There’s one liquor bottle that I’ve been avoiding more than any other on this blog — even more than the much feared Malort. Not so much because of the actual spirit itself, moreso because of the culture and negative hype associated with it. Yes… today we are finally checking out the only spirit in the world that has a branded machine for it in most bars dedicated to making it more palatable: Jägermeister.
Curt Mast was the son of a German wine and spirits trader who was always interested in making his own mark on the industry. When Mast took over his father’s business in 1934, he set about making something unique by creating a mixture of herbs and spices that he infused into a neutral spirit to create a new digestif.
For the name for this concoction, Mast turned to his love of hunting in his central German hometown. The newly installed Nazi government in Germany had recently passed a law regulating the use of the term “jägermeister” which had been a traditional ceremonial title for a knowledgeable huntsman (literally translating as “master of the hunt”) and making it a title in the civil service of Germany. Using the resurgent popularity of the word in Germany, Mast named his spirit “Jägermeister”.
While that might have been the official name, the fact that notable Nazi (and future war criminal) Hermann Göring was appointed Reich Hunting Master led to the spirit being nicknamed “Göring-Schnaps”.
The spirit (and it’s unfortunate beginnings associated with the Third Reich) remained relatively obscure until the 1980’s when notable American businessman Sidney Frank started promoting the spirit as a drink for parties among college-age Americans. The marketing worked, and the college party scene has never been the same.
Jägermeister continues to be manufactured in Germany by Mast-Jägermeister SE (named for both creator Curt Mast and his creation).
As with most digestif spirits, Jägermeister is in essence a neutral spirit that has been infused with botanical herbs and spices to create the desired flavor profile.
Production starts with collecting the 56 herbs and spices for the recipe. The exact list is a trade secret, but some confirmed components include citrus peel, licorice, anise, poppy seeds, saffron, ginger, juniper berries, and ginseng.
Those herbs and spices are then grouped in four distinct combinations, and each of the four is added to a neutral spirit (which is sourced from elsewhere) and water. This maceration process imparts the flavors, aromas, and colors of the components into each of the four. These are then each placed into large oak barrels for a period of about a year to mature.
After all of the four combinations have reached maturation potential, they are blended together with the three other strains to achieve the proper flavor profile and bottled for sale.
You can fault this spirit for a lot of things (the flavor, the appearance, the close ties to Nazi Germany) — but the branding is one area where you really do have to hand it to them. This is possibly one of the most recognizable brands in the world, and their bottles are part of the reason for that success.
Overall, it’s a very medicinal shape, paying homage to the digestif origins of the spirit. It looks like something you might pull off the shelf of a 1930’s pharmacist for your stomach ache. It helps to set the spirit apart from the rest of the bottles on the shelf, and the box-like shape of the bottle is distinctive and instantly recognizable.
The glass is colored a deep green, making it very opaque and difficult to see the liquid inside. Usually, that’s a pet peeve of mine but in this case I’m not that bothered. A macerated and aged spirit like this is going to be dark and dirty in appearance anyway, so showing that off in the same way you would a fine scotch or bourbon doesn’t make sense.
Speaking of instantly recognizable, the iconic stag logo on the front of the bottle is clean, clear, and distinctive. There’s a cross depicted between the antlers of the stag as an homage to saints Hubertus and Eustace, the patron saints of hunters, who converted to Christianity after seeing a similar vision of a cross between the antlers of a stag.
It’s a master class in good branding.
I always assumed that this would be a lighter colored liquid. I’m not sure when or how I formed that assumption, but pouring a shot of this into a glass quickly shows that this is a very dark colored liquid. If you’ve ever had amaro or other similar digestif spirits, this is a very comparable appearance.
Coming off the glass is an aroma that actually smells pretty appealing, especially for someone who just ate a huge meal. There’s a lot of licorice in the aroma, combined with some ginger, orange peel, mint, and some saffron. Again: very common for a digestif spirit with the heavy focus on herbs.
Taking a sip, the sugar content is the first thing I noticed. This is very, very sweet and leaves a coating of sugar over your entire mouth. As the flavors start to fade in, the majority of what I’m getting is licorice and orange peel with a bit of ginger in the background. There’s some development to include deep brown sugar and vanilla (barrel aging notes) before some dark chocolate joins near the finish. Some of the flavors from the aromatic components are also here (mint, saffron, etc), but they have much less of an impact.
I can see the swirling in the glass as soon as I drop the ice cubes in — there’s a significant sugar content here and just like we saw with Fireball or Skrewball, that sugar is starting to fall out of solution with the chill and the dilution.
Another thing I can see pretty clearly is why they added all that sugar in the first place. The ice cuts through some of that sweetness and allows a significantly bitter flavor to start to develop. It seems to be the bitterness from that dark chocolate flavor we saw earlier, just that the bite had been obscured at first.
There’s also much more of the licorice flavor coming through and not nearly enough other components to counteract it, as the barrel aging components have almost completely disappeared. I’m getting just a hint of orange peel, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. In total, a boring and uninviting flavor profile.
Judging this as a digestif, it’s actually very similar in composition and concept to other licorice-heavy digestifs. I compared it to an Italian amaro and that’s probably the closest cousin I can think of at the moment, but this version is much heavier on the licorice and much sweeter on the palate. And if you make the mistake of adding some ice to the mix, the flavor just takes an absolute nosedive.
I can understand why bars serve this ice cold — chilling a spirit usually removes a lot of the unpleasant flavors, and as long as you aren’t diluting it at the same time generally you shouldn’t be changing the flavor profile all that drastically. For those who aren’t used to a digestif (which, let’s be honest — the college crowds this is being marketed to are most likely not), that’s a great way to drink the spirit.
Generally speaking, I feel like this gets a bad rap. Judged on its own, this is a fair to middling example of a digestif, something that is serviceable but a bit simple in the flavors and overly sweet. Not ideal, but not the worst thing in the world.
I feel like the real hate comes from the way this is marketed and sold in the United States: en masse as a shot at bars and parties. In that format, you are nearly guaranteed a hangover. But I suppose the good news is that the licorice and other herbs in here might do their intended job and settle your stomach enough to not hurl on the way home from the bar.
For those who want that same kind of licorice flavor, I’d highly recommend checking out absinthe or pastis. Those are spirits that have some of the same concepts, but actually work in a cocktail.
|Mast-Jägermeister SE Jägermeister|
Produced By: Mast-Jägermeister SEProduction Location: Germany
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
An overly sweet digestif that is very heavy on the licorice flavors.