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New Yorkers Can't Handle Real Malort

By Mark Konkol | August 23, 2013 9:17am
 Malort is coming to New York. But it's not the working man’s swill Chicagoans have grown to know and (kind of?) love.
Malort is coming to New York. But it's not the working man’s swill Chicagoans have grown to know and (kind of?) love.
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Jeppson's Malort/Facebook

PULLMAN — When I heard the news that rookie Malort makers — a joint called Letherbee Distillers out of Humboldt Park — had started exporting Chicago’s foulest swill to New York City I couldn’t contain my evil laugh.

“Choke on that you Brooklyn hipster posers,” I bellowed.

“Can’t wait for you to vomit up your ginger-glazed duck wings and smoked trout toast, you Nolita dirtbags,” I sneered, shaking my fist with manufactured rage.

After all, Malort is a shot you give your enemies.

And New York is Chicago’s greatest nemesis — for good reason.

New Yorkers take credit for tagging our town with the less than flattering monikers: Second City, second to their town, of course, and the Windy City, a jab at our long-winded politicians.

Most recently, critic Rachel Shteir, a New Yorker living in Chicago, bashed our city as “not Detroit, not yet.”

So if you see Shteir, buy her a shot of Malort.

Veteran Chicago drinkers know Malort is a wormwood liqueur popular in city taverns frequented by working men, hipsters and sometimes both. At some joints, they'll serve you a Malort shot, a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a cigarette for about 5 bucks.

It is especially popular with drinkers who benefit from nicotine-numbed taste buds.

That's because Malort is well known for its lingering aftertaste — a flavor combination of glass cleaner and horse urine, among other things.

Some drinkers will tell you it tastes like black licorice — something like Absinthe — dipped in glass cleaner and horse urine. They’re not wrong.

The very fact that anyone — particularly purveyors of “upscale dive bars” (whatever those are) on both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge — would import Malort from Chicago makes me giddy.

There’s something special — maybe it’s a certain civic pride — a Chicagoan feels after watching a New Yorker, even if you like the guy, grimace and gag on a shot of Malort.

I took pleasure knowing that midlevel advertising agents in Nolita (it’s not even a real neighborhood) and vintage vest-wearing drinkers in Williamsburg (folks who pull off being fancy yet simultaneously unclean) soon will torture themselves with our Midwestern rotgut.

But that didn’t last.

Paul Degrassi, our hip (not hipster) ad man, informed me that the Letherbee Malort tastes nothing like real Malort — that’s Jeppson’s Malort, a Chicago original since the 1930s.

“It tastes more like Ouzo with an anise taste,” he said. “I did a half shot of Letherbee and Jeppson to see the difference, and Jeppson’s, which I like, is dirty in comparison.”

Even Jeppson's boasts on Facebook, "The first shot is hard to swallow."

When he says, “dirty,” he means glass cleaner and horse urine, which apparently he “likes” due to his nicotine-numbed taste buds.

What’s worse is that the first NYC bars to serve the stuff — Dram in Williamsburg and Mother’s Ruin in Manhattan — appear to be joints that staff “mixologists” rather than bartenders.

Which means, of course, our East Coast rivals will likely be sipping the less bitter Malort diluted into a fancy cocktail served in a pretty glass.

All my joy had faded until I realized something.

There are plenty of New Yorkers living here — and I know more than a few — who we can sucker punch with a shot of the real stuff any time we want.

And as they grimace and gag, we can let loose an evil laugh knowing full well that when it comes to working man’s swill, Chicago is a city second to none.