Welcome to the latest edition of The Well—a 4-minute breakdown of the stories behind your favorite alcohol brands.
On the shelf this week: Jägermeister, the herbaceous digestif beloved by bearded German factory workers and LSU frat boys alike.
The Story Behind Jägermeister
You don’t easily forget your first encounter with Jägermeister. The recipe for the darky and syrupy liqueur has been kept top secret since 1935, but what we do know is that it’s comprised of 56 herbs and tastes like licorice having an acid dream of what licorice tastes like.
Depending on who you spend your time with, Jägermeister is generally consumed as a digestif after a hearty meal of mutton stew or something, or else dropped into a glass of Red Bull and then chugged as quickly as possible in what’s affectionately (and possibly regretfully) known as a Jäger Bomb.
Talk about range. But that versatility was hard won. Jägermeister was invented in a vinegar factory in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, in 1935 by a man named Curt Mast. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that it made its American debut. A soon-to-be-legendary businessman named Sidney Frank noticed that the liqueur was hugely popular among German immigrants, and so he secured the U.S. importing rights.
But another decade would pass before Jäger really started making headway, and the reason for it continues to confound: For some reason, college students in Baton Rouge and New Orleans started drinking it. A news story in the local Baton Rogue newspaper quotes some students calling it “liquid valium” and claiming it worked like an aphrodisiac.
Frank—who would soon go on to build a full-on spirits empire with Grey Goose Vodka—spotted a marketing opportunity. He assembled a street team to promote Jäger on the streets of New Orleans and launched a tongue-in-cheek billboard campaign of a grimacing man drinking Jäger beneath the words “so smooth.”
The rest is history. The licorice-y brown stuff has become one of the most iconic party drinks of all time and had a record-breaking year in 2022. With the holidays coming up, there’s about a 95% chance that a friend you haven’t seen since college or high school is going to ask if you want to do a shot of Jäger. And let’s be honest. For reasons that continue to confound, you’re probably going to say yes.
Why I Love Jägermeister
- It’s so weird and unexpected. And I was so obnoxious in college—like, “Kamikaze shots? Oh, please. Give me the German digestif.”
- It really does help you feel better after a huge meal!
Growth & Marketing, Saucey