Meet the city's new 100-proof malort. (Letherbee Distillers )
There's no longer only one malort in town. R. Franklin's Original Recipe Malort, which was developed by The Violet Hour beverage director Robbie Haynes and borrows his middle name, now is available at bars and shops across the city.
The bitter liquor, which previously was available only at the Wicker Park cocktail lounge, is bottled by Chicago-based Letherbee Distillers.
"I think it's sweeter, it's more bitter and more grapefruity [than other malorts]," said Letherbee's distiller Brent Engel. "It's more complex. The experience of drinking it has a beginning, a middle and an end."
Malort means "wormwood" in Swedish and though the word is often used to describe this type of liquor, the style of spirit is called bask brannvin. While most people—including the RedEye staff—consume the most well-known variety, Jeppson's Malort, in shot form as a sort of dare, Engel said Letherbee's 100-proof malort works well mixed with grapefruit juice or as a substitute for other bitter liqueurs such as amaro and fernet in cocktails.
In addition to the malort, Letherbee also has recently released Vernal Gin, a floral, springtime spirit that's more botanical than the distillery's traditional gin. Vernal begins with the same recipe as the traditional gin, but is distilled a second time after the addition of chrysanthemum flowers, chamomile, arnica flowers and a bit of jasmine. Each bottle also contains a sprig of vanilla grass, which imparts a green grass and vanilla flavor.
"Just like our original recipe gin, it makes a great gin and tonic. You can do simple drinks like that with it and it works very well," Engel said. " I haven’t tried it in every single classic cocktail, but it’s versatile for sure."
Its versatility will be on display May 20 at Logan Square bar Scofflaw, which hosts a release party for both Letherbee's Vernal Gin and R. Franklin's Original Recipe Malort from 6 to 9 p.m. Head bartender Danny Shapiro will mix Vernal Negronis ($6) and the bar plans to switch their malort tap from Jeppson's to Letherbee for the night. Malort will even be on the menu in the form of a Vernal Gin-poached shrimp with asparagus and shaved pecans.
For those who want to pick up some of the new Letherbee products for home consumption, Engels suggests calling your favorite liquor store to ask whether it's in stock. He also suggests looking for them at Provenance Food and Wine and In Fine Spirits.
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