There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the 1.5-ounce pours of liquor we call shots and the culture behind them. In today’s episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” co-hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe share their views on shot culture. They discuss the traditions associated with shots, and how some liquor brands have built their followings by being well-known shot choices.
Then, Teeter sits down with Jägermeister’s director of innovation Jack Carson to learn how and why Jägermeister became a brand that is largely recognized and loved for its shots. Carson talks about the history behind the brand, and why Jäger shots aren’t going away any time soon.
This Friday’s tasting features, fittingly, shots of Jägermeister. The team tries shots, poured just as Carson recommends, marking the first time many of them have drank Jäger in decades.
Tune in to learn more about the appeal of shots and whether the VinePair team thinks they deserve more credit in the world of drinks.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the Friday “VinePair Podcast” and we’re talking about shots. Yeah. First of all, when is the last time either of you have taken a shot? Joanna?
J: One month ago.
A: What did you take?
J: A shot and a beer. It was whiskey. I was at a bar with a few friends of mine, and my friend Kate loves to take shots.
A: I think I’d like Kate.
J: She’s amazing. We were just casually drinking and having a conversation when she said, “Let’s do a shot and a beer.” She asked for the well whiskey and light beer or whatever they had. They responded, “We don’t have a well whiskey.” It was not that kind of bar. So, I actually don’t remember what we ended up shooting.
Z: Were you at a wine bar? Is that what’s going on here?
J: No. We were at a tavern, but it was kind of nice.
A: I bet Kate said, “Fine. Bring us the Maker’s. We’ll take shots of Booker’s.” I love that. What about you, Zach?
Z: That’s a good question. My last shot that I definitely remember doing was a shot of Fernet.
A: Very on brand.
Z: It almost certainly was on my last night at the Dahlia Lounge. RIP Dahlia Lounge. We all knew things were near the end, so I got off work and said, “Yeah, I’ll have shot. Sure. Sounds good.” That was like 19 months ago. It’s been a while for me, I want to hear your last shot, Adam, but I also want your guys’ thoughts on this. In my opinion, it’s only a shot if you drink it in one go. There should be none of this ordering a shot and a beer and sipping the whiskey.
A: Yeah, of course.
J: Oh, yeah. Duh.
A: We’ll get there, though. We’ll have a conversation about that.
Z: Just making sure we’re all on the same page.
A: I have two “last-time-I-had-a-shot” stories. One is this weird tradition started by Naomi’s grandmother. Naomi’s grandmother — who is no longer with us — had a tradition where, when you break the fast at Yom Kippur, you take a shot of vodka. She was like, “Let’s go.”
J: Oh my God, that’s amazing. You break the fast with a shot of vodka.
A: I think it’s amazing. She would pull out this plastic handle of vodka that must have been in her closet forever. She poured a round of shots for her and all her friends. We would go every year while she was still alive. Naomi and I would go out there. It’d be me, Naomi, and all her old friends.
J: All the octogenarians.
A: Yeah. They would all take shots. It was the best. When I went to that football game, we had shots of Jameson. That was only because it was the only thing the bar had. I’ve never been a Jameson shot person. I feel like, if you’re a Jameson shot person, you know what kind of person you are. You know what I mean?
J: Everyone else knows what kind of person you are. A Jamo.
A: Jamo. Yes, Especially if you’re calling it Jamo, you are a specific person. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying, you are a specific kind of person. I’ve never been a Jameson shot person. I also don’t like to get in bar fights. I’m in the corner, just trying to make friends with everybody. I feel like shots get a bad rap. There are a lot of people that think that shots just mean overindulgence. I do understand that to an extent. If you’re going to sit there and all you’re doing is shots, sure. But there is something about shots and shot culture that’s really fun and totally different than meeting up with your friends to sip a whiskey neat. There’s something about the revelry and having a great time. Why do you think we demonize them so much, besides the fact that it’s about overindulge?
J: I think it’s because they so often lead to bad things.
Z: It’s not even just that it leads to bad things, they’re an accelerant. You may be having an evening at a certain tempo and if you throw a shot in there, suddenly everything goes a lot faster.
J: That’s so true.
Z: Quite honestly, some of that is probably the fact that I’m in my late thirties, and I don’t have the tolerance for accelerated evenings the way I used to, in a lot of ways. I don’t have them very often anymore. There’s something about the shot itself and the culture of it. It’s not that the people who are doing shots don’t care about what they’re drinking. In fact, as I think we’ll discuss in a minute, often they very much care about it. There is something about a drink where you’re consuming it in one gulp that is not completely at odds with connoisseurship, but does not feel aligned with it very well. I think all of us, to some extent, fancy ourselves as connoisseurs. We open the Monday podcast by talking about what we’ve been drinking. We consider a lot of what we drink and we think about it. Shots don’t really allow for that. In fact, one of my favorite shots, the Mind Eraser, very adamantly argues against thinking about what you’re doing.
J: What’s in that?
Z: It’s vodka, Kahlúa, and soda water.
Z: And you layer it.
A: So that makes the Kahlúa float, right?
Z: No. The Kahlúa’s usually on the bottom and then you float things on top. You start with the sweet of the Kahlúa. By the time you hit the vodka, you’re already in it.
A: What’s the shot where the stuff floats in it and it looks like drinking brains? That’s a Brain Hemorrhage, right? Yeah, that’s a weird shot, too. I remember taking that in college and thinking it was weird.
Z: Yes. There are many of those different things. To me, it’s not just that you get drunk faster, which is obviously both part of the appeal and downside to shots. It’s also about the fact that you are freely admitting in doing a shot that most of what you care about is the alcohol effect and not so much what you’re tasting.
J: It’s like shotgunning a beer, right?
Z: Yeah. That’s a great example, Joanna. It is just like shotgunning a beer, which I also like doing from time to time. I like to hold the beer bong or whatever, kickstands, et cetera.
A: I can’t do that. It’s too much liquid and carbonation. Not a good idea for me. Never my thing.
Z: You really worry about getting burpy, don’t you?
A: Yeah. I don’t want to get burpy.
Z: You’re too polite.
A: Now that you’re talking about shots, I forgot what we’re talking about. I think the other thing that’s interesting about shots is this culture of all these named shots. The thing that I don’t love about shot culture is how many of them are very offensively named.
A: Is that changing? People in our office love peanut butter and jelly shots. That seems very safe. That is a classic. Then, you have some that I will not name here. Where does that come from? Is it just because shot culture is all about the idea of “Let’s get drunk,” and therefore, let’s have crass names for the shots, too?
J: Weren’t all of these shots really popularized in the ’90s? Are people really going to a bar and ordering a Mind Eraser anymore? I’m just curious.
A: I think so. I think if we went right next door, there’d be a lot of people who would.
Z: You’ve got to think about the stage in life you could be in when shots are a big part of your life. During late college and early in your drinking life, part of the point of them is to get, frankly, wasted. That’s not something we condone or advocate for here, but it’s also important that we’re not fingers in our ears about it, either. That’s what’s going on. Frankly, part of the fun and titillation is risqué names. A craft cocktail bar might give their cocktail creation a dignified, elegant name. If you’re creating or naming a shot, though, you want it to be something that someone giggles at when they order or that someone looks askance at you when you get. That is all a part of the shot culture, in a lot of ways. It’s debauchery, frankly.
A: Very true.
J: Zach, do you think your kids are going to grow up and order some B-52s at the local bar?
Z: Oh my God. I assume all of their interactions with other entities will be via some sort of virtual reality set up.
J: They’re just going to be drinking shots of hard seltzer.
Z: I assume they’ll just be vaping alcohol at that point. Anyway, to the question of whether this stuff will last, it’s always hard to say. I do think that there is something about even just the ritual of the shot, from the way you tap the table, the way you drink it, the way you slam the glass down, those things are kind of appealing. Even to me, I think that’s about having a certain kind of fun. It may not be the kind of fun that any of us want to have on a regular basis. We probably can’t really afford to from a variety of perspectives, but it will always be appealing to a certain set of people. That’s cool. I think that’s fine. As long as there’s not too much mayhem going on, it’s great that there are bars where you can still go in and order a shot, and they’re not going to look at you weird. You’ve got to be able to get that in some places. Maybe not everywhere, but some places.
J: Prior to taking the shot a month ago, I think it had been years since I took a shot. I was very happy to do it, though, I have to say.
A: They’re fun.
J: It was fun.
A: One other thing before we get to the interview. I think that, if you become known as a shots spirit, you become more ingrained in the culture faster than if you are not. I’m going to talk to the head of innovation at Jägermeister, Jäger is known by everyone because it’s a shots brand. You have Fireball. You have Skrewball peanut butter whiskey. You have these brands that everyone knows because they are shots brands. I think it’s really interesting how taking that strategy and being a shots brand is actually a pretty smart way to get into the culture really fast, as long as it’s a good liquid.
Z: Especially because your consumers don’t have to know how to do anything with it besides just pouring it in a glass and drinking it, right? With Maker’s Mark or a very well-known bourbon, there are probably lots of people who enjoy drinking Maker’s neat or on the rocks. A lot of what people think they should do with a lot of spirits is make or order cocktails. Both of those things can be a little bit intimidating. If you know that you like shots of Jäger, it’s really easy to make that happen anywhere that Jäger exists.
A: That’s totally true. I find it so fascinating. There’s a lot of these brands that don’t really exist anymore or aren’t as popular as they used to be. Just the fact that you can come into the culture and be so pervasive, even if you’re not someone who drinks that liquid, is really interesting. All right, I’m gonna go talk to Jack Carson about Jäger, then I’ll be back and we can chat more.
A Conversation with Jack Carson, Director of Innovation at Jägermeister
A: Jack Carson, director of innovation at Jägermeister. It’s so nice to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me for a few minutes to talk about shot culture.
Jack Carson: Likewise. Thanks for having me.
A: So many people know about Jäger as one of the super-well-known shots in American culture. But, how did that happen? Did Jäger come to the United States and decide, “We’re going to be a shot?” Or, did it come to the United States and first try to get into cocktails and be treated as a beverage that you sip? Was it always intended to be a shot?
JC: It’s a good question. Way back in the day, when it was first imported, it did quite well in New Orleans and it had a little bit of a growth there, where there was a German community. Early on, there was a newspaper article that said “Jägermeister is the drink of the occult.” That was probably because of the stag and the cross on the label.
A: Oh, that’s hilarious.
JC: At the time, there was a chap named Sidney Frank. He was a maverick and a marketing genius. He thought, “We could either sue the newspaper or print 100,000 copies of that article, take it to every college campus in the U.S., and get people to try Jägermeister.” He did the latter, and I think that’s really how it got a definite kick-start in the U.S.
A: When he was trying to promote Jäger on college campuses, was it as a shot the whole time?
JC: I imagine so. I was certainly not around back then. That was early on. As you know, the liquor laws have progressed in the U.S., so you actually cannot do that anymore. You’re precluded from promoting on college campuses. He kind of did whatever he wanted to do back in the day. Jägermeister kept growing in its own way. A lot of it was to do with music. Jägermeister has been tied with music for a long time in the U.S. There would be shots backstage and the fans would see it and do their shots. That continues today. You see guys like Dave Grohl on stage drinking Jägermeister. It continues to be awesome.
A: Do you think in the U.S., when it comes to drinking culture, we don’t talk about the shot enough? A lot of spirits that you first get introduced to are through shots. In the world of spirits, we graduate to saying, “We want to talk about spirits only when it comes to cocktails.” Should we talk about shots more and give them their due?
JC: Yeah, I think absolutely. Shots are a great way to celebrate a moment or kickstart part of the night. It doesn’t always have to be a late-night party. We have a program called Deer and Beer, where the idea is that you have a lovely craft beer and a shot of Jägermeister with it to kick off that moment and kick off that hang. Shots absolutely should be spoken about more.
A: What do you think makes a spirit ideal for shots? Obviously, you could shoot anything, but I think there’s something that’s really special about Jäger when it comes to a shot. What do you think that is?
JC: Wow, that’s an awesome question. Jägermeister is wonderfully complex, and that comes from the 56 herbs, roots, fruits, and spices that go into making Jägermeister. When you do a shot of Jägermeister, it’s not just one instant flavor like you might get with a relatively one-dimensional spirit. Vodka is a good example. You have a bit of heat and, by design, no flavor. With Jägermeister, that’s the opposite. You have a wonderfully complex flavor that is different from the first moment you sip it and then, after you swallow, that wonderful aftertaste. With Jägermeister, we recommend ice cold shots. That’s been our mantra for years and years. We have machines in bars that make it minus 18 degrees Celsius for that purpose.
A: I want to talk about those for sure.
JC: At the end of the day, it is that complex nature of Jägermeister that makes it a great shot. Truthfully, you can have it ice cold, which is how I roll. A 1-ounce, ice cold shot of Jagermeister is actually one of the greatest things. It’s not too much. If you work for Jägermeister, like I do, you go into a bar wearing a Jägermeister T-shirt and the bartender wants to do you a solid by pouring you 3 ounces. I always say, “I would just like that 1-ounce, perfect shot.” It really is great. Those machines really help. It gets wonderfully viscous when it’s cold, too.
A: That’s so cool. So, your preferred Jägermeister is straight out of the freezer, ice cold, 1 ounce?
JC: That is one of the many ways that I do enjoy it. That’s the go-to, that perfect 1-ounce shot. Also, if I know that I’m getting at room temperature, I would have that in a wider mouth glass and really be able to smell the nose and get some of that nuance that does happen at room temperature that does not happen ice cold. So, there’s several ways I would go for it.
A: So, how did the machines come to be? How did that happen? I feel like that has cemented Jäger as one of the quintessential American shots. I’ve always wondered how those machines came to be and how they wound up in almost every single bar in America.
JC: I would have to go back to the Sidney Frank days. It was Sidney himself that decided, for whatever reason, to make it ice cold. He found a company in Chicago to make the very first one. When we moved offices recently, we actually found the drawing for the patent of the very first tap machine. That’s in our tap lab now. It’s really, really cool to have a bit of Jägermeister history like that in the office. The shot machines now are evolving. They used to be quite big and took up quite a bit of space on a back bar. As you know, that’s a really premium space. Having a huge machine back there might not be ideal.
A: Yeah, that’s hard for a lot of bars to do.
JC: Yeah. Now we have really small machines, and we’re moving towards trying to make them as sustainable as possible. We have a new generation of machines that we’re going to launch that will be made largely of ocean-recovered plastic and don’t have a compressor in them.
A: If you want to send a machine to the VinePair office, just let us know.
JC: You know what? Done and done.
A: That would be awesome. I feel like there’s just something about it that also is so cool when you see it happen, it comes off the machine, and then it’s poured for a round of friends. Obviously, Jäger is more than the shot, though. How do you use the shot as an entry point to Jäger and then hook the consumer? How do you graduate from the shot? Do you work a lot in innovation with Jäger to build different shots for people so that they continue to think about Jäger when it’s not just starting a night with friends and that beer?
JC: With Jägermesieter, our North Star is always that ice-cold shot. After that, and we do have a few recipes on the website: What are the easy shots you can make with the Jägermeister? A lot of what’s out there was not done by us. Great bartenders were coming up with wonderful shots. If you took about classic American shot culture, think about things like the Red Headed Slut and the Surfer on Acid. Those that have Jägermesirer in them were quintessential ’90s shots. Nowadays, you see people kicking up the Surfer on Acid with cold draft ice, a muddled bird of paradise hanging out at the top of it. That’s become a nice cocktail drink, which I think is fantastic. Jägermeister goes great in cocktails. If you think about an Old Fashioned, which is just a great drink, classically, it should really only be three things. It should be rye, sugar, and bitters. Jägermeister is not a full bitter. It is considered a half bitter because it has a bit of sweetness to it. When I talk to a bartender about using Jägermeister in an Old Fashioned, they cock their head to one side and say, “Yeah, that technically makes sense.” If you take a nice, higher-proof rye like a Rittenhouse rye, and mix it with Jägermeister 50/50, really stir it for that dilution, stir it for cold, and then strain it over fresh ice and put a little spritz of orange oil over the top, it is a brilliant Old Fashioned.
A: That’s really amazing. In terms of the promotion with Jägermeister — you talked a little about music — you do very shot-focused campaigns, like NHL, and things like that.
JC: We’re the official shot of the NHL. You talk about things that are cold and cool and there you have it, the official shot of the NHL. Within that, we have several teams that we do marketing with locally, and it’s a great partnership. I think the team that put that together nailed it I mean. We have the Shot of the Night, which is when a goal is scored, the talent will talk about the Shot of the Night, brought to you by Jägermesiter. I love that one.
A: That’s awesome. One last question for you. Are you able to say how much of Jägermeister’s business is due to the shot? How much is the shot the focus of the business, even still today?
JC: It’s a lion’s share. It’s a huge amount. Everything else is great, but the shot is what will continue to drive Jägermeister.
A: Jägermeister still continues to be probably one of the biggest shots in America.
JC: I hope so. Yes, I believe it to be. We’ve had a recent line extension. It’s really delicious. It’s the Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee.
A: I’ve had it. It’s tasty.
JC: Oh, thank you. We really love that one. It has all-natural cold brew coffee and cacao, so it has the really great Jägermeister flavor, but it also has this great coffee and these lovely, subtle chocolate notes.
A: I have one more question. Do you think, with so many brands out there right now trying to become these new brands, did becoming this quintessential shot really put Jägermeister in a place culturally, where it’s known by so many, that it wouldn’t have been in had the shot not been the focus of the brand? If it had instead been, “Let’s try to get this as an ingredient in cocktails,” would things be different?
JC: 100 percent. Absolutely. There’s no way Jägermeister would be where it is today without people loving a shot of the Jägermeister. Whether that was musicians on the road or a group of people getting together after work, Jägermeister was built on the shot and will continue to grow because of that. Truthfully, people, moderation happens. Sure, it does. But, guess what? So do shots.
A: That’s awesome. Well, Jack, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been super cool. I’m actually going to go have a shot of Jägermeister right now.
JC: That is great news. I’m going to do exactly the same thing.
The VinePair Team Tries Shots of Jägermeister
A: So, that was dope. First of all, Joanna, how pumped are you that we’re about to get a shot machine in the office, sent to us by Jägermeister? It’s the best
J: We’ll be doing shots a lot more often.
A: I feel like we’ve got to do shots of Jäger. I have the Jäger here, in the way that I was told we should serve it, which is straight out of the freezer. I think we’re going to do it in the way it’s also prescribed, which is only 1 ounce. I thought it was interesting that he said to only do 1 ounce of Jäger.
Z: Mine is straight out of the fridge. It’s maybe not quite as cold, but it’s pretty cold. I have a funny story to tell. I can tell it before or after we do the shot.
A: Please tell it.
Z: Jäger was really a thing among a lot of my friends when I was in college. My cousin, who’s older than me, came to visit. We went to a bar. He came for his 25th birthday or something like that. In this story, I’m going to cop to underage drinking. My apologies, but it probably doesn’t come as a huge shock to our listeners. I went to a bar and I ordered shots of Jäger. He was both equally disgusted by the notion that I, a not yet 21-year-old, could just be gallivanting around Manhattan and going to bars and also that I made him drink this liquid that he had never even heard of. I’m not sure that it converted him to Jäger. He’s kind of a whiskey guy through and through. It was a fun night, and I still like to tease him about how I taught him about how his younger cousin knew a lot more about drinking than he did.
A: When’s the last time you had Jäger, Joanna?
J: I think a few years.
A: It’s been a long time.
Z: It’s been at least a decade for me.
A: Keith, you’re getting a shot too. When was the last time you had Jäger?
Keith Beavers: I’d go with a decade. Maybe once for karaoke. I always do a shot for karaoke.
Z: In the industry circles I ran in, it got completely superseded by Fernet. When I started working in restaurants, people did Jäger shots. By the time I was in my mid-to-late 20s, it was all Fernet. That’s all anyone wanted to order.
J: I wonder why.
A: I don’t know. It’s herbal. It smells like amaro.
Z: It’s not that different.
A: All right, so let’s cheers. Tap the table.
Z: That actually tastes way better than I remember.
A: It tastes like amaro.
J: It’s good.
Z: It’s delicious. Why did I stop drinking Jäger?
A: If you blinded some somms on this and told them this was an amaro from the north of Italy, they’d be like, “Oh my God, who’s the producer? Who’s importing it? Let me know.” I’m serious. You could blind a lot of people in the industry on this and tell them it was a really fancy amaro. They’d think, “This is the best thing I’ve ever had.” It just proves that this tastes like amaro. I mean, it is an amaro, right? So many other countries in Europe make a style of liqueur that’s like an amaro. This has 56 botanicals in it.
J: Let’s bring Jäger back.
A: Let’s bring Jäger back.
Z: Sounds good. You’ve got the shot machine coming.
A: I do think Jäger’s still very alive and kicking in places like music industry circles and hockey. They’re the official sponsor of the NHL.
J: So, let’s bring it back to fine dining.
A: Bring it to EMP.
Z: But is it vegan?
A: Shots fired. Well, this was fun. I forgot that Jäger’s good, actually.
Z: Listeners, what are your favorite shots? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do one.
A: Guys, have a great weekend. I’ll talk to you Monday.
J: Thanks, guys.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.