In the past few decades, Jägermeister—one of the most misunderstood and under appreciated spirits in the world—has gone from a respected German digestif to every college fraternity's requisite party shot. Yet, while Jägermeister continues to be burdened with a negative stigma, serious bartenders in New York are slowly helping to rebuild the maligned spirit's image.
And one of Jägermeister's early champions is lauded Upper East Side bartendress Pamela Wiznitzer of craft cocktail bar Seamstress. Wiznitzer explains the liquor's foray into American drinking culture during the 80s and 90s as "women dressing up in little outfits and handing out shots." In fact, these campaigns birthed the "shot girl" phenomenon, and the liquor continued to be consumed in this fashioned until the early 2000s when Red Bull hit the scene and "Jäger Bombs" took hold. Thanks to marketing propaganda, "... most people have never sat with a neat pour of two ounces of Jäger and attempted to really taste and understand the flavors of the spirit," she continues. "Those who do tend to be surprisingly intrigued and excited by the liquid."
"... most people have never sat with a neat pour of two ounces of Jäger and attempted to really taste and understand the flavors of the spirit ..."
Technically, Jägermeister is a spicy schnapps, though it’s sometimes categorized as an amaro, a group of bittersweet, herbal Italian liqueurs which have become increasingly popular here in the U.S., consumed both neat and in cocktails. Like amari, thanks to its sweet, spicy, and herbal flavor profile, Jägermeister "adds a lot of dimension and depth to a drink when utilized in appropriate proportions ... it has layers of complex spices that can be better enjoyed when the spirits is consumed at a slower speed so the palate can really taste and comprehend all of the different nuances," says Wiznitzer.
"I advise my guests to taste Jägermeister blind at room temperature, as if they've never had or heard of it before," agrees Sother Teague, beverage director at the East Village's Amor y Amargo, a bar known for its collection of herbal, bitter-based liquors. "Smell it for the layers of aromatics and then sip and roll it around the palette," he suggests. Teague believes that those who approach Jägermeister without preconception will discover myriad new sensations and flavors undetectable in shot or bomb form.
When looking to add bitter or spice notes to a cocktail, Wiznitzer proposes adding a few dashes or a bar spoon of Jägermeister. "Perhaps you want a low-proof drinking option on a hot day? Turn two ounces into a classic sour cocktail." Further, "[l]emon and lime work really well with Jäger for a sour drink ... Fresh cranberry plays beautifully with it. PX sherry, olorosso sherry are fantastic in a stirred drink ... and in terms of liquors, brown spirits do wonders for the liqueur," she continues.
The fragrant spirit also plays nice with others. Gin, mezcal, and white whiskey take to Jägermeister, but its heavier body can overwhelm desired flavors of oak in whiskey cocktails. "Although a Manhattan with a quarter ounce of Jäger in it is really quite nice as long as the rye is spicy and strong," says Grant Wheeler, bartender at The Garret in the West Village.
Per Wheeler, Jägermeister's versatility stems from its distinct and complex flavors which enable the spirit to stand alone or collaborate in cocktails: " ... just as Coca-Cola is distinctive but also tastes of vanilla, orange, lemon, and other flavors, Jägermeister tastes of saffron, poppy seeds, juniper, anise, ginger, citrus oil and other flavors."
He likes to use it as an amaro in Sours, and in Manhattan variants as a modifier. Wheeler also feels Jägermeister works well as a rinse or even as a bitters substitute in many other modified classics: "A bar spoon of Jägermeister in a classic Daiquiri is a really nice drink on a hot summer day."
While Jägermeister still has a ways to go before its negative stigma dissolves, Wheeler contends that if imbibers try to overlook preconceived notions and "[give] Jäger another chance, they may be surprised."