the fact that it's distilled and bottled right here in Florida — Auburndale, to be precise. (It used to be made in Chicago, but the company outsourced production to Florida in the '80s.)
Malort has a reputation as, shall we say, a challenging spirit. The company itself describes Malort as "brusque," which is only slightly less appetizing than "aggressive." Flavored solely with wormwood, Malort is intensely bitter, producing comical facial expressions in out-of-towners that Chicago folks know as Malort Face.
But despite its infamous status, Malort is actually not bad. The light, golden liquor is smooth, with an impressive, lingering bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit rind. The best way to consume the stuff is neat — and quickly — but it's a lively base for cocktails, too. Here's one of my creations.
1 ounce Jeppson's Malort
1 ½ ounces white grapefruit juice
½ ounce Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters
¼ ounce agave nectar
Combine all ingredients with a handful of ice in a large cup or cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously then strain into a cocktail glass. Serve with a twist of Florida grapefruit.
Note: Ironically, Malort isn't sold in Florida, but it can be easily ordered via mail. Binny's Beverage Depot and the Liquor Barn are both good options.
Watch: Curious what Malort Face looks like? Check out a tasting video some of our staffers did in conjunction with Chicago newspaper RedEye.