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Are You Crazy Enough To Take The Chicago Handshake Challenge?

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 7, 2016 7:35PM

Getty Images / Photo: Justin Sullivan

The two greatest drinking traditions in Chicago are just about indisputable: Jeppson’s Malort and Old Style beer. Taken together, they form the fabled Chicago Handshake. This week, the two institutions unveiled a campaign that ties the infamously face-puckering liqueur and the charmingly swill-y brew together with another classic custom, the challenge coin.

The prize for the Chicago Handshake Challenge may be small—a handsome, limited-edition Old Stlye/Jeppson’s coin—but the challenge is big, if mildly health-hazardous. Bargoers must down a Chicago handshake at each of these five different, pre-selected bars:

Nisei Lounge: 3439 N. Sheffield Ave.
Chicago Five Star: 1424 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago Quenchers Saloon: 2401 N. Western Ave.
Chicago Cafe Mustache: 2313 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago EZ Inn: 921 N. Western, Chicago Ave.

Along the way, barkeepers will stamp a “passport” (available at any of the five bars). Five stamps gets you the coveted coin, although be sure to note: the coin is only available to be redeemed at EZ Inn, so maybe make that your last stop.

The idea of the challenge coin dates back to World War I, according to most origin stories. Squadron members displayed their coins to identify their particular squadron—and to challenge other members who failed to produce their own token to buy drinks. The coin concept gained, ahem, currency with the service-industry crowd when Fernet Branca put their own spin on the tradition.

The campaign was unveiled only on Thursday, but it’s already gaining traction, according to Adam Melberth, a former field marketing representative for Old Style. EZ Inn handed out some 40 coins (of only 500 total) by early Thursday night, he told Chicagoist. (Note: maybe spread it out and don't drink five beers and five shots in one day? Just a suggestion.)

Given their place in Chicago drinking history—and their dubious reputations among the unconverted—Sam Mechling, of Jepson's Malort, agreed that the two drinks share a kinship. "They're both linked to sense memory for Chicagoans," he told Chicagoist. "They're affordable,something you can have when you're young and don't have any money."

But, as long as trad-loving local boozers map their course correctly, they can be at least one coin richer. Although, we'd argue, the coin's really not important at the end of the day. We have no skin in that game; we're just happy to see a cool local tradition keep root.