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It’s Time to Start Drinking Jager Again (No, Seriously)


“Just make me whatever you want,” is a phrase that, when uttered at 1:45 a.m. on a Saturday night, plays more like a game of Russian roulette than anything else. Luckily, I was in Richmond, VA, sitting at the bar at Saison, in front of bartender James Kohler. About three minutes later, after I emerged from the meme farm known as Instagram, he placed a tumbler filled with a giant ice cube and some brown-ish liquid in front of me (pictured below). I sipped it, happy with my gamble. It was refreshing, fruity (thanks to some grapefruit, lime, and passionfruit juice), and herbaceous. He told me that I was drinking Jager. I told him that no, I was not.

Well, I was. And it was delicious. But how? The last time I drank Jager, it was dropped in a glass of Red Bull, shortly before making questionable decisions on a crowded dance floor. I remember it tasting like a carbonated licorice bomb. This new development perplexed me. I had to know if my beliefs had been founded on bad information. I texted him: Tell me about that cocktail. Tell me about Jager.

“For starters, it’s an amaro,” explained Kohler. “Most people don’t really think about it like that, but that’s what it is. It’s potable bitters.” And although Jager leans toward the sweeter end of the amaro spectrum, the deep herbal complexity is there.

“People get lost on the anise and think: Ew. I hate licorice,” said Kohler. “But if you just take a second, like you would with bourbon or any other amaro, and let it sit in your mouth, you pick up these spices and herbs. There’s bitterness to it that plays with the sweetness. There’s more to explore.”

jager cocktail brenner pass

Photo by James Kohler

These flavors led Kohler to start experimenting with Jager. After initially having it in a range of cocktails when visiting Amor y Amargo in New York City, he realized there was real possibility to build a thought-provoking cocktail around the liqueur. What Kohler came up with was a simple, two-pronged rule: Use Jager as you would an amaro, while also using it as the sweet component in your cocktail. There has to be balance.

And now that Kohler is opening Brenner Pass, a spacious Alpine-influenced restaurant, with chef/co-owner Brittanny Anderson and baker/co-owner Olivia Wilson, he’s taking it upon himself to inject Jager into his bar program. “I want to get people accustomed to it right from the jump,” explained Kohler, whose opening menu includes a loose interpretation of the Boulevardier made with Jager, rye, honey liquer, Averna, and sweet vermouth.

“For the longest time, if someone saw Jager in the ingredients on your menu, they’d be like, hell no. I’m not ordering that,” shared Kohler. “But people have come to trust their bartender more. Now, if I hand someone a pour of Jager after dinner, instead of Cynar or Fernet, they’ll give it a shot.”

If there’s any time to get Jager’s image back in the right light, which the brand has actually been trying to do since hiring Opperman Weiss for new marketing and brand campaigns last year, it’s now. “People are loving amaro right now. It’s hot,” said Kohler.

But that isn’t to say the Jager bomb tradition is going anywhere. “I’ve come back around on the Jager bomb. The pineapple Red Bull, the one in the yellow can, is incredible with Jager. My bar manager Shannon and I drink them. I know. I get it. I get the reputation. But damn, it’s so good.”

And I believe him. I really do. But please, if I ever reach for a can of pineapple Red Bull, keep me miles away from the dance floor.



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