To say that Jägermeister has a bad reputation, would be a bit of an understatement.
If you don’t have a horror story involving shots of the stuff, or mixing it with an energy drink, I promise someone you know does. Even cocktail bartenders who regularly enjoy shots of Fernet Branca, Jeppson’s Malört, Chartreuse, and even Angostura bitters have tended to avoid the stuff. The reputation is not entirely fair. On its own, in natural form—which is to say not through a tap machine, mixed with energy drinks, or from or a sorority girl’s belly button—the liquid contained inside that iconic bottle adorned with a stag’s head can be quite pleasant to anyone who enjoys the digestif category of spirits.
Sother Teague, owner and head bartender of New York’s Amor y Amargo, recently shed some light on the misunderstood spirit to a group of Columbus bartenders, eager to learn from one of the best. Part of the key to understanding Jäger and therefore explaining its bad rap, is knowing that we’ve been doing it all wrong, Teague explained. Our tastebuds are hardwired to pick up on bitter flavors, which the brain interprets as poison. Of the many flavors found in Jägermeister, bitter is definitely a component. Luckily, for those who have not acquired a taste for bitter flavors (the forbidden fruit, according to the brain) that trademark bitterness is balanced out by sweet and savory notes, leading to the balanced and pleasant flavor Jäger provides…
That is…until you chill it.
When we began drinking Jägermeister out of machines that chill it below freezing (alcohol does not freeze until well below 32 degrees) we took a turn for the worst. Chilling any spirit, or anything for that matter, prevents the aromas from being released. Smell makes up 90 percent of taste, which means we are left with 10 percent of the original flavor. When it comes to Jägermeister, some might think that removing the flavor is a good thing—except for that pesky bitter problem we talked about. Our brains won’t let us ignore bitter flavors. Because the brain interprets bitter as poisonous, it won’t let that flavor, no matter how subtle, slip by. That means that the 90 percent of flavor we lost out on doesn’t include the bitter flavors, that’s still in there no matter how cold you make it. What you’re left with is a bitter mess of a shot that has lost any semblance of balance or finesse. In other words, that face you made after the last time someone bought you a cold shot of Jägermeister.
Teague is so adamant about the need to do away with freezing tap machines that he even influenced the makers of Jägermeister to move the “serve chilled” suggestion featured prominently on their front label to the back label. In the end, I don’t think Jägermeister will be replacing, bourbon, rye, or Fernet as this writer’s go-to spirit anytime soon, but it definitely doesn’t deserve the bad reputation, and certainly does deserve a spot on the bar.
Among the many lessons, stories, and shots that Teague treated us to were a few cocktails that also deserve a spot in your recipe book—all certified 100-percent energy drink-free. Jäger bombs? No thanks. •
.75 oz. Jägermeister
.75 oz. Averna
.75 oz. sweet vermouth
.75 oz. Laird’s apple brandy
2 dashes Bittermens Burlesque bitters
Stir over plenty of ice and serve over fresh ice. No garnish.
1.5 oz. Jägermeister
1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes root beer bitters
Build in a collins glass. Add ice and seltzer. Orange twist garnish. A candy-striped paper straw is a great touch.
1.5 oz. Jägermeister
.75 oz. Cocchi Americano
.75 oz. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
.25 oz. Aperol
2 dashes Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit bitters
Shake with plenty of ice. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass half-rimmed with salt.