The Spirit of 2022 Is Jagermeister—Yes, Really

The German digestif is shaking off its frat house reputation for more sophisticated environs.

April 26, 2022
Photo by Jagermeister

My first encounter with Jägermeister was a summer in college, working as a shot girl at a bar called Coconuts. Technically, Coconuts was a seafood restaurant in Dewey Beach, Delaware that transformed into a dark and dank dance hall on weekend nights. My job was to fill a spongy tray with test tubes of the holy trinity of college booze—Jäger, Goldschlager, and Sambuca—and carry it around the room selling shots to sweaty, already-drunk patrons.

I hated the taste of Jägermeister, a punishment to the esophagus. And I haven’t had it since.

Until, that is, I walked into Vernick Fish in Philadelphia. The American oyster bar from James Beard Award-winning chef Greg Vernick occupies a sprawling footprint on the first floor of the Comcast Technology Center. Envisioned by famed hospitality designer Adam Tihany, the space exudes class, from its custom terrazzo floor to its striking spherical light fixtures. The antithesis of Coconuts, if you will.

On the menu, alongside hamachi crudo and bottles of Chenin Blanc from France, one cocktail popped off the page: the No Man’s Land—an English milk punch made with pineapple juice, housemade coconut syrup, pineapple rum, and Jägermeister.

“It was funny because a lot of people haven’t had Jägermeister since college or in high school,” says Jon Bamonte, head bartender at Vernick Fish. “I realized it's just another type of amaro—it just found its way into college bars for a long time.”

Bamonte realized he could upgrade Jägermeister from its more common preparations (Jäger bombs, test tube shots) after finding a surplus at the restaurant. Each week, a staff member picks a bottle they have behind the bar, researches it, and delivers an educational dissertation to the rest of the staff before service. One staffer chose the German digestif, prompting Bamonte and his team to create the modern play on the 90s-era cocktail Surfer on Acid.

“At the end of the day, it’s a pretty nuanced situation,” says Bamonte, noting its complex blend of spices and natural sweetening with beet and cane sugars. “It’s got some good characteristics, and some really good body—it just depends on how you use it.”

That Jägermeister found its way into those frat house basements and dank college bars in the first place is somewhat surprising

That Jägermeister found its way into those frat-house basements and dank college bars in the first place is somewhat surprising, given its nearly 90-year-old history and complex recipe. The closely-guarded secret formula, unaltered since its first creation in Wolfenbüttel, Germany in 1934, allegedly contains a mixture of 56 herbs, roots, and spices. Recently, perhaps thanks to the uptick in interest around amari and digestifs, bartenders are taking a second look at the traditional party spirit.

At The Standard Hotel, High Line, the sleek spot overlooking New York’s High Line, a Wherewithal—made with ginger cordial, tequila, pineapple and lime juices—came topped with a floater of Jäger, adding a “bright minty element that pairs well with juicy summer drinks,” says beverage director Aaron Moses Robin. “It also has an herbaceous rooted flavor so it can do double duty to ground a drink, as well.”

Longtime bartender Michael Haggerty once used Jägermeister in a section of a drink menu he named “redemption cocktails.” The idea—giving spirits that have taken a reputational hit over the years like Malibu, Midori, and Jäger, to name a few—was meant to inspire guests to take a second sip.

Jäger is ultimately an amaro

For a long time, the herbal liqueur wasn’t taken seriously, says Haggerty, now the beverage director of Pennsylvania restaurants Ripplewood and The Refectory. But, he says, it’s making a comeback of late. “I like the idea of Jäger, it’s like an anisette meets an amaro.” Nowadays, his bars have highlighted it in thoughtful cocktails like the Autobahn, made with rye whiskey, strawberry, lemon, sparkling rosé, and Jägermeister.

Darlin Kulla, beverage director of Washington DC’s KNEAD Hospitality + Design, uses Jägermeister Cold Brew at Gatsby restaurant in a drink called the Manhattan Hunter. The variation on the traditional version launched in January 2020, a blend of the original spirit with Arabica coffee and cacao flavors.

“Jäger is ultimately an amaro, so this Manhattan follows the idea of a Black Manhattan but is also a nod to your upscale diner vibes,” says Kulla, adding that the spirit pairs well with coffee and orange flavor profiles.

To wit, Drew Hairston who oversees beverages for Michelin-starred Maydan restaurant, also in DC, has used the spirit in a cocktail with caramelized pineapple and cold brew. “I love Jäger,” he says. “It’s kind of responsible for normalizing botanicals and amaro in American bev.”

It’s true, while digestifs have been mass-produced in Europe for two centuries, the first American-made amaro was created only a decade ago by Denver, Colorado-based Leopold Bros. American palates, it seems, have only just begun to embrace more bitter liqueurs.

After rediscovering Jägermeister, Jon Bamonte has added the digestif to his home liquor cabinet. And he encourages drinkers not to be afraid of it.

“I think it can be enjoyed just the way you enjoy very classic amaro,” he says. “Anything that has been around that long has got some credibility to it.”

I ordered the drink out of sheer curiosity, and a little nostalgia. For me, it juxtaposed memories of a carefree summer spent with lifelong friends in a shabby beach shack with a current version of myself as a mother of three and respectable member of society. Someone who doesn’t sleep in her makeup or dominate flip cup. At least, not often.

Have you witnessed a Jäger renaissance? Let us know!

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Regan Stephens

Written by: Regan Stephens

Food, drink, travel, and culture writer; ice cream lover

1 Comment

Gumbamania May 1, 2022
You should try the ginger Jäegermeister if you can ever find it. A nice ginger bite.