If you’ve tried Malört, you know it’s comparable to chewing the pages of a two-hundred-year-old library book. Or, as local food writer and Pitch restaurant critic Liz Cook says, “The shot tastes like asphalt and citronella, like licking the floor of a shop that sells tires.”
That quote comes from someone who likes Malört—so much so that she’s teaming up with Minibar to throw a festival in honor of the notoriously bitter Chicago-bred bev. Cook is partnering with Ryan Miller of Fancies Sodas & Cocktails to co-host a Malört cocktail competition, “The Malört Mêlée.”
“I’ve been a semi-closeted Malört fan for years, even when it was impossible to find here,” says Cook. “I’d like to ascribe that affinity to my Scandi ancestry, but realistically it’s because I am a garbage monster who loves anything bitter and difficult to love.”
If you haven’t tried Malöt, you shouldn’t—at least not without the help of a skilled bartender. On November 4, six local bartenders will attempt (and maybe succeed) at making Malört drinkable.
“Most people think of Malört as a prank shot, but a lot of bartenders are really into it, which makes sense when you consider that Fernet Branca has been the industry shot of choice for years,” Cook says.
The public cocktail competition will feature soul/rock trio Black Stacey, plus three live rounds of cocktail production.
Attendees will be able to sample six Malört cocktails submitted by the competitors, plus sip on a full-size cocktail of their favorite creation. While the public will help determine the winners in the first round, subsequent rounds will be judged by a panel of Malört experts, including Steve Pine, the managing director of CH Distillery (the distillery that produces Malört), Jay Sanders, veteran cocktail bartender and operator of Drastic Measures, and Cook herself.
Cook first had the idea for the Malört competition after writing a post for her Haterade newsletter about the wormwood liqueur. She started a Tour de Malört, asking bartenders in swanky bars around the city if they could make a Malört cocktail. Surprisingly, many bartenders either already had one in their back pocket or were excited by the challenge.
Cook and Miller knew they wanted to use the event to support an organization that was either invested in or focused on the neighborhood where Minibar is located, and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) is based nearby. “They’ve quite literally saved the life of a person I love,” Cook says. “I know bars can be the site of harassment or assault for many people, and I like the idea of flipping that script.”
Advance tickets are $20 and are available for purchase here. The event is 21+ and begins at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6:30. All attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the last 48 hours.