My meeting with Jägermeister brand rep Michael Titter went about how any meeting of cocktail minds goes in 2020: a mid-morning Zoom call that began with a discussion about bartending in a pandemic, the lack of federal aid for restaurants, and how working in any avenue of hospitality right now is, frankly, fucking difficult.
“It’s hard for anyone to focus right now, obviously for good reason, ” Titter says of bar accounts scrambling to pay their bills and the liquor distributors who are attempting to keep their products on those bar shelves. “At Jägermeister, our focus has really shifted from asking restaurants ‘what can we sell you?’ to ‘what do you need from us, and how can we help?” From European accounts having fees waived upon reopen to hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to organizations providing relief to furloughed bartenders, Jägermeister has been putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to helping restaurant workers around the world.
This conversation around Jägermeister’s Covid-19 relief efforts brought us the root of what our meeting, and Thursday’s live class, was about.
“I just want people to understand that Jägermeister is not the monster that people think it is,” Titter explains when I asked him what his biggest challenge was when reintroducing drinkers to the infamous German bitter liqueur. “Anything will make you sick if you take six shots of it in an hour. Jägermeister isn’t special in that way,” he laughs. “This is a third generation company that is putting out a high quality product. The family is deeply involved in the whole process, and it’s very important to us as a company that we not only make the best version of Jäger possible, but that we are also taking care of the people who actually work and make their living in this industry.”
This is all great, but I’m sure you’re still wondering why should I drink Jägermeister? Because it’s delicious, that’s why.
Comprised of 56 botanicals, with warm spices and a heavy licorice nose, Jägermeister is more suited to be the bitter liqueur of your dreams, not the bottle lurking in the corner of your nightmares. Rich caramel notes dominate the first sip, and they’re followed by a dry bitterness that tastes suspiciously of gentian—arguably my favorite ingredient in other, very popular, bitter spirits. Jäger leans a little sweeter, but I don’t think that’s a mark against them. Its caramel notes reminds me of the warm sweetness I love in sweeter versos fo Italian Amari like Nardini. (And nobody I know has the guts to talk shit about Nardini.) It makes beautiful cocktails. (Like the ones we made in class, a Jäger Negroni The Buxom Bounty Hunter and a strawberry and Jägermeister sour The Red Death Wet Dream.)This spirit is complex, bittersweet, and herbaceous: all the hallmarks of a bottle bartenders should be clamoring to put on cocktail lists. So what gives?
Michael argues it could be a cultural problem. “In the US, it’s all about taking shots and getting fucked. We over-do things here. I mean, look at the shots with the worst reputations for partying hard: Fireball, Rumple Minze. One dimensional and mass produced without much thought to layers of flavor.” Jägermeister never expected to be on the list of shots people take just to get drunk and forget that they have finals the next day. “That was never the intention behind the spirit,” he says. “It’s not how the rest of the world enjoys Jägermeister.”
What I took away from my conversation with Michael was that the problem with Jäger is about image, not taste. Even the most loyal attendees of my cocktail class were skeptical about Jägermeister cocktails. Some people even chose not to participate at all, citing past experiences of hanging over a toilet all night and waking up with a blank memory. However, there were also a surprising number of people in class who had never had Jägermeister before yesterday, and their responses supported the idea that Jäger’s bad reputation isn’t deserved.
“I’m surprised at how much flavor is packed in here,” said one class attendee after tasting Jägermeister for the first time. “I was really expecting it to taste more like the stories I’ve been told, like pure grain alcohol. But this is very complex.”
“I would definitely drink this regularly,” said another participant, someone who had the stereotypical college experience but was willing to give Jägermeister another chance. “It doesn’t taste anything like I remember. It really reminds me of some of the Amari we’ve tasted in other classes, which I really like. This is good!”
The response was unanimous: Jägermeister is not only tolerable to a 2020 drinker, but something they would seek out again and again. Perhaps Jägermeister was ahead of it’s time when it first came to the US in the 1980s. Perhaps the inclusion of bitters and fernets on menus over the last few years have better prepared consumers for its licorice-forward flavor profile. Perhaps people have just gotten a little older and gotten over their college days. Whatever the reason, Jägermeister is slowly making its way into cocktails and home bars, not in the freezer or the pantry, but on on the front shelf, where it has always deserved to sit.