Bitter is back.
The craft beer scene has been embracing this flavor profile for years. The India Pale Ale (IPA) has been a staple of the craft beer movement for a decade; a look at Zymurgy’s yearly list of the top beers in the country shows that IPAs and Double IPAs rule the roost. The cocktail movement has been heading in the same direction. Starting with an appreciation for the wide range of vermouth currently available, bartenders have been exploring the drinkable bitters that Europe has loved for years. Most of these bitters come from Italy, and they are sipped at a meal. Sometimes before the meal (aperitif) to prepare the stomach, sometimes after a meal (digestif) to help with digestion. There are a few other well-known examples that come from other countries, like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and France. There is one very popular example of a digestif that Americans have embraced for decades. Jägermeister, currently the eighth-best selling spirit in the world, has been a frosty staple in bars since it was brought over by Sydney Frank in the 1970’s. If you thought 2016 was a big year for the brand (it was), this year is looking to be even bigger.
Jägermeister knows the quality of its product. Willy Shine, their energetic and charismatic Brand Meister, has been touring the country to reintroduce this spirit to the bar community as well as those that support it. The vehicle he is using is indicative of the direction of the brand. The trailer in which we were given a history lesson about amari is a converted mobile stage. Instead of showing up for the biggest music festivals, it is now showing up full of information and creative ways to utilize this versatile liquor. Which is the direction Jägermeister is heading; it wants to emphasize the multiple ways bartenders can use it, and patrons can enjoy it. It is not going to abandon its party past. In fact, the “Kühl as Ice” slogan it will be using this year (as well as their more prominent “Be The Meister” line) will be emphasizing serving it ice cold. -18 ˚C, to be exact.
The other piece of that flexibility in the spirit is how complex it can be in a cocktail. After walking our group through the history of herbs, spices, and floral elements steeped in spirits, Willy treated us to an array of various herbal liquors and liqueurs. Starting with a relatively light dry vermouth, the group was introduced to the various flavor profiles of vermouths and bitters. Every one of them was rich with the flavor extracted from the herbs macerated in the strong spirit. Jägermeister was, of course, the last liquor served. As you would expect, it does not fall into a traditional category but is part of a much smaller group: kräuterlikör. These liquors are traditionally German and date back to the 1100’s. They have a higher sugar content than traditional amari but are still packed with the same herbal, bitter qualities as their Italian cousins.
Most people do not enjoy Jägermeister at room temperature, the way it is imbibed in Germany. It goes from a sweeter, slightly thicker liquid to one that flows easily and is filled with flavor. While most people associate a strong licorice flavor with the liqueur, at room temperature orange, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and many other flavors start to emerge. At lower temperatures, subtle flavors disappear. As the temperature of the liquid rises, subtle flavors are released. This is why brandy snifters and red wine glasses have their unique shape, and more flavorful beers should not be served ice cold.
Being in almost constant contact with the liquor, Willie has done some experimentation with it as well as witness what other bartenders have done. He has seen variations of martinis and other classics, including his favorite, and Old Fashioned.
Jäger Old Fashioned
1.5 oz. rye whiskey
1.5 oz. Jägermeister
.25 oz. maple syrup
2-3 dashes bitters (Willie recommended Pimento Bitters, but your favorite bitters will do)
Garnish: Orange Zest
Pour all of the ingredients over the ice in a glass and stir well, for 20-30 seconds. Twist the orange peel over the cocktail, then drop it into the drink.
With the spices that are naturally in the spirit, tiki drinks are a natural fit. Substitute Jägermeister in your next piña colada for a tasty treat. The spices also go well in cola, almost turning it into root beer. Actually, there is a recipe for that…
1 oz. Jägermeister
1 oz. Averna liqueur
1 oz. amaretto
4-6 oz. cola
Pour the Jägermeister, Averna, and amaretto into a mixing glass over ice. Stir for 20-30 seconds, then strain over fresh ice. Top with the cola, then stir gently once or twice and serve.
Walking out of the converted trailer would give anyone who went in a different perspective on what can be done with this amazing liqueur. If it has been a while since you have added some Jägermeister to your night, now is a good time to rectify that. Willy Shine has suggested it is an excellent pairing with one of those popular IPAs you have been enjoying. The two create a match made in bitter flavor heaven. Prost!