Frat-boy Fave Jägermeister Is Taking a Shot at the Cocktail Crowd

The 83-year-old German liqueur has 56 secret ingredients

Courtesy Jägermeister

It’s not easy being Jägermeister, the 70-proof amaro (spicy liqueur) from Germany. Despite its long lineage and proud traditions, American drinkers just have no respect.

First, there’s the brand’s stateside reputation as a favorite libation of, shall we say, young men who like to wear their baseball caps backwards. Jägermeister has been called a “seduction tool for horny frat boys” (iLyke), “a liquor best known for getting underage guys with fake IDs wasted” (Men’s Journal) and “the drink of bro culture” (Paste).

Jägermeister’s hunting roots (shown in these insets of its old advertising) remain central to the brand’s identity, and while the company still ages its liqueur in oak casks (far right), a modern facility in Wolfenbüttel, Germany (above) bottles the brew now. One tidbit you won’t see mentioned is how Jägermeister was, during the years of the Third Reich, called Göring-Schnapps. Fortunately, that name didn’t catch on.
Courtesy Jägermeister

From this reputation have grown further slights, such as the Jägerbomb—originally a shot of Jäger in a beer, which millennials have reformulated into a shot of Jägermeister in a Red Bull. No matter the mix, it hardly whispers “upscale” (neither, for that matter, does the foreshortened name “Jäger.”) There’s the rumor that the ruddy-brown liqueur contains elk blood (it does not) and, finally, there are numbers. From a high of $85 million in 2013, Jägermeister’s retail sales came in at just under $75 million for 2016, according to data from IRI—a drop of nearly 12 percent.

So why pay attention to a dated frat-boy libation? Because, despite its challenges, Jägermeister remains the No. 1 imported liqueur in the U.S., and is by far the most fabled libation you can order at a bar.

The Cap: Designed to suggest a premium libation, Jäger’s new cap bears the signature of founder Curt Mast and 1878, the year his father created the family company. The Mascot: The 12-point buck with a floating cross is a reference to the Catholic patron saint of hunters, St. Hubertus, to whom the Lord appeared as a stag in the woods. The Bottle: Redesigned late last year, the new bottle features higher shoulders, a new label and a “mature” stag—all designed to stress heritage and versatility.
Courtesy Jägermeister

A Wolfenbüttel vinegar producer 
named Curt Mast concocted the secret recipe for Jägermeister in 1934, combining 56 herbs, blossoms and roots with water and alcohol and aging it in oak casks. Drawing from Lower Saxony’s rich hunting traditions (Jägermeister means “Master Hunter”), Mast chose as his brand mascot the stag that appeared before the hunter St. Hubertus and converted him to Christianity.

These days, though, it’s young American drinkers that Jägermeister has to convert. According to one alcohol industry insider who wished to remain anonymous, shots of Jameson and Fireball have “kicked Jäger in the ass,” and the future isn’t in ice-cold shots, anyway. “The pathway for Jäger is to move into the cocktail arena,” this veteran said. “People aren’t drinking brands today as much as cocktails with brands as a component.”

As it turns out, Jägermeister seems to have heard this advice already. It’s quietly started to promote drinks like the Jägermeister Old Fashioned and the Count Mast (also called the Jäger Negroni). This more refined image will presumably be the theme of a new campaign breaking in April. “Jägermeister is a chameleon in this age of innovative cocktails,” said CMO Chris Peddy. “It’s evolving with trends in the industry, and 
also remaining a staple when needing that ice-cold shot.”

Hear that, frat boys? Even if the Jäger 
Sour gets trendy, you’re still welcome.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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