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Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Regrettable Tattoo!
They said it couldn't be done. They were wrong. They said it shouldn't be done. I did it anyway.
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. And I am a little smug today. Last weekend I was bartending a gig with some pretty savvy cocktail nerds. They threw me some pretty hefty curveballs. A drink featuring Angostura bitters? Yeah, I’ve got a recipe for a Trinidad Sour in my back pocket. Want a Zombie (a 15-ingredient tiki monster)? Yep, no sweat. I’ve made dozens.
And then the Midwestern bartender’s nightmare came out: Malört. The absolute worst liquor ever created in the United State of America. Many mixologists have tried to make a Malört cocktail. Many have failed. But I had an inkling of how to tackle this beast. I made it work, but only by breaking all the rules. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit for your drinking pleasure: The Regrettable Tattoo. Here’s the recipe:
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2 oz Boodles Gin
1 oz Malört Liqueur
2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz passion fruit puree
1 oz simple syrup
½ oz pomegranate molasses
2 shakes Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting Malört, I can only describe this wormwood liqueur as resembling seven or eight dissolved aspirin in a glass. But somehow, it tastes even worse than that; the finish lingers on your tongue for a good minute, despite all efforts to sandpaper the flavor out of your mouth. It’s a liqueur that tastes of pencil shavings and heartbreak. It is, charitably, a strong drink.
That’s been the selling point of Malört since its inception. Originally created in the 1930s by Carl Jeppson, Malört’s back label tells you that “Its bitter taste is savored by two-fisted drinkers.” Malört was freely sold during Prohibition; the government was convinced that no one would actually drink the stuff for fun. The brand withered away to almost nothing until social media found it and celebrated its unique awfulness. The fan-created advertising slogans are priceless:
Malört, tonight's the night you fight your dad!
Malört, the Champagne of pain.
Malört, turning taste-buds into taste-foes for generations.
Drink Malört, it's easier than telling people you have nothing to live for.
Malört, what soap washes its mouth out with.
Malört, these pants aren't going to sh** themselves.
Malört, the liver is evil and must be punished.
Malört, pumpkin spice for sadists.
These days, Malört is an underground icon of the gritty Midwest, especially Chicago. Ask for a shot of Malört at the bar, and the bartender knows that you’re an authentic tough guy. They also know that you’re an idiot, and that cleaning out the bathrooms at the end of the shift will require a strong constitution.
The unique character of Malört does make one wonder why you’d try to build a cocktail around it. I’m certainly not the first. Chicago’s finest speakeasies have made the attempt. It is a very, very difficult ingredient to work with, and making it palatable is … challenging.
I threw all caution and sense to the wind and made something tiki-inspired, but without any attempt to balance the drink. You’ll never convince Malört to be sweet or pleasant, so why not just keep throwing bitter and sour flavors at it until it joins the punk rock choir? Grapefruit makes a lot of sense in that context; you expect bitter pith to come with your grapefruit. The other juices were chosen for their pucker power. I’m really pleased with the pomegranate molasses here; the earthy sourness ties everything together nicely. The end result is a cocktail that will make your face curdle when you taste it, but somehow you keep going back to the glass.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Boodles Gin: My favorite London Dry gin. A firm herbal background for this cocktail is a must. If you’re the type of person who thinks gin tastes awful … well, let’s be honest here, the rest of this recipe isn’t going to get easier. Best sit this one out.
Malört Liqueur: I can’t really offer a substitution here. Nothing tastes exactly like classic Malört. The world is grateful.
Grapefruit Juice: Use fresh. Most bottled grapefruit juice is a cocktail of juices; you want the real deal here. One half of a pink grapefruit will supply enough juice.
Pineapple Juice: A strong background for the drink to provide body and acid. Always use canned. Fresh pineapple juice is rather caustic. I use the little cans from Dole.
Lemon Juice: Always use fresh. Generally I veer away from lemon juice as being too acidic for a normal cocktail. But when I’m fighting Malört, I’ll pull out every big gun in my arsenal.
Passion Fruit Puree: Another super tart ingredient that’s down to fight the Malört. These little frozen cubes are great for cocktail mixing, and are readily available at a big-box grocery chain.
Simple Syrup: A little sugar keeps the drink from completely obliterating your taste buds, but let’s be realistic. No amount of sugar will make this drink sweet. Use a light hand.
Pomegranate Molasses: You can readily find this at most Middle Eastern groceries. I add a spoonful to my house grenadine. It’s extremely tart, but alluring. It does a great job of bringing the drink together; without it, the juices clash with each other while the Malört cackles in the background like a cartoon villain.
Angostura Bitters: Use a heavy hand here. The spice is very welcome in the glass, and we’ve already made the commitment to bitterness, so why stop now?
I leave you with this classic marketing slogan from Carl Jeppson: "The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSEVERE. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours... forever."
In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below!
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