“One night in 2019, [Eric] and I ran out of any other booze in our apartment, but we had a bottle of Malört…” recalls Austin Adamson, who co-owns Ballmer Peak Distillery in Lakewood with Eric Storm and is a long-time fan of the extremely bitter spirit that is “Loved by some and hated by (probably) many others. The two ended up finishing the whole bottle. “After taking a hit, it only gets worse,” he adds with a laugh. But that night, an idea was born.
Malört, who gets his bite from absinthe, is a Windy City staple — a handshake in Chicago is a shot associated with a can of Old Style, and picking one up is a rite of passage. Those who somehow enjoyed its “tire fire” flavor, as Adamson describes it, once had to beg friends to bring back bottles when they traveled to Chicago. But in recent years, its distribution has reached Denver.
Now, however, Denver is getting its own version of an absinthe-based spirit, thanks to a “dumb and fun idea,” as Adamson puts it, of an April Fool’s Day joke that isn’t at all a joke.
On April 1, Ballmer Peak will launch their special release number 69 (wink, wink), Bäsk Nömört. “Bäsk” is the Swedish word for “bitter” and is also Malört’s style of spirit, while “nömört” is a play on “no more”, which is what you might say after trying a sip.
“Hairspray, tire fire and ashtray” are the aromatic notes on the bottle label. “It’s meant to be bitter, it’s meant to last, it’s meant to be memorable,” Adamson says.
The idea of making Bäsk Nömört went viral after Adamson attended a National Honey Board event where he tasted chestnut honey for the first time. “It’s very unique. It’s not sweet,” he says. “It lacks the characteristics of traditional honey. It’s bitter and earthy with hints of cool rubber compound. Like the smell in the lobby of a Discount Tire.”
While others at the tasting were put off by the chestnut honey, Adamson was inspired. This year he was able to do a few small trial batches using Ballmer Peak’s overproofed rum as a base, as well as wormwood and chestnut honey (not for the sweetness, he notes, but for its ” weird extra layer” of rubbery bitterness). Pleased with the suitably unpleasant results, Adamson has been busy trying to get Bäsk Nömört into bars, restaurants and liquor stores for his April 1 debut.
Trash Hawk Tavern, a new bar on South Broadway whose owner was inspired to open the place by the neighborhood bars she frequented while living in Chicago in her twenties, is planning a fish coming out party April for the new spirit.
Other bars currently on board carrying him are the Electric Cure in Edgewater, Wrigley’s Chicago Bar in West Colfax and LoHi’s The Bindery. You’ll also be able to find it on the shelves of King Solomon Liquor, Atlas Wine and Liquor, and Cana Wine & Spirits — as well as directly from Ballmer Peak, of course, which is located at 12347 West Alameda Parkway in Lakewood. More bars, restaurants and liquor stores will be added soon.
The suggested retail price is $28 for each 750 milliliter, wax-dipped, individually numbered bottle. “We’ll keep it until we’ve made 420 bottles of it,” Adamson notes, adding that his future remains cloudy for now. “We’ll see if the Denver area is ready…”