Most of us know Jägermeister as the go-to shot — or “bomb” dropped into a glass of Red Bull — when you want to get the party started quickly. (Very quickly.) But most of us probably don’t know much else about the herbal liquor from Germany.
So last month I traveled to the small town of Wolfenbüttel, Germany where it’s been made since it was first created back in 1934, to get the lowdown on everything Jager. And separate the myths from the facts. Some myths were busted. And some surprising information was discovered. Here’s what I found:
1. Jager is not made with deer’s blood. Or elk’s blood either. For years there has been an urban legend circulated that the liquor gets it’s black color and unique taste from the blood of deer. And the heavy metal following and stag’s-head-with-a-cross logo probably didn’t help much to dispel the theory.
So let’s get this out of the way right up front: I’ve been to the distillery and I can tell you their were no deer or elk hanging over vats being squeezed dry to make Jager. (But then again, there were no deer or elk anywhere near the distillery, so…)
2. It is made more like tea than liquor. The recipe for Jager hasn’t changed at all since it was first developed by Curt Mast back in 1934. It’s a secret blend of 56 different herbs, blossoms, roots and fruits from across the world that are milled, ground and then mixed together. The blend is so secret that only one person in the world knows the actual recipe, and they would only show us a small sampling of the ingredients. I saw star anise, licorice, ginseng, saffron, juniper berries, citrus peel, orange and chamomile, among several others. Surprising, since most people figure it’s simply a “licorice” liquor. (More on this in a bit.)
In a process called maceration, this all-natural herbal mixture is suspended in an alcohol-water composite of 70% that extracts the aromatic compounds, such as essential oils, from the herbs. This process is repeated over and over until, after about five weeks, the liquid has become the Jägermeister base. This goes through a thorough filtering to remove any solids, and then it’s stored in oak casks for one year.
When it is released from the casks a year later, it’s mixed with alcohol, liquid sugar, caramel and softened drinking water, and put into the famous green glass bottle, to produce the final product.
3. Because of its varied herbal ingredients, Jager mixes with a surprising variety of drink mixers. Most of us are used to drinking Jager as a shot or with the aforementioned Red Bull, but as we learned by sampling copious different cocktails, it mixes well with a number of different ingredients you’d never think of. Like orange juice for instance. I don’t care how it sounds, I’ve had it (during breakfast, no less), and it’s delicious. So is Jager and tonic with a squeeze of fresh orange. And Jager and root beer or even ginger ale. These mixers tend to bring out the less dominant herbal flavors in the liquor, and mellow the overall flavor. Experiment a little and you’ll see.
4. Years ago, it was considered an “old person’s drink.” Sure, it’s the choice of college students and heavy metal headbangers now, but back when it was first created, it was a popular after dinner herbal tonic for older people. Mostly older men who drank it after hunting.
And there is definitely a sense of pride about this among Germans I met. When they found out I was traveling with Jägermeister, they would all ask if I knew it used to be an “old person’s drink.” Then they would say how proud they are that it’s now a huge world-wide brand. I can see why. Imagine if Geritol became the most popular drink on college campuses and started sponsoring heavy metal concerts.
5. Speaking of sponsorships, Jägermeister was the first brand to sponsor a soccer team. Back in 1973, there was a local soccer club about to disband because of lack of funding. Jägermeister stepped in and paid the team 100,000 deutschmarks to put the deer head logo on the front of their jerseys. And actually tried to change the team name from Eintracht Braunschweig to Eintracht Jägermeister (which was rejected). The move not only saved the team, but started the now-common business of soccer teams accepting sponsorship from major corporations and including their names and logos on team uniforms.
6. The company was originally formed to make vinegar. Mast-Jägermeister AG, was established in 1878 by Wilhelm Mast as a wine wholesale business and vinegar factory. Five decades later, in 1934, Wilhelm’s son, Curt, devised the recipe for Jägermeister in an attempt to increase sales for the company. He succeeded. And while the company has developed other liquors over the years, it now focuses solely on producing Jägermeister.
7. It is sold in every country that allows drinking. How well is Curt Mast’s recipe to increase company sales working? Each year, Mast-Jägermeister AG sells almost 6.5 million cases of 9-liter Jager bottles in over 80 countries worldwide. Every country that doesn’t legislate against drinking. Which makes it the 9th biggest spirit brand in the world.
8. The name Jägermeister translates to “Master Hunter” Or more literally, “Hunt-Master.” Curt Mast was a hunter himself, and he loved the legend of St. Hubertus, so he covered the label in symbols and stories from it. Which is why…
9. The deer on the label is the St. Hubertus Stag That isn’t just any stag on the bottle. Curt Mast chose the St. Hubertus stag to be the trademark of his company.
You can read the full legend from my post here, but in short young Hubertus was a wild hunter who hunted without remorse, even on the holy day of Sunday. Until one holy day, he saw a mighty white stag with a beaming cross between his antlers. He saw this as a sign from God and subsequently served the church as a missionary until his death in 727 AD, to atone for his wrongdoings. Centuries later, he was made the patron saint of hunters.
And that’s why the label has the lines radiating from the stag’s head, along with the cross.
10. The old German words around the label are actually a poem. If you look closely at the Jager bottle, you’ll see there is a line of old German words framing the label. (Click here to see it)
It is actually a poem honoring hunters. Here’s what it says:
Das ist des Jägers Ehrenschild,
daß er beschützt und hegt sein Wild,
weidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört,
den Schöpfer im Geschöpfe ehrt.
Translated into English it means:
It is the hunter’s honor
that he protects and preserves his game,
honors the Creator in His creatures.
So the next time you grab the bottle from your freezer and go to do a shot, consider some of what’s mentioned above. And have one for St. Hubertus.