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Malort

malort

On a long drive recently, NPR held up Malort as the gold standard for what tastes bad, as if this had been firmly decided. So, after hearing about this concoction over the years, it was time to see what all the revulsion was about. The New York Times said “The taste has been compared — by advocates and detractors alike — to rubbing alcohol, bile, gasoline, car wax, tires and paint thinner.” One “Malort face” is here, a collection is here (and NPR’s audio reaction is here).

Malort is Swedish for wormwood, a key ingredient of this liqueur. The same mischievous plant (also known as Artemisia absinthium) also provides a key ingredient and the name for absinthe and vermouth. Recent Jeppson’s labels do not mention the following, but the writing seemed so distinctive that I wanted to capture it before it recedes further into the past:

Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, “My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.” It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two “shock-glasses” and with the third you could be ours…forever.

I am not sure if it sounds more like a sales pitch or a threat. Other than the Wikipedia article, I could not find much to verify that this text appeared on labels. Apart from the shock value of this product, as per usual, legal issues abound. First, I wonder how this comes to be classified as a beverage (subject to taxing and licensing as an alcohol beverage). If this is not non-beverage or unfit for beverage purposes, it starts to get really difficult to make this distinction (as between potable and non-potable), so crucial to much of the law around alcohol beverages. Malort may underscore that it’s okay for one purveyor to elect to be regulated as a beverage, even when the liquid tastes awful, and even though it would not be okay for another purveyor (of drinks with “rugged and unrelenting” flavors) to capriciously elect to be regulated as non-beverage.

A second law-related issue arises from the ownership of this brand. Carl Jeppson was an immigrant from Sweden and brought Malort to the U.S. during the Prohibition era. Before Jeppson’s death in 1949, he sold the recipe to a Chicago lawyer, and he left the company to his secretary, Patricia Gabelick. As of 2012, Ms. Gabelick was a “69-year-old retired secretary who runs the company out of her condo on Lake Shore Drive” in Chicago. The Wall Street Journal explained:

sales climbed last year by more than 80% from just a few years ago to 23,500 bottles, with annual revenue of more than $170,000. … Ms. Gabelick seems a bit baffled by the interest in Malört, which was a hobby for her boss, George Brode, a Chicago lawyer who left the company and its one product to her when he died in 1999. … “All my life I wish George had made a product I could drink,” she says. … Jeppson’s Malört got its start when Mr. Brode landed one of Chicago’s first liquor licenses after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. He added Malört to his stable of liquors when approached by Carl Jeppson, who had a recipe for a spirit favored by the city’s Swedish immigrant population. Mr. Brode eventually exited the liquor business for a career as a lawyer, but kept Jeppson’s Malört.

Even if this blog can’t help you with what to drink this holiday season, we wanted to do our part toward informing you what not to drink.

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Moscato Liqueur

Moscato is so very popular it can no longer stay contained within the wine context. Here it is — in a liqueur. The product is Courvoisier Gold – Cognac & Moscato. It is classified as a liqueur, made in France, and imported by Jim Beam.

This seems like an important approval because it was not so very long ago that TTB/ATF frowned upon varietal terms — when used on spirits labels — and even when the spirit was made almost entirely from the named grape. For example, it was very common in the 1990s for ATF to say that varietal terms should not be shown, or should not be prominent, on grappa labels, because varietal characteristics are subtle and are not likely to survive past distillation.

It looks like it took Beam many months to get this approval. The application went in on March 5, 2012 and did not get approved until more than three months later. It must be a pretty special grape if it’s the subject of not only a bunch of rap songs, but also a few memes:  problem, freshman, classy, cat.

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Keep Spirits Nutty

I have not spent a lot of time in Austin, Texas, but I like the slogan:  Keep Austin Weird. I am thinking about this today because, quite often, it occurs to me that the alcohol beverage industry, similarly, seems to draw more than its fair share of eccentrics. In my view, that’s a good thing and helps make it a fun place to spend a career.

I am thinking about the distiller who lit his finger on fire in the office, to make sure we understand that his product is the real deal.  I am thinking about the client who owns a small island in the Caribbean, and once ditched his Rolls-Royce by the side of the road to sail around the world with a monkey. I am thinking about the Tequila importer who said 20 minutes was more than enough time to get across town, to our front section seats at Madison Square Garden, for Elton John’s 60th birthday concert.  (Little did I know that he’d park his big Mercedes at the adjacent curb and scurry up a back-alley entrance, midway through President Clinton’s introduction.)  I am also thinking about the beer executive who wore a green leisure suit, all day, on St. Patrick’s Day a while back.

It would not be better, if everything were plain like a Safeway-brand Vodka. In this spirit, I look forward to raising up a glass of Dumante Pistachio Liqueur — a nutty spirit indeed. A Louisville publication explains that David Dafoe, a “beverage architect” is one of the forces behind this unconventional product, along with lawyer-and-pistachio-devotee Howard Sturm. The Louisville article further explains:

Dafoe apparently is creating Epicenter, a center/distillery/entertainment complex where you can watch booze being made and bottled, then buy the first products made in downtown Louisville since Prohibition started 93 years ago. … For more than 20 years, Flavorman has been proud to be the beverage development partner for premier companies across the United States,” said Dafoe. … The Epicenter is part of a growing national trend toward artisan distilleries. While there were 143 distilled spirits plant licensees in the United States in 2006, there are now over 700.

We look forward to meeting the next fun and eccentric clients, and working with them to keep beer, wine and spirits off-centered — or nutty — or anything but boring.

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Cool Bottles

I am glad we are not stuck in this era. Work would not be fun.

Many years ago, TTB/ATF contemplated putting such shackles on the alcohol beverage industry, with a proposal to ban “non-standard containers.” This old chestnut (from about 1999):

proposes to “standardize” the appearance of all alcohol beverage containers. The proposal would accomplish this by prohibiting “Any container that, by virtue of the material from which it is composed or by its shape or design, or that by its ordinary and customary use is likely to mislead the consumer as to the alcohol character of the product. . . .” The proposal expresses ATF’s concern about containers that might confuse consumers about the presence or absence of alcohol in any form. The proposal secondarily expresses concern about containers that might confuse consumers, regulators and the trade about the “alcohol character of the product.” This part of the rule could conceivably be used to prohibit a malt beverage from being packed in a container that looks like a wine bottle, or a distilled spirit cooler from being packed in a container that looks like a beer bottle.

I am delighted to report that this proposal got buried not too many years apart from when one of its foremost proponents got buried. We might otherwise be deprived of all these great ideas that make the industry more competitive, modern, vibrant and fun. A good and further example is Double Agent, as above (approved at Bendistillery, an excellent contract bottler for spirits in Bend, Oregon). The outer chamber is vodka and the inner chamber is liqueur. I am pretty sure nobody will mistake it for a juicebox. Another good example, along these lines, is Milagro Romance Tequila.

Don’t hold your breath, but if we get really creative, perhaps it would only take a few more decades to identify good reasons why this sort of thing should be prohibited (preferably well after the government is running big surpluses, unemployment is below 3%, and other priorities are well under control).

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Sparkling Vodka

We covered several sparkling spirits products about three years ago, here, and so it may be about time for a redux. There is quite a bit of action on this front, in recent months, perhaps due to the high profile of Nuvo Sparkling Liqueur.

Here is a Sparkling Vodka under the brand name Le Grand Saint. Technically, it is a distilled spirits specialty more than a “vodka” or a specific class/type. The statement of composition (“vodka infused with carbonation”) appears in gold letters near the top of the front label.

Another good example is Prévu. It is unique in the sense that it is sparkling, and liqueur, and organic. It is made with vodka and Cognac, and imported by Simont Enterprises of Los Angeles, California. Prévu also happens to have a great looking website and bottle. If the product is even half as good as what is shown there, I should step away from the computer and go get several bottles.

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distilled spirits specialty, liqueur


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