In the 1930s, a Swedish immigrant named Carl Jeppson introduced Chicagoans to Malört, a bitter wormwood-based spirit with a pungent, lingering aftertaste. Perhaps not surprisingly, the liquor never caught on outside of Chicago, but locals wear "Malört face"—the puckered expression that comes after a shot of the stuff—with immense pride. Seasoned Malört drinkers order it straight, but we suggest starting your maiden voyage with one of the many Malört cocktails popping up around town. You know you're at least a little curious…
Four Bitter Stars at Double A
The intimate lounge beneath sex-Mex restaurant Mercadito feature cocktails from NYC mixologists Paul Tanguay and Tad Carducci, a.k.a. The Tippling Bros. For this one, they paired a quartet of bitter ingredients—Malört, mole bitters, yellow chartreuse, and Becherovka (both herbal liqueurs; the former made by French monks and the latter from the Czech Republic)—with mezcal for a smoky, sophisticated sip. $14. 108 W Kinzie St.
Jeppson Driver at Ada St.
Anyone who has done a tequila shot (so, pretty much everyone) knows a little citrus chaser goes a long way. Bartenders at tucked-away hotspot Ada St. skip a step and add the citrus—Solerno blood orange liqueur—straight into their Malört shot, along with a dash of salt. If you still need a chaser, the crispy black-eyed peas here are incredible. $8. 1664 N Ada St, 773-697-7069.
I'm Not Drinking That at Sepia
Cointreau and orange juice soften Malört's bitter blow in this cocktail, a house favorite that bartenders are happy to whip up on request. So do rum, gin, and sherry. Whew. Maybe after one, you should abide by the name. $13. 123 N Jefferson St, 312-441-1920.
World Shattered at The Violet Hour
Leave it to the pioneer of Chicago cocktail bars to alter Malört's original recipe, creating a housemade version with grapefruit peel, juniper berry, elderflower, and star anise to temper the harsh wormwood flavor. Try it mixed with Salers herbal liqueur, honey syrup, raspberry and mint, and your world just may shatter—who knew Malört could taste this inoffensive? $12. 1520 N Damen Ave, 773-252-1500.
Centro Champagne Cocktail at Centro Ristorante
Looking to really ease into Malört? This bubbly beauty is perfect—bartenders soak a sugar cube in Malört to take off the edge, then plop that into a sweet mix of sparkling wine and Grand Marnier. Cheers! $12. 6 W Hubbard St, 312-988-7775.
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