The Jäger of the future

It’s practically impossible to drink Jägermeister in Louisville without having clinked one of those opaque, hunter green shot glasses with the likes of Ken Blackthorn. One can usually find Blackthorn at Taj on Market Street, but he’s not hard to spot out in the wild, as he’s typically adorned head to toe in Jäger swag, making his rounds, offering ice-cold pours to the masses. Blackthorn is an “On-Premise Meister” for Jägermeister, where he holds accounts with 80 bars (63 of them in the Derby City) and provides promotional support in these establishments for the brand. As the brand grows and works to establish itself beyond its reputation as “the shot of the ‘80s,” said Blackthorn, he’s working diligently to empower his community to see Jäger through his eyes, as a diverse, malleable spirit that can empower bartenders and continue to grow.

It’s interesting to note that when Jägermeister was created in Germany by Curt Mast in 1934, it was established as a celebratory, herbal liqueur for hunters in his hometown of Wolfenbüttel, a community of hunting traditions and legends (hence the deer on the bottle). Jäger came to the U.S. in 1974 through New Orleans and was served only as a shot, again, as a delicious, herbaceous elixir. Somewhere along the way, though, Jäger gained a bit of a reputation as being one of those spirits that you either love or hate, and perhaps one that sparks a night of rampant debauchery amongst friends. Some folks will even cringe when you offer them a shot of Jäger, recounting an evening years back that led to the most debilitating hangover of all time. But in 2020, Jäger is working to dispel that stigma and remind folks that their brand can be fun and elevated, and Jäger can work seamlessly in cocktails, too.

“Honestly, I think the Jäger Bomb had a lot to do with that. We’re trying to get away from that stigma and create something new,” said Blackthorn, then listing some of his favorite ways to imbibe Jäger: The Berlin Mule with Jäger, a Jäger-rita, Jäger with a splash of soda and orange peel… the list goes on. Jägermeister has even recently put out a new product, the Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee, which consists of Jäger, cold brew and chocolatey cacao. As a cold brew lover, I can attest that it is delightful.

One strategy that Jägermeister is implementing to showcase its evolution is through the “Akademie,” an online course program for bartenders that covers various subjects including the history of Jäger, mixology and how to build healthy habits in the service industry field. Blackthorn recruited 80 bartenders in Louisville for Akademie. They completed the courses, “graduated” and will celebrate their completion this week with a Jäger-sponsored shindig at Taj.

“We’ll celebrate the graduates with an ice sculpture, a photographer, the mayor is declaring Tuesday [Feb. 18] Louisville Jägermeister Day, and the walking bridge will be lit up green and gold!” said Blackthorn. Some of Louisville’s most elite bartenders completed the course, and he feels the best way to rebrand is to give them the knowledge they need, “so that they can use it in their day-to-day. We want people to know Jäger isn’t a blackout shot. We’re the eighth-largest brand in the world.”

Blackthorn was lucky enough to take a trip to Wolfenbüttel, Germany, just outside Berlin, the birthplace and continued home of Jägermeister, this past December. Like a kid in a candy store, he got to see where everything is made, saw the 55,000-liter barrels of Jäger and walked amongst locals at the German Christmas markets drinking various forms of his favorite spirit: “They add Jäger to everything,” he said. “Tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine, Bier Punsch.” He got to see the various ways the locals imbibe Jäger, which further inspired his desire to showcase the diversity that Jäger has to offer in a glass. In fact, the folks at Taj have begun creating new cocktails with the digestif, which boasts 56 herbs and spices, and I’ve got to urge you to stop by and ask for a Cold Brew Milkshake ASAP — Jägermeister Cold Brew, vanilla ice cream and coffee blended together will wake you up and have you belting, “prost!” And, if you’re a bartender that missed the Akademie enrollment, Blackthorn says don’t fret, they’ll reopen the courses in the coming months. Cheers!