Jagermeister, the iconic German liqueur known for its distinctive green bottle and mysterious blend of 56 natural herbs and spices, has a history as intriguing as its flavor. Often associated with college parties and the infamous Jagerbomb, this herbal elixir has come a long way from its modest origins in the city of Wolfenbüttel, Germany. In this article, we’ll uncork the captivating history of Jagermeister, revealing its evolution from a vinegar production plant to a beloved beverage. So, join us on a journey through time as we explore the untold story of Jagermeister.
The Birth of Jagermeister
Our story begins in 1878 in Wolfenbüttel, a thriving German city with a bustling mining industry. The local miners, engaged in a technique called fire-setting, required vinegar for their mining operations. The demand for vinegar soon outpaced the local supply, and that’s when Wilhelm Mast stepped onto the scene. Wilhelm recognized the opportunity and established his vinegar production plant, kickstarting a successful business venture.
From Vinegar to Wine
As Wilhelm’s business flourished, so did his product line. Vinegar production soon gave way to winemaking, a closely related process. Wilhelm began fermenting wines in his production plant, and as a result, the aroma of productivity was infused with the joy of wine. However, business prosperity was not destined to last indefinitely.
By the early 1900s, the company had accumulated substantial debt, casting a shadow over its future. When Wilhelm passed away in 1918, the reins of the family business passed to his son, Curt Mast. Curt, realizing the need for change, made a bold decision to halt vinegar production entirely. Instead, he chose to focus exclusively on winemaking and embarked on an ambitious journey to create his unique liqueur.
Curt Mast’s Liqueur Experiment
Curt Mast’s quest to craft the perfect liqueur led him through a decade of experimentation. His journey involved countless trials and errors, resulting in flavors ranging from overly sweet to overly citrusy. But Curt’s determination ultimately bore fruit, and he unveiled a recipe that featured an astonishing combination of 56 natural herbs and spices. This concoction, bearing the name “Jagermeister,” translated to “Hunt Master” in German, was a testament to Curt’s unwavering commitment to quality.
The Mystery of Jagermeister’s Recipe
To this day, Jagermeister’s recipe remains shrouded in secrecy. While some ingredients have been disclosed by the company, the majority remain a well-guarded secret. The label of the iconic green bottle prominently features the St. Hubertus stag, a mythical creature associated with a legendary story from medieval France. Contrary to popular myth, Jagermeister contains no deer blood, unless you decide to add your own. St. Hubertus, known as the patron saint of huntsmen, lends a fitting mascot to a drink named “Hunt Master.”
The Distinctive Green Bottle
The distinct green bottle of Jagermeister wasn’t a mere aesthetic choice; it was the result of meticulous scientific research. Curt Mast shattered numerous bottles onto his oak floor, and the one that remained intact upon impact became the chosen vessel for his liqueur. In 1934, just one year after Hitler came to power, Jagermeister was ready to step into the spotlight.
Jagermeister and Hermann Goring
During this period, Hermann Goring, Germany’s second most powerful figure at the time, held the position of Reichsjagermeister, or Imperial Hunt Master. Goring’s association with hunting made him the head of Germany’s largest hunting society, and this connection led to a less-than-flattering nickname for Curt Mast’s creation – “Goring Schnapps.” Despite its unflattering moniker, the liqueur gained popularity in Germany for its perceived medicinal benefits.
Jagermeister’s Medicinal Role
Jagermeister’s versatility made it a go-to remedy for various ailments. Whether it was a stomach ache, a cold, or a hangover, Jagermeister was touted as a cure-all elixir. Its appeal extended beyond its taste, and it was embraced by those seeking both enjoyment and relief from discomfort.
Sidney Frank’s Introduction to Jagermeister
The story of Jagermeister takes an unexpected turn as we shift our focus to Sidney Frank, a Connecticut-born engineer who made a significant impact on the beverage industry. After World War II, Frank’s engineering skills led him to India, where he worked on improving aircraft engine performance. Later, he married into the Rosenstiel family, securing a position at Schenley Industries, a company with a notable distillery in India.
Sidney Frank’s Triumph in the Liquor Industry
Frank’s journey in the liquor industry took an intriguing turn when he was sent to England to revamp a struggling scotch distillery acquired by Schenley Industries. His efforts catapulted production from one million to a staggering 3.6 million gallons per week, a feat that added substantial profits to the company’s coffers. This achievement eventually propelled Frank to the presidency of Schenley Industries.
The Birth of the Sidney Frank Importing Company
However, Frank’s tenure at Schenley Industries was short-lived due to a family conflict, which led to his departure in 1970. In response, he founded the Sidney Frank Importing Company, a liquor business intended to compete directly with Schenley Industries. It was during this time that Frank’s path crossed with Jagermeister.
Sidney Frank’s Encounter with Jagermeister
In 1974, while enjoying a drink at a New York bar, Sidney Frank discovered a relatively obscure German liqueur adorned with a stag on its bottle. Its unique taste, reminiscent of root beer, black licorice, and Vicks Formula 44, intrigued Frank. He recognized the potential of this mysterious elixir and set out to introduce it to a broader audience.
Jagermeister’s Rise in Europe
At the time of Sidney Frank’s discovery, Jagermeister was already making waves in Europe. It had recently secured a sponsorship deal with the German football team, Eintracht Braunschweig. Although advertising on team shirts was prohibited in Germany, the company devised a plan to incorporate the Jagermeister stag logo onto the team jerseys. This strategy, akin to slipping Garfield into the MGM logo, encountered legal hurdles but eventually succeeded.
Sidney Frank’s Strategic Move to Introduce Jagermeister to the U.S.
Despite its success in Europe, Jagermeister had limited presence in the United States, with only 600 cases sold annually. Sidney Frank saw an opportunity and traveled to Germany to negotiate the rights to sell Jagermeister along the East Coast, specifically from Maryland to Florida.
However, when other suppliers faltered in their distribution efforts, Frank seized the opportunity and gradually gained control over the distribution rights for the entire country. This strategic move marked the beginning of Jagermeister’s ascent in the American market.
The Baton Rouge Advocate Article
In 1985, an article in the Baton Rouge Advocate shed light on Jagermeister’s growing popularity among college students in Louisiana. For some, it had become a quirky and ironic beverage choice, akin to the Malort Liqueur of the Bayou State. For others, the allure of Jagermeister’s 56 natural herbs and spices created an air of mystery and fascination.
Sidney Frank’s Expansion Strategy
Sidney Frank recognized an opportunity in the success of Jagermeister in Louisiana and decided to capitalize on it. He printed thousands of photocopies of the Baton Rouge Advocate article and distributed them to bars across New Orleans. Additionally, he introduced the concept of the “Jagerettes,” a group of young women dressed in Jagermeister attire, who frequented Louisiana college bars to flirt with male students and encourage them to drink more Jagermeister.
The Jagerbomb Era
This marketing strategy catapulted Jagermeister from its Louisiana fan base to college towns throughout the United States. By the 1990s, Jagermeister was a ubiquitous presence, particularly at college parties. However, enjoying Jagermeister at its ideal temperature of -18 degrees Celsius was challenging. To address this issue, Jagermeister introduced its own tap machines, ensuring that the liqueur had a prominent place at bars across America.
Jagermeister’s Ongoing Success
As the new millennium arrived, Jagermeister continued its meteoric rise. By the mid-2000s, the company employed over a thousand “Jagerettes” and “Jagerdudes.” During this period, the Jagerbomb, a popular mixed drink featuring Jagermeister, emerged as a college party staple. While Jagermeister never officially endorsed the Jagerbomb, its popularity significantly contributed to the brand’s success.
Jagermeister’s Transition to an Upscale Brand
In 2015, a significant shift occurred when Jagermeister acquired the Sidney Frank Importing Company, gaining full control over its U.S. distribution. This acquisition served as a catalyst for a strategic pivot. Jagermeister aimed to move away from its youthful party image and attract a more mature, upscale audience.
Innovation in Jagermeister’s Product Line
During this transformation, Jagermeister introduced new products to cater to a more refined palate. One of these innovations was “Jagermeister Manifest,” a premium variation with more ingredients than the traditional Jagermeister, offering a slightly higher alcohol content. This product appealed to those seeking a more sophisticated drinking experience.
Jagermeister’s Continued Evolution
To diversify its product offerings, Jagermeister introduced “Jagermeister Cold Brew Coffee,” combining the caffeine kick of a Jagerbomb with a touch of class. Additionally, “Jagermeister Scharf” was introduced, featuring a spicy, hot ginger flavor to cater to evolving consumer preferences.
The journey of Jagermeister, from its modest beginnings in a German vinegar production plant to its current status as a beloved liqueur, is a testament to the power of innovation and strategic marketing. While its association with college parties and the Jagerbomb is well-known, the brand has evolved to reach a more mature audience with a diverse range of products. Today, each bottle of Jagermeister bears the same words that have graced it for nearly a century, an excerpt from a poem by Oskar von Riesenthal, emphasizing the honor of the hunter in preserving and protecting their game. So, whether you savor Jagermeister for its rich history or its unique flavor, it remains an iconic part of the world of spirits.