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).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.
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.”