It’s a historical, distinctive and delicious spirit made to an almost 90-year-old secret recipe by a family-owned company. Yet this side of Jägermeister is often overlooked.
I lost count of the number of times one of my friends has come back from the bar with a mischievous glint in their eye and a tray of shots. Every time it’s the same drink. The Jägerbomb.
Many of you will have probably had a similar experience. Jägermeister is absolutely everywhere. 2019 was the best year in the history of the brand, as it sold over 100 million bottles worldwide. It’s the second most popular spirits brand in the UK and is the most consumed spirit among 18 to 24-year-olds.
But the Jägerbomb has also led to some negative associations. That Jägermeister is cheap. It gives you hangovers. It’s only consumed by annoying drunk people. The brand is, of course, aware of its reputation. Florian Beuren, Jägermeister brand ambassador, describes the Jägerbomb as a “positive problem”. It helps sell bottles like hotcakes and many people enjoy it or at least embrace the unusual love-it-or-hate-it taste. “You can’t deny that and we wouldn’t want to deny that,” he says. “How many other drinks have something like this? The Margarita is always made with Tequila, but it could be any Tequila. But who else has a drink that includes their own brand name?”
I have no interest in turning my nose up at Jägerbombs. But I do find it curious how much focus there is on this one drink alone and how it means we often overlook much of what Jägermeister is. Take a good look at the bottle. You all know it. The fun-to-say name. The stag. But did you notice the information about the 56 botanicals? Or the references to Jägermeister’s long and interesting history?
Jägermeister actually ticks a number of boxes that people would associate with a ‘craft’ or ‘premium’ spirit. Despite its size, the company is family-owned. The process to produce Jägermeister has been maintained for nearly 90 years and prioritises quality botanicals. Bartenders have been waking up to its potential for a while now. But the average consumer is often unaware that what lives inside that iconic green bottle is an affordable, versatile drink created with tradition and passion. There’s much more to this spirit than you might think.
Starting at the beginning, Jägermeister was invented by Curt Mast in 1934. While working in the family wine and vinegar business his father founded in Wolfenbüttel, Germany in 1878, he decided to do a little product innovation. By combining a selection of 56 different roots, herbs, spices and fruit, he made a distinctive liqueur. The full recipe remains a secret, but we do know it includes the likes of ginger, cardamom and star anise. And not deer blood, which is a rumour you might have heard.
In order to find the perfect bottle, he felt dropping over a hundred receptacles of different shapes and sizes from a great height onto an oak floor would be a good test. And it was. The famous squat green bottle we know today is the only one that survived the fall. The signature branding, from the St Hubertus Stag on the label to the German poem that runs around the edge of the label (which reads: “It is the hunter’s honour that he protects and preserves his game, hunts sportsmanlike, honours the creator in his creatures”) were all inspired by a passion he and his father shared: hunting. Hence, Jägermeister. Or, Hunting Master.
Jägermeister is produced to his exact recipe now. It takes about 12 months from start to finish. Beuren says the botanicals are sourced from all around the world and that no expense is spared on the quality. “Our star anise, for example, has a minimum 13–14% of essential oils, compared to an average 7%”. Jägermeister even buys 1% of all saffron produced per-annum. The botanicals are dried individually in the countries they’re sourced from and then shipped to the distillery, which is still in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.
After a laboratory check, the team grinds down the botanicals, which are then compartmentalized into four batches and processed using cold maceration. It’s a slow and sure process that takes four to six weeks. The macerates are then collected and combined in huge stainless steel tanks and filled into 200-year-old Napoleon oak barrels. They are huge, the biggest is up to 24,000-litres (your average whisky cask is about 200 to 650-litres, for context), to ensure Jägermeister is rested with minimum contact with the air. The warehouses ensure good airflow, which Beuren says helps harmonise the flavour. After 9–12 months, water is added to reduce the Jägermeister to 35 ABV% and natural caramel is used to balance out some of the more bitter elements of the liquid.
So, how should you drink Jägermeister? The recommended serve is neat and an ice-cold -18C, often after dinner as a digestif. The way hunters would have imbibed it in the cold winter months. However, the drink also suits a number of cocktails. The reputation of the Jägerbomb actually works in Beuren’s favour in this regard, as he likes surprising people with its versatility. His go-to is a Jägermeister Sour, swapping whisky for the liqueur, while he also recommends a Negroni (replacing the Campari) or a Margarita (replacing the Tequila). Beuren even makes a twist of a Porn Star Martini with Jägermeister where he swaps the prosecco for cider. My favourite, however, is the Berlin Mule, which pairs beautifully with the liqueur’s profile, harnessing it’s sweeter elements while lengthening the spicy ones.
The experimentation doesn’t have to stop there. Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee takes the original Jägermeister recipe and adds cold-brewed Arabica coffee and a touch of cacao. For Beuren it’s a bit of a love story because he was involved in the project from the ground up. “It is so easy to add flavours like chocolate and coffee with the earthy, rooty flavours of cardamom and cinnamon etc. in Jägermeister. The tricky part is that the coffee bean is one of the most complex botanicals. I had the pleasure to work with our specialists in the laboratory to ensure the proper Jägermeister is still there and we didn’t create a typical coffee liqueur that’s sticky and sweet”. It’s a brilliant mixing spirit and shines best in Espresso Martini, which you can make by shaking together 40ml of the Cold Brew, a bar spoon of salted caramel spread, 25ml of espresso and 10ml of vanilla syrup.
Then there’s Jägermeister Manifest, a variation on the classic Jägermeister recipe made from a fine wheat spirit as well as additional botanicals. Five macerations, rather than four, are used and Manifest is matured in a combination of medium-charred, new oak casks from Germany, America and a small number from France. Bottled at 38% ABV, it also has less sugar and less caramel. “Manifest can be consumed like a whisky where you can sip it neat or on the rocks even though it is a herbal liqueur. At first, there’s sweet aniseed flavour, but afterwards, you really feel the smokiness and the oaky flavours,” Beuren says. It’s best served neat at room temperature, but also works well in spirit-forward cocktails like a Negroni or an Old Fashioned. I made the latter, combining 40ml of Manifest, 5ml of maple syrup and three dashes of walnut bitters and popping in a Maraschino Cherry as the garnish. To ramp it up a notch, you can add 20ml bourbon too, but I didn’t feel like that was needed.
As well as new products, Jägermeister has also made attempts to better communicate its brand story by launching the Hubertus Circle in 2011. It’s an international network of bartenders who host regular meetings, workshops, events, and excursions in order to educate and excite. Beuren himself takes part in 100-120 masterclasses a year, teaming up with bars and restaurants to create cocktails and showcase Jägermeister’s versatility. “We’ve created Jägermeister salami, popcorn, ice cream, fudge – you name it, we’ve done it. All to make people understand how easy it is to use our liquid”.
The team is also doing its bit to remind people that Jägermeister is one of those brands like Jack Daniel’s or Red Bull that is part of the cultural landscape. Jägermeister has developed an association with motor racing, sponsoring various European racing teams, and its deal with Eintracht Braunschweig in 1973 made them the first Bundesliga team to place a sponsor’s logo on its jersey. Jägermeister is also extremely popular in après-ski areas and in the heavy metal scene (who knew they had something in common?). “We’ve always been a music brand, we support up and coming groups and we’re present in many festivals. We’re the only brand allowed at Bloodstock. It’s what the rockers drink. I went there and everyone was shouting ‘Ja-ger’ all the time!” Beuren explains.
As you can imagine, he’s chomping at the bit for the trade to open up again so he can get out there to educate people about Jägermeister. The brand is thriving, even during this difficult time, and Beuren is armed with something to say. It’s widespread popularity, ability to develop original new products and a combination of history and process that most brands would envy all demonstrate that there’s so much more to Jägermeister than Jägerbombs. It’s a distinctive spirit, and that naturally means its profile is divisive. But Jägermeister’s story should can, and should, be appreciated by everyone.