College in the Quad City Area opens you up to the seduction of double wide trailers, dog tracks, smoky, moth-eaten casinos, car thieves, parking on the front lawn. We donated plasma for drinking money and we would sit in the lounge of the plasma bank with all the other Mississippi River Rats, ready to be drained of bodily fluids (but sixty bucks richer) just so we could get drunk quicker and blow it all at the casino next door.
Okay, so I did that once. Twice? Let's not make it seem like I was cool enough to pull that kind of righteousness all the time. But you get the picture.
Then we'd study, taking full advantage of our upper-crusty liberal arts education with all the other suburban kids who migrated to the river for their college education. But some of us really tried to take advantage of shady side of the QCA.
So during college breaks, back in the pleasant confines of Naperville, my friends and I would seek out the fringe establishments that were as close to the QCA as possible.
Anyway, one of our favorite hangouts was this dirty ass bar called the Squirrel Cage, run by a pit-stained three hundred pound walking heart attack who lived upstairs and planted himself on a sagging plastic stool behind the bar with his legs splayed open and fed us string cheese and pork rinds. I don't remember his name, but when he wasn't working, Wes, his hot 29 year old son, tended bar (um, I don't know if you've ever been a horny, plain-looking 22 year old girl, but nearly every guy between 25 and 35 who smiles at you sideways is seriously hot, and not at all creepy.)
"They have PBR," my friend Kim said, "on tap. You need to come there with me." Bear in mind, please, this was in 2002, before the Great Pabst Surge, so this was a big fucking deal and the main reason we went there.
But the other thing about the Squirrel Cage was the ever-threatening, lurking presence of Jeppson Malort.
If you're not familiar with Malort...you're a fucking lucky bastard. Do not, ever, under any conditions, knowingly accept a shot of Malort from another human being. They are playing a nasty, hateful trick on your tongue, and you're probably better off drinking Liquid Plummer laced with gasoline and a hint of mint, because that's the kind of taste infusion Jeppson is going for. What kills your will to keep down your lunch, however, is the lingering, venomous, cottonmouth-and-bug-spray aftertaste that coats your throat and esophagus for the next twenty minutes or so.
Seriously. It's the most antagonistic liquid I have ever had in my mouth. Google it.
The only way to get rid of the after taste is to take another shot, and then the vicious cycle continues like an infinite mirror effect, but if the infinite mirror was actually infinite shots of tequila mixed with rumplemintz, cigarette butts, and crack needles.
So after steadily frequenting the Squirrel Cage for about two weeks, one day Wes dropped off three surprise shots for us along with our usual PBR's.
"On me." He winks, and like washes a glass or something.
"Is it like"--I smell it---"gaaaacck...ugggh. Fuck."
He snickers and does that Upward Guy Nod thing, smiling. "Just trust me."
Me and my friends exchange looks, clank our shot glasses, and proceed to murder ourselves.
Luke puckers immediately, slamming his shot glass down on the bar, and bolts for the bathroom. I'm making huffing sounds, squinting. Coughing. Kim licks her lips, scrunches her eyebrows and throws her shot glass at Wes.
"That was foul," she states, plainly.
One of the regulars at the other side of the bar starts cackling at us.
I'm still coughing. "You are a total dick."
Wes is still grinning. "Your buddy okay?"
"You probably killed him," Kim coughs and spits, which surprises me, because she's always buttery and sly.
Luke comes out of the bathroom and points at Wes, mumbling, "I fucking hate you, dude."
I can't take it. "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?"
Wes grabs a cloudy bottle of urine-colored booze and sets gently it in front of us. Jeppson Malort.
There's actually a little cautionary tag attached to the bottle.
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. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever
It's an initiation of sorts, an illicit hazing ritual that so many Chicago neighborhood dives impose upon their naive regulars.
And now, people out there are trying to make that shit taste good. I respect the challenge, but sometimes? I feel like Malort remains a secret for a reason. How the fuck else are you going to show your regulars some swindling, bastardized love? How else are we supposed to send steaming cups of evil to people we don't like, or trick tourists into sudden death? So unfair.