Europe’s Underground Jägermeister Drinking Culture Is Spectacular
A conversation about Jägermeister in the U.S. will trigger a boozy walk down memory lane, where nights of pounding Jägerbombs and pulling swigs straight from a Jäger bottle were the college norm. Cue goose bumps and headaches, plus living proof that Americans abused the living daylights out of Jägermeister during the early 2000s. Dear Jägermeister, please forgive us. Back then, we had no idea you could make such beautiful cocktails.
Europe, however, has never stopped embracing the herbal elixir. It’s alive and thriving in the craft cocktail world, and they know how to use it far beyond dropping a shot into a glass of Red Bull. Mixologists and bartenders take the spirit very seriously; in fact, if Jägermeister were born today, it would be at arm’s length of some of the industry’s top herbal liquors, including Italy’s prized Amaro.
Michal Durinik, a bartender at Prague’s underground Black Angel’s Bar, says, “We are embracing Jägermeister as a quality and complex Amaro for cocktail creation, not just shots. I do believe as the Amaro category continues to grow, Jägermeister will stay a leading spirit in both U.S. and here as it continues to impress in cocktail-making.”
With word catching on fast overseas, it’s only a matter of time before Jägermeister earns the respect it deserves in the States. Here, a look at how the spirit is being used in Europe from several leading mixologists and bartenders.
Black Angel’s Bar serves all sorts of tiki-style cocktails with Jägermeister as the star, including a Pina Jägermeister Colada crafted with Malibu, coconut water and pineapple juice. "Jägermeister makes for a delicious and unique tiki cocktail, like a colada, because of the herbal and complex flavors,” says Durinik. “Normally people would not think to mix herbal Jägermeister with a spirit such as Malibu, but the flavors create for a surprising experience."
Ketchup and mustard cocktails
The Sign Lounge, a quirky cocktail bar in Vienna, is devoted to keeping the experience weird for guests, where glassware is just as interesting as what’s inside. Jägermeister, cherry wine, chocolate, mandarin, tonka bean vanilla and coffee come together for an odd, but pleasantly surprising cocktail, aptly named "The Hammer." The leather-bound menu reads, “The name itself already tells too much. Luckily for us, not all guests are bartenders themselves and are thus unable to combine these ingredients to a drink in their minds.” The first sip is foreign, but there’s a nice, uplifting charm to it.
Vienna’s first and only speakeasy bar, Tür 7, is as explorative as it gets. Menus don’t even exist, just a thick book with blank white pages where whacky recipes are documented to recreate when guests return. “We don't have cocktail menus, so we work hard to always think of creative ways to make the perfect unique drink experience for each guest and open their minds to new ideas and flavors, breaking down prior flavor and spirit assumptions,” Tür 7’s bartender, Glenn Estrada, says. "In the same way, we use Jägermeister to wow our guests because it's unexpected to find in cocktails."
On a recent visit, Estrada mixes Jägermeister with Rye whiskey, mustard, ketchup, lime juice, apricot juice and beer, and assures everyone in the room it's fine. Sure enough, the drink was palatable—and would no doubt pair well with a German sausage. “Jägermeister has a large number of flavor layers and because of that it takes to and balances, when mixed thoughtfully as an art, with crazy ingredients such as ketchup and fish sauce in a way that many other spirits cannot do,” he says.
A quick conversation with Estrada, and you’ll learn that the sky is the limit when it comes to the unusual. “I've also experimented with cocktails using balsamic vinegar, curry powder and the juice of cocktail onions,” he says. “The options are limitless. I also encourage guests to bring in their own favorite ingredients to the bar for me to experiment with as well. I'm always excited for a challenge.”
Tweaked classic cocktails
Nils Boese, a famed German bartender and Jägermeister’s unofficial brand ambassador, is quick to say that the spirit is often misunderstood. “Everyone knows Jäger as a shot,” he says. “The brand is very renowned but no one knows what it actually tastes like." It turns out his modified Jäger Negroni is a popular drink amongst Berlin locals, as I ordered the cocktail at several bars throughout my 48-hour stint in the city.
Boese showcases several classic cocktails where he uses Jägermeister as the organizing ingredient. A Jäger Old Fashioned is composed of two parts bourbon and one part Jäger. “I gravitate towards embarrassing, simple ingredients because Jäger has 56 ingredients,” he says. “It’s not about mixability; it’s about versatility.”