In what could be taken as either an act of generosity or a sign of aggression, Chicago is about to share one of its great traditions with New York: Drinking Malört, thanks to a newly inked distribution deal with Chicago-based Letherbee Distillers.
For the uninitated, Malört is an herb-infused liqueur best described as a very bitter schnapps. (In fact, Bittermens distributes a similar schnapps that's produced in Sweden.) But Chicago has long been able to lay claim to Malört because the best-known producer, Carl Jeppson's, available since the thirties, has almost no availability outside of Chicago.
Jeppson's hasn't had much incentive to foist it on unsuspecting non-Chicagoans, either. Malört's flavor has been likened, variously, to things like gasoline and vomit. In fact, wormwood, one of the key ingredients in absinthe, is what gives Malört its herbaceous flavor and fiercely bitter bite.
But even though Jeppson's is staying local, Chicago producer Letherbee — perhaps encouraged by the success of Fernet Branca, another not-exactly-delicious drink that went from regional favorite in San Francisco to darling of the cocktail world — is making a go of it. Their R. Franklin's Original Recipe was first sold as a limited batch at the Violet Hour in January of this year, then introduced to the entire Chicago market in May. Unlike Jeppson's, which is a relatively tame 70-proof, R. Franklin's clocks in at 100 proof, and has a flavor that's somewhat reminiscent of earthy, bitter grapefruit. (Or vomit, your call.)
For those interested, Letherbee will be debuting their portfolio at Dram next Monday (August 26) between 3 and 7 p.m., or the following day between 7 and 10 p.m. at Mother's Ruin. And for all those who have no interest in Malört, Letherbee will also be pouring their flagship gin and barrel-aged absinthe at the events, as well as cocktails made with their spirits.