In October 2019, Jägermeister announced its first-ever “liquid collaboration,” a beer brewed in partnership with Arrogant Consortia, a subsidiary of Stone Brewing. Called Jägermeister Arrogant Bastard Ale, the limited-edition, 8.5-percent-ABV beer purports to incorporate some of Jägermeister’s 56 botanicals, fruits, and herbs.
The new beer comes shortly after Jägermeister’s “Deer and Beer” promotion. For that initiative, the brand partnered with five U.S. craft breweries, including Stone, Oskar Blues, J Wakefield, Lord Hobo, and Maui Brewing, tasking each with selecting a beer that pairs best with the bitter liqueur. The public can try these pairings at special events and beer festivals, or see them on display at Walmart.
The purpose of the promotion, according to Jägermeister director of innovation Jack Carson, is to reach “a new consumer in a different occasion,” and to increase awareness among millennials.
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It’s part of a targeted program to reach this highly discerning market, which also involves bartender outreach and a new cold-brew coffee flavor coming in 2020. The challenge? Overcoming its sticky reputation as a licorice-flavored shot dropped in energy drinks, otherwise known as the Jagerbomb.
Millennials are very familiar with that version of “Jäger.” In a 2016 story on the revival of amari, NPR’s The Salt described Jägermeister as “that bad-decision mainstay downed by the shot in every college-town dive bar.” It’s true. Although Jägermeister avoids admitting any connection with the infamous Jagerbomb, the brand reportedly started the “shot girl” concept with its “Jägerettes,” young women hired “to pass out ice-cold shots at college bars and in spring-break locales.”
Jägermeister is actually a digestif, or a liqueur packed with botanicals intended to aid digestion. As VinePair contributor Emily Bell wrote last year, its 80-year-old recipe “melds spices, herbs, and a year of barrel-aging into something we should probably sip slowly but instead, for some reason, down prodigiously.”
As a result, most consumers are more likely to associate Jägermeister with boisterous frat parties than conscientious cocktail bars. Meanwhile, Italian amaro Fernet-Branca became “the bartender’s handshake,” and German digestif Underberg is fast becoming a countertop staple at American craft beer shops.
Jonathan Wakefield, founder of J Wakefield Brewing in Miami, believes our bad memories are a misconception. He describes reacquainting himself with the Jäger as “an awakening” and believes “a re-education of how in-depth this product really is” can sway consumers to see it in a new way — as contemplative, culinary, and craft.
For the Deer and Beer pairing, Wakefield chose 24th Street Brown Ale, which he says brings flavors like cinnamon, star anise, clove, and “even a bit of ginger” out of Jägermeister. In turn, he says, Jägermeister highlights coffee, roast, and malty sweetness in the brown ale. “It’s a very nice pairing,” he says. “Not to be dropped in [the beer] but to accompany it.”
Massachusetts’ Lord Hobo Brewing, on the other hand, matches Jäger with its Boom Sauce IPA. “You get a ton of citrus that comes through,” Wakefield says. Hawaii’s Maui Brewing Company suggests drinking Jäger alongside its Pineapple Mana Wheat. According to Jägermeister’s Carson, Wakefield was “giddy” after tasting the pairing at a promotional event in New York City.
In recent years, Jägermeister has aimed to reintroduce its legacy liqueur to craft bartenders. In September 2015, Eater reported on “Jägermeister’s Surprising Rehabilitation,” noting that “serious bartenders in New York are slowly helping to rebuild the maligned spirit’s image.” In June 2017, Bon Appetit reported “It’s Time to Start Drinking Jager Again.” In the same month, Liquor.com published “6 Jägermeister Cocktails That Will Change Your Life.” New York City bar legend Sother Teague stocks his bar, Amor y Amargo, with the bitter digestif and uses it in cocktails.
“I work with these bartenders on the regular,” Willie Shine, brand ambassador for Jägermeister and 20-plus-year industry veteran, tells VinePair. “Once you get someone who maybe had a [negative] perception of it to have a sip of it, we’re back.” He adds, “it’s extremely versatile. … We use it in all different types of cocktails, from an Old Fashioned to a Piña Colada.”
Jägermeister undoubtedly has considerable ground to cover before most millennials consider it a craft contemporary to other bitter liqueurs or amari like Fernet and Averna, but Shine believes they’re up for the challenge.
“In this day and age, the consumer is much more educated. They want to know what they’re putting in their body,” Shine says. “Getting them to taste Jäger for the first time, or even again, is really what it’s all about.” All things considered, it’s worth a shot.