When we travel, as a general rule, we like to order what the locals do. And in some places around the country, the locals enjoy pretty…well…unique drinks. Here are a few regional specialties we’ve come across that you can’t really find anywhere else. Make sure to try them the next time you have a chance.
Back in the early 20th century, a Swedish immigrant to Chicago named Carl Jeppson started producing an intensely bitter wormwood-flavored liqueur from his homeland. Jeppson’s Malört was a huge success in the city’s Swedish community and from there, it spread to the rest of town—likely aided by the fact that it was sold legally (for “medicinal purposes”) during Prohibition. Today, the unusual spirit is a favorite of bartenders in the Windy City—and the brand says that about 95 percent of its sales come from the Chicago area. The stuff’s not for the faint of heart: There’s a whole sub-genre of YouTube videos and Instagram photos dedicated to the “malört face” people make upon tasting it.
Head just north from Chicago and you’ll discover another distinctive beverage. Drinkers in Wisconsin love their Brandy Old Fashioneds (pictured above). The recipe begins like most modern versions, with muddled fruit, bitters and sugar. But instead of whiskey, cheeseheads use inexpensive brandy (often Korbel from California) and “finish” it with a little something extra—you can request your Wisconsin-style Old Fashioned sweet (topped with Sprite or 7Up), sour (topped with sour mix) or with club soda. Acclaimed bartender Misty Kalkofen, who is now based in Boston as a brand ambassador for Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal but grew up in Green Bay, shared with us her mom’s preferred recipe. (FYI, Kalkofen’s mom, Hazel, takes her Old Fashioneds sweet.) Her drink is garnished with an orange and a cherry, but Kalkofen says that lately, pickled vegetables (especially mushrooms) are becoming popular.
It seems that the Midwest is a hotbed of idiosyncratic boozing. To help make it through the brutal winters in Minnesota, folks there mix up bowls of Tom & Jerry, an Eggnog-like mix of eggs, sugar, cognac and rum that’s served hot. The recipe was actually invented in the 1820s in England, but it has since disappeared from basically everywhere on Earth except the Upper Midwest, where it’s so popular that you’ll even find frozen Tom & Jerry batter for sale in supermarkets.
Another unusual regional liquor comes from New England. Maine’s favorite booze, by a long shot, is Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. (Blame it on the Northeasten affinity for coffee-flavored everything: Coffee milk was named the official state drink of Rhode Island in 1993.) The brandy is most commonly consumed in the Sombrero, a simple mix of Allen’s and milk served on the rocks.
Where to try malört in Chicago
Chicagoans often drink their malört by the shot, but a few local watering holes are also incorporating it into cocktails. Here are some places to taste it either way:
- The Bad Apple, 4300 North Lincoln Avenue, 773 360 8406
What to order: Craig’s List Casual Encounter (malört, lemongrass-ginger syrup, lemon-lime soda)
- Centro Ristorante, 6 West Hubbard Street, 312 988 7775
What to order: Centro Champagne Cocktail (malört, Grand Marnier, Bar Keep Swedish Herb Bitters, sparkling wine)
- Trenchermen, 2039 West North Avenue, 773 661 1540
What to order: First Born (malört, Cocchi Americano Rosa, maraschino liqueur)
Where to try Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy in Maine
We asked M.S. Walker, the company that makes Allen’s, for a few top spots to order the spirit in the Pine Tree State.