Though Malort’s popularity has grown in recent years (which we detailed recently in the Dining section), longtime fans have wondered if something fishy has been afoot with the intensely bitter spirit: Did the city’s original malort maker — Jeppson’s Malort — change its recipe and become more palatable?
Well, yes and no, it turns out.
Sam Mechling, director of marketing at Jeppson’s Malort, said the recipe never changed. But he acknowledged that the product did become easier to drink because the wormwood the company has sourced in recent years has been milder. Malort is a neutral spirit (vodka, essentially) infused with wormwood, an intensely bitter plant.
“We noticed a change in 2007 or 2008,” Mechling said. “It lacked that characteristic punch in the face that made us famous.”
(Try telling that to these people back in 2012.)
For malort aficionados, there is good news: Malort is about to get back to its bitter roots.
Mechling said Jeppson’s has come across a new, more intense wormwood that is closer to the truly challenging stuff that it made in years past.
The new bottles are slowly reaching the marketplace, and “by spring the whole market will be rife with this new stuff,” Mechling said. They have enough wormwood to make about a year’s worth of malort before they will need to source more.
To tell the new absurdly bitter Jeppson’s from the older still-very-bitter Jeppson’s, check the serial number printed on the bottles. New bottles are marked with “3023FD06:220347,” “3023FD06:190347” or “3023FD06:210347.”
I tasted both new and old Jeppson’s Malort this afternoon and can confirm that the new stuff is clearly more bitter. The old has a thicker and slightly more syrupy — and I would say pleasant — body. The new stuff doesn’t taste so different for a second, but then its bitterness slams the back of the tongue like an anvil. It lingers mightily. And then it lingers some more. It’s intense stuff.
Mechling admitted that making a more intense product just as malort sales are taking off might alienate the new audience.
“We’ve thought about it, but we’re a word-of-mouth beverage, and we have a reputation to live up to,” he said. “The only people we stand to lose are the fair-weather people who weren’t all that into it in the first place.”
And, he said, if you just can’t stand the new and improved (?) malort, consider one of his favorite summer cocktails: an ounce of malort mixed with a teaspoon of honey, then topped with eight ounces of Stiegl Radler.