Jägermeister may be America’s most popular disliked spirit.
With upward of 88 million bottles sold across 177 countries in 2015, the bittersweet, German-made liqueur is undeniably in demand; it ranks eighth in sales volume among “premium” spirits brands, according to its producer, Mast-Jägermeister SE.
However, U.S. drinkers—who consume a large percentage of the world’s Jäger—know it as the shot you often stomach on a dare. It’s impressed upon the nightlife set by young female “Jägerettes.” It’s bro-y AF. And countless bars administer it as you would a volatile compound—machine-chilled to temperatures that recall the unforgiving Yukon of Jack London.
So while no one can claim it’s “overlooked” (see: 88 million bottles), it has been subject to a lot of misapprehension and, some might argue, misuse—much of which was brought on by how Sidney Frank, its longtime importer, chose to position the product in the U.S. That it received an aloof reception for many years from craft-cocktail revivalists is evidence of just how few discerning drinkers and bartenders took Jäger seriously.
But over the past couple of years in America, that’s begun to change. Cocktail-bar menus are increasingly showing off drinks made with Jägermeister. The shift appears to be an outcome both of savvy marketing and, in the wake of that, a genuine rediscovery of a quality brand whose delicacies had long been obscured by sub-zero chilling.
Sother Teague counts himself among those championing Jäger out of their own “love of the juice,” as he might say. The proprietor of New York’s bitters-centric cocktail bar Amor y Amargo has almost always featured at least one drink with Jäger on the bar’s menu, such as his personal favorite, the Black Apple Old-Fashioned.
“I love working with it,” Teague says, noting that Jägermeister is extremely versatile and “spikes” on flavors such as cinnamon, ginger, grapefruit peel and anise. “It’s got some citrusy qualities as well as bitter, and even juicy.”
Technically speaking, Jägermeister belongs to the spirits family Kräuterlikör, a category of schnapps that tends to be herbal and spicy in profile, a touch on the sweet side and consumed as a digestif. Jäger, which famously contains 56 botanical ingredients, is “German amaro, plain and simple,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common in Portland, Ore.
At Clyde Common, Morgenthaler’s favorite use for Jägermeister is in David Cordoba’s Jägerita, which is just what it sounds like: a Jäger-based frozen Margarita. “[Jäger] is finding its place in the cocktail world,” says Morgenthaler. “When I started tending bar, it was still definitely a shot bottle. Nobody would have ever thought of mixing it in a cocktail… But now I think it’s grown considerably.”
Pamela Wiznitzer of New York’s Seamstress was among the bartenders who’d been knocked off-guard by (re)trying Jägermeister both at room temperature and as a cocktail base. “[My] mind was kind of blown to smithereens,” she says. Seamstress has gone on to include Jäger in its own original drinks, such as the cachaça-based Rio Grande Sour, a creation of Wiznitzer’s colleague Ranjini Bose.
But Wiznitzer’s reintroduction to Jäger wasn’t a chance occurrence—the brand had come calling. Starting around 2015, Mast-Jägermeister SE brought on several cocktail experts to develop and promote to the bartending community a roster of mixed drinks that showcased Jägermeister as a cocktail ingredient.
Wiznitzer says experiencing the product in a whole new light helped disrupt the presumptions she’d held. “They found a way to peel back those layers,” she adds. “It can add a lot of wonderful, nuanced notes to a cocktail when utilized properly.”
That year, the company acquired its U.S. importer, Sidney Frank, which had been instrumental in growing Jäger’s foothold in America, though primarily by pushing it as a burly shot. Amid the recent insurgence of Fireball whiskey in that space, industry watchers saw the takeover of Sidney Frank as a move to refashion Jäger’s identity from “this bravado, macho thing,” says Teague, to one of nuance and versatility. Or from bro-shot to what is essentially, he adds, a complex “56-ingredient cocktail.”