What’s shakin’ cocktail fans?
Welcome to Episode 235 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast! I’m your host, Eric Kozlik.
Thanks for joining me for this interview episode, where we track down the best and brightest minds in the spirits and cocktail world so that we can share their secrets with you. This time around, I’m joined by distiller and entrepreneur Tremaine Atkinson, who runs CH Distillery, Chicago’s leading artisan spirits producer, and, more importantly for this conversation, the manufacturer of Jeppson’s Malört.
Many of you will be familiar with this bracingly bitter wormwood liqueur as a quintessential Chicago rite of passage, or as a gentle punishment bestowed upon unruly guests by cheeky bartenders. But even if you haven’t tried Malört yourself, you know that it has a serious reputation for being unapologetically bitter and in-your-face.
In this fascinating conversation with Tremaine Atkinson of CH Distillery, manufacturers of Jeppson’s Malört, some of the topics we discuss include:
- How Tremaine left his career in finance to jump-start an old dream that once had him peddling kegs of beer in San Francisco – a move that ultimately resulted in the founding of CH Distillery
- The complicated story of Jeppson’s Malört, which began as a DIY Swedish palate cleanser, then had a harrowing, medicinal encounter with Prohibition, took a decades-long detour to the Sunshine State, and finally made a triumphant return to its spiritual home in Chicago.
- Why bitter tastes come with some strange psychological baggage, and why wormwood – specifically Northern European wormwood – is so crucial to the iconic bitterness of Jeppson’s Malört.
- We also delve into some of the more humbling experiences involved with acquiring a legacy brand – like the need to reverse engineer the Malört recipe from scratch and that awkward moment when a room full of bartenders tells you it might taste a little TOO good.
- Along the way, we explore the history of Scandinavian “besk” spirits, the marketing move that had consumers asking, “Is there Malört in that Bourbon?”, why taking shots is sometimes necessary to ensure quality control, and much, much more.