A few days ago on Twitter, I commented on the strange turns my job has taken of late, migrating into areas that fall outside of my actual job description by a good margin. My friend Phaedra and I joked back and forth about it for a while, offering our lists of increasingly ludicrous responsibilities. She anted with "janitorial." I raised with "bear baiting." I think I won. I also think I accidentally stumbled into a bit of kismet, as I went home that evening and unwound with my most recent attempt at a Bärenjäger cocktail.
"Bärenjäger" translates roughly as "bear hunter," a term used to describe, well, bear hunters in medieval Germany. In order to lure their quarry, and perhaps to tilt the odds via inebriation (though I'm not sure I'd be any more comfortable fighting a drunk bear than a sober one, and possibly less so), these Bärenjägers would employ fermented honey as bait. Bärenjäger is basically a more civilized, polished version of these concoctions. Bear bait, in short.
As you'd expect, Bärenjäger is sweet stuff. Not quite cloying, but not far off, Bärenjäger has a richness on the palate, both in flavor and in texture, that mimics the qualities of its base ingredient. Slightly citrusy, a little bit malty, and with just a hint of the spicy "bite" honey sometimes offers, it pretty much tastes like a mix of honey and booze, boasting a particularly vibrant aroma that also carries a slightly floral quality. It's surprisingly mild neat, given the powerful descriptive terms necessary, though probably not something you'll want to drink solo.
In crafting a cocktail around Bärenjäger, I tried to think of all the things I would do with honey (get your minds out of the gutter). Spice plays well, as does citrus. It would have worked well in the Hot Toddy I made last week, and in pretty much any variation of that class of drinks. A good dose of bitter helps cut the sweetness, also playing up some of the earthier components of the liqueur's malt sweetness. Botanicals are a great match.
With those last two in mind, I started with a gin base, adding Bärenjäger for sweetness, and balancing it out with bitterness. A jot of citrus would probably work well here, playing off both the strident herbal and vegetal flavors of the gin and the rich sweetness of the Bärenjäger.
For the first go round, I decided to go simple, using the other flavors merely as ballast for the Bärenjäger, allowing its basic character to shine through. The result is a somewhat sweet cocktail, with an underlying richness cut by bitter and botanical flavors. The sweetness comes on strong at first sip, with notes of citrus floating on top, then rounds out to an earthy richness, before chasing out with a slightly spicy bitterness. Due to the viscosity of the liqueur, it also has a lovely, luxurious texture.
Kodiacs and Kismet
- 1oz. Gin
- 3/4oz. Bärenjäger
- 3/4oz. Bonal
- 2 Dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
- Dash Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice until thoroughly chilled. Strain into cocktail glass.
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So that's my take. I'm also playing around with combinations of various amari and Bärenjäger (Fernet shows promise, and I can't wait to try Cynar), as well as various other herbal spirits. If I can find a way to balance the sweetness, I'm convinced the herbal, tea-like flavors of Chartreuse would work beautifully, and I've got my eye on a citrusy, Arrack and Bärenjäger cocktail as well. If you really want to reduce things to basics, you could probably swap Bärenjäger in wherever you employ simple syrup or other sweeteners, as well, for a simple twist on a host of classics.
Speaking of, I'm sure you've noticed that I try to include a classic cocktail for each featured spirit. I'm still very much a novice in the art of drink, and I like to provide you with something tested and "approved," in addition to my somewhat haphazard attempts. I tried to do that here, but my exhaustive research (half-hour on Google) didn't really turn up much. It did, though, turn up a bunch of modern takes on the liqueur, many of which sound quite delicious. Bärenjäger hosted a contest a few years ago (this year, too, but I couldn't find the list of entries), and the competing cocktails provide enough jumping off points for a whole lot of cocktail concepts. Check it out, and feel free to provide your own ideas in the comments.