Oh Deer God…..
Still in family hands and in the same headquarters after 80 years, Jägermeister offers so much more to mixologists and the discerning cocktail drinker than is currently perceived
Article and Photography by Andy Barnham
An evening in Berlin, hosted by Jägermeister, feels like walking around with royalty; doors open, seats become available and drinks appear in your hand all as if by magic. Yes, the first drink is always a welcome shot of the famous herbal liquor always presented in a chilled, branded, shot glass, but subsequent libations are inevitably a cocktail packed with flavours complementing one of the 56 different natural ingredients used in Jägermeister. There’s not a Bomb in sight and I’m seriously going to have to reassess my opinion of the brand.
If you haven’t heard of Jägermeister then you’ve probably been living on the dark side of the moon. With global sales of 91.4 million bottles, the drink is available in 129 countries with approximately 100 shots drunk per second and the brand is ranked eighth in sales of international premium spirits. What you may not know is that it is still owned by the family that invented made it and remains headquartered in the German town of Wolfenbüttel in central Germany where it was first invented over 80 years ago. And unlike other spirits which are distilled, Jägermeister is macerated (the ingredients are soaked in water) for six weeks before being aged in oak casks for a year with the whole process being subjected to 383 quality control checks. Impressed yet?
For those fortunate enough the visit the distillery in Wolfenbüttel, the scale of the operation is impressive. Staffed by a small army of 900, the process involves several 60, 000 litre containers and caves of 20, 000 litres (and bigger) oak casks; casks so big that the coopers responsible for their construction have to disassemble them and then spend two weeks reassembling the staves as the casks are far too large to fit through any of the doors. This is not your average family business.
“It’s a lifestyle. It brings people together. It helps make a good time, a good evening, good memories,” says brand ambassador Florian Beuren. Originally hailing from Frankfurt, Florian moved to the UK 15 years ago, bartending and becoming UK flair champion before starting work with Jägermeister three and a half years ago. “We’ve been involved with sports and are now involved in festivals and music. It’s my responsibility to educate people; a lot of fans have been introduced to us though Jäger-bombs, but there’s so much more to the brand. It’s a versatile spirit and great for cocktails with incredible depth and layers on offer due to the amount of botanicals.”
You’re wondering about the sports comment aren’t you? Jägermeister was the first brand to have their logo on a Bundesliga team jersey in 1973. It sponsored BMW and Porsche auto sport teams as well as sponsoring Cosworth F1, before deciding in 2000 that alcohol and sports did not mix and withdrew all their sponsorship. While Jägermeister continues to advertise in several German football stadiums, today they are only actively involved in the music festival scene where they participate with their own VIP tent. In an age where corporate social responsibility now seems de rigueur, Jägermeister was well ahead of the curve.
Which brings me to Berlin on a warm autumn evening kicking off festivities at Salut! Bar. Tucked at the south, more residential end of Goltzstraße, this Art Deco come speak easy is a little gem. Dark and atmospheric the cocktail menu is laid out in a calendar format with a drink per month. Jägermeister is one of the ingredients in February, which also includes mezcal, beetroot, pineapple, chocolate and sea salt. Interested yet? However should you not like any of the 13 months cocktails on offer, yes, there’s a 13th month (a cocktail consisting of rye whiskey, Scotch whisky, Tasmanian honey liqueur and gold of Barbados) just ask. For those who want some privacy there are plenty of dark corners, but if you think that a cocktail bar also offers come spectator action there are a number of up close and personal bar stools from which you can watch the mixologists work their magic.
Next stop is Chicago Williams BBQ and I’m instantly in awe of their menu. There are two starters (small or large sandwich), ribs (whole slab or half slab) and five meats with the options of a multiple meat platter. This is definitely a no nonsense BBQ destination and the food doesn’t disappoint. The meat falls of the ribs, the meat platter is stacked high and the side of mac and cheese barely survives contact with the table. After a few shots of Jägermeister to help digest the small farm that’s just been eaten, it’s off to Anna Hirsch bar, just a few minutes’ walk down the road. This small bar is just a pit stop to help with digestion and the new Jägermeister Manifest is the order of the day. Manifest, made of a secret recipe that involves 56+ ingredients, is more of a slow, sipping drink and is the first new, non-seasonal product from Jägermeister in 80 years, involving a fifth maceration process. The last stop of the evening is the bar at The Grand, a jazz, swing bar filled with cigar smoke.
What is abundantly clear at each of these locations is the regard held for Jägermeister. Yes it’s easy to argue that any bar or restaurant will lay out the red carpet when a drinks brand comes to visit, however one suspects the extra attention is due to the extra effort that Jägermeister also go to. Take a look at a bottle of Jägermeister and you’ll see the distinctive deer’s head and cross, named after the patron saint of hunting (and also mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers), Saint Hubertus. Indeed, the green colour of the bottle is a nod to the traditional colour of hunting. Named after this patron saint, Jägermeister set up the Hubertus Circle in 2011. In addition to relationships with bars, Jägermeister wanted to inspire loyalty and show love to the people behind the bar; the aim of the Hubertus Circle sits firmly with the bartenders and is an international network for them. The network is a combination of mentoring, support and learning with the bartenders also acting as city brand ambassadors who help support sales and are active in brand events. The also receive specially branded caps, bartending aprons, strainers… you name it.
It’s clear Jägermeister is much, much more than a Jäger-bomb. Yes, there’s always a time and a place for a shot, but Jägermeister is also a family, a community and has a conscience. If you fancy something different, track down your local Hubertus Circle bartender or try and catch them on their next Road Trip. Just remember it takes over a year to make a bottle of Jägermeister; if nothing else, that deserves more than a moment of your time.