#805: Grapefruit, Rubber Bands and Weaponized Sadness — A Tale of Malört

June 19th, 2017

He had a contemplative look on his face, as if someone he trusted had hold him 2 + 2 = Aardvark and out of respect he was trying to see if there was anything to it.

Then a vein bulged in his forehead. His mouth pulled back in a grimace and hiss, he took two steps back and made a noise that was a combination of “Whoo!” and a deflating inner tube.

My cousin had tried Malört.

Malört is an odd-tasting wormwood-based shot that, while a product of Florida, has developed a strong Chicago following. It’s become a rite of package, the “shock shot” that, due to its strong flavor of rubber bands, grapefruit and human sorrow, has become a hipster shibboleth of Chicagoana.

So when my cousin Rob, also a product of Florida, came to visit, I had to make him try it.

“Nothing wrong with that,” said the bald, bearded bartender with the bar code tattoo covering the back of his head. “Except for the Malört.”

The main reasons to make people try Malört is two-fold. First, it’s pay-it-forward revenge on the person who subjected you to it back when. Second, it’s just hilarious. People always have really creative descriptions of the taste (“My taste buds are permanently altered! I wonder if I’ll still like chocolate,” was my favorite of Rob’s responses) and then there’s the bug-eyed wincey “Malört face” the shots constituents know.

An ex-bartender friend of mine claimed to have saved hundreds of patrons from Malört face over the years. He told me via email he always required informed consent from all those ordering it. No friends’ pranks or “Gotcha, dude!” on his watch. Consent is king when you’re good, giving and game with novelty booze.

It was a wonderful visit, and a great time spent with family. The next morning as Rob waited for the Uber to take him to the airport to head back to the land of oranges, Cuban street food and shots that taste like things people want to taste, we talked about the visit, we hugged, we pledged to see each other more often and said in a stilted but meaningful “guy” way how much we mean to each other.

“Malört’s terrible, though,” were among his last words as he walked out the door.

Read about more terrible drinks

Read about the greatest Malört shot I ever had

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