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Jeppson’s… Bourbon?

CH Distillery is using the Malört brand name to promote a new whiskey blend.

PHOTO: NUCCIO DINUZZO / CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s endlessly divisive local spirit savored by two-fisted drinkers everywhere, is getting into the bourbon business.

It’s true — after stumbling across a new label on the TTB website, we confirmed it with CH Distillery, owner of the Jeppson’s brand: They are indeed taking the infamous liqueur responsible for its own subgenre of YouTube videos and busting into bourbon whiskey, which also trades on big, aggressive flavors.

The origin of the new spirit goes back to the beginning of the modern bourbon rush, even before CH took ownership of the Jeppson’s brand in 2018. A few years ago, CH picked up 550 barrels of bourbon produced by Indiana’s MGP and Kentucky’s O.Z. Tyler distilleries, according to CH director of marketing Dan Janes. Then, the barrels sat and developed.

“All this stuff turned four last year, and four years old is kind of a magical age for bourbon,” Janes explains. “In that last six months, it really passes through being young and hot to a lot more mellowed out.”

After some blending experiments, CH struck on a winning flavor profile. “We realized we had some really nice stuff on our hands. You get some really nice caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, and a moderate amount of oak. These barrels are all 21 percent rye, so you also get a little spiciness.”

“The bottom line is that it just tastes good,” says owner and head distiller Tremaine Atkinson. “It’s my go-to.”

CH’s first batch is a blend of 85 barrels that were individually tasted, sorted, and categorized. Then, after some very light filtration — lighter than most other ingredient-rich CH spirits — Jeppson’s Bourbon is ready to go.

Worry not, this is not Malört-flavored bourbon. But, at 100 proof, it’s still going to have quite a kick, just without the cringe-inducing wormwood bitterness that Malört famously produces. 

So, why use the Jeppson’s name? “We respect the brand and the history. Malört lovers are drinkers, and this is good bourbon at a good price. So, we thought, What the heck, why not call it Jeppson’s?” Janes says.

But if some people think they’re in for a wild ride because of the Jeppson’s name, Janes figures it’s not the end of the world.

“There’s no doubt that some people will think, ‘Oh my gosh, Malört and bourbon? I don’t think I even want to touch that.’ Which is totally fine,” he says. “But the Malört brand is its own amazing force in the world. If it makes people think that the bourbon is a little weird… well, it might make them curious to try it.”

But don’t hold your breath for a Malört vodka or a Malört amaro. “I don’t think anything would probably work with Jeppson’s other than a good stout whiskey,” Janes wagers. 

That’s not to say some experimentation with the original spirit isn’t already underway. Just a few days ago, CH announced the release of barrel-aged Malört, which spent about a year resting in rum and whiskey barrels. It won’t be sold in stores, but you can grab it at any Malört-friendly bar. (We’d bet on Nisei Lounge.)

“It’s not a sipping Malört, but it’s got some nice barrel flavor to it,” Janes says.

As for Jeppson’s Bourbon? Expect to see that on shelves for around $25 a bottle in May.

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