Anais Nin once stated “the possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” There is a deep green elixir that is perhaps one of the most mysterious within the beverage realm, and despite its newly famed presence within the current pop culture world, it still manages to keep a horde of secrets. No, I’m not talking about absinthe, but the herbal icon, Jägermeister. This Master Hunter’s brew is (literally) steeped in history, health and urban legend, which is why it is one of my favorite liqueurs of all time.
With its distinctive St. Hubertus stag on its label, it’s hard to miss this German specialty on the shelves. Developed originally in 1934 by Curt Mast of Mast-Jägermeister AG, this blend of 56 different herbs, fruit, blossoms and roots was created as a medicine, much like many types of liquor throughout history. However, unlike those other beverages, the recipe for Jägermeister has been kept relatively secret, with the exception of the sixteen verifiable ingredients revealed by the manufacturer. (In fact, I hear that only one person knows the actual ENTIRE recipe!)
Believe it or not, Jägermeister is actually good for you, when consumed in moderation, as it was originally marketed as a stomach digestive and cough suppressant. For the skeptics, a few of the ingredients, such star anise and licorice root, are commonly used for viral ailments, and contribute to Jäger’s distinctive black licorice-like flavor. Cinnamon bark, cloves, ginger root, coriander, bitter orange skin, red sandalwood, ginseng and juniper berries are all known for various anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. And poppy seeds, chamomile flowers, lavender, and saffron all contribute to the anti-anxiety properties within the brew. Throw in the blueberry and rose hips and you have an extra boost of antioxidants and stomach easing.
Interestingly, Jägermeister is brewed more like a tea than liquor distillation. The ingredients are ground and milled, blended together, then suspended in a 70% alcohol & water composite and steeped (or macerated, for you science geeks) for days until the aromatic compounds are extracted from the herbs. The process is repeated continuously for about five or six weeks to develop the base extraction for the Jägermeister, and then once it is filtered, it is stored for a year in oak casks. Once it has been aged, it is then mixed with more water, alcohol, sugars and caramel, and then bottled in the beautifully distinctive green bottles. In an urban legend alert, Jägermeister does not use deer blood as a secret ingredient. Not only would it not pass any health codes for distribution, but blood would pretty much mess up most of the brewing processes, and there would be no way that the liqueur could maintain such a consistently beautiful flavor profile. Of course, it’s more fun to promulgate a rumor that drinking Jägermeister would make you a true forest master (a manly ritual hunt blood drinking- oh yeah!), and the company never disproves the theory with its super-secret ingredients, but I’m afraid that science (and common sense) debunk that myth.
However, dear history lovers, there is still legend tied to Jägermeister. That label you see with its prominent stag and glowing cross, those are both symbols of St. Hubertus, patron saint of hunters. History has it that the wild and young Hubertus was an avid but callous hunter who kept up his sport even on the sacrosanct Sundays. One life-changing day, he came across an immense white stag with a cross glowing between its mighty antlers. Humbled and awe-stricken, Hubertus interpreted this as a sign from God that he needed to atone for his egregious errors, and began to serve as a missionary until his death in 727 AD. He was made the patron saint of hunters centuries later, with the stag glowing cross as his symbol. Curt Mast, a hunter himself, was so enamored with the legend that he used the St. Hubertus stag as the trademark for his company. If you observe the bottle label closely, you will notice it has a poem on it that honors Jägermeisters (or Hunt Masters). It reads, “Das ist des Jägers Ehrenschild, daß er beschützt und hegt sein Wild, weidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört, den Schöpfer im Geschöpfe ehrt.”
Roughly translated, the poem reads “It is the hunter’s honor that he protects and preserves his game, hunts sportsmanlike, honors the Creator in His creatures.”
Despite its history, I have found that most people have an either pure love or pure hate relationship with the flavor of Jägermeister. Whereas I would describe its taste as icy divine black licorice heaven, I have a friend who deems it to be one of the most repugnant cough syrup flavors that exists on the planet. There are a few people out there that actually love the flavor but can’t drink it due to being allergic to one of the other 40 secret ingredients, which makes up part of the non-Jäger-drinking contingent. Love it or hate it, it has become one of the most highly marketed pop culture beverages, from it being the first brand to sponsor a soccer team (thusly making corporate sponsorship a regular practice) to a widespread bar “bomb” drink popular with celebrities and metal bands everywhere. With its bold and poignant logo, it gives a new meaning to “stag parties” around the globe.
If you’re not apt to trying Jäger as a straight icy-cold shot, you can possibly grow wings AND horns by liberally dousing it with a Red Bull (the nefarious Jäger Bomb). You can show your true colors with a Jackal and Hyde, which throws two shots of Jäger with equal measures of Sambuca, and have a hissingly good time with a Snake Bomb, which mixes equal measures of beer, cider, Jäger and black currant cordial. You can take a whirl with the Licorice Whip, which blends Jäger and a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream, or find your fire with the Golden Elk, the blend of all that is unpronounceable, Jäger and Goldschläger (more than two will likely leave you more than a little tongue-tied in re-ordering.) Because of the vast herbal qualities, Jäger blend with a wide variety of twists and mixes. If you’re a soda fan, and want to experiment with some Jäger cocktails, head down to Liquid Planet and make a selection of anything from Red Bull to black cherry sodas, to citrus fizzies and berry sodas. And just as the bottle poem urges hunters to be sportsmanlike and protective of all creatures, I urge you to drink responsibly for yourself and others when imbibing your experiments. Like Ms. Nin, let the knowledge of Jägermeister history strengthen your sense of fun and deepen your sense of mystery in the beverage realm. Prost!