Jägermeister once had a dominant position in nightclubs and bars, and at it’s peak in 2008 moved a staggering 2.9 million cases in the United States (source: Impact Databank). The Jägershot used to be synonymous with a fun night out partying, and perhaps a rough morning after. Jägermeister’s position began to change in 2009 with the cocktail revolution. Drinkers began putting down their Jägershots and picking up cocktails as a key part of their night out. At the same time, the number of options available to drinkers in the chill shot space exploded. Fireball flavored whiskey, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey, Jim Beam Red Stag, and Crown Royal Maple all stepped in as compelling alternatives to Jägermeister, and by 2012 this meant a 3.2% decline in the brand’s sales.
Although it has taken a few years, Jägermeister has started reacting to the changing market. In 2012, the brand began to show off its mixability at the Berlin Bar Show with a cocktail lab featuring legendary barman Gary Regan. In mid 2013, Jägermeister hosted a major cocktail pairing dinner at Tales of the Cocktail with nationally recognized bartenders Willy Shine, Sean Kenyon, Ivy Mix, Sean Hoard, and Todd Richman. Now, Jägermeister has taken the next logical step by extending their line with a special seasonal version of their popular liqueur, Jägermeister Spice.
Since it’s been a while since we did a formal blind tasting of Jägermeister, we decided to revisit it. How Jägermeister tastes is important in comparison to Jägermeister Spice.
Jägermeister (35% ABV, 70 Proof $20.99) – dark brown in color, from the first nosing licorice root jumps out of the glass. Jägermeister smells a lot like a riff on an aquavit liqueur, with licorice and caraway dominating the noses. It’s clearly an herbal liqueur, but one that smells more of the roots of plants than the plants themselves. The entry of Jägermeister is sweet but the licorice root from the note is immediately on the palate; here, it’s more like the intense Swedish or Norwegian salted licorice or licorice root. The licorice is backed by a whole host of spices including black pepper, anise seed, cinnamon, caraway, ginger, mint, and eucalyptus. These herbal notes all have an earthiness to them but they are balanced by the sweet vanilla, sugar, and caramel notes. There’s also some faint citrus in the background with dried orange and lemon peel as well as a hint of dark fruits. The finish for Jäger is long and herbal, very rooty, but nicely balanced by the sweet notes. The spice on the finish is complemented with a touch of heat.
In the liqueur space, Jagermeister does a solid job of presenting a predominantly earthy and rooty licorice-forward spirit which is a little sweet but nicely balanced. It must have been extremely frustrating for the folks at Jägermeister to not only see their market share erode, but to have the very craft bartenders who used to shoot Jäger move over to Fernet-Branca.
Jägermeister Spice (25% ABV, 50 proof $22.99) is lighter in color than Jägermeister, dark amber versus brown. Jägermeister Spice uses the same ingredients as the original Jägermeister but in vastly different proportions. While the original Jägermeister screams roots and licorice, Jägermeister Spice is all about baking spices. The nose is softer with a lot less licorice (although it’s there in the background), which makes room for cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, ginger, and clove to really emerge. The sweet in the nose is more vanilla than sugar, and comes together with the spices to smell like a holiday spiced cake. Jägermeister Spice is 10% less alcohol than traditional Jägermeister and that fact is noticeable in the nose, which is more muted and understated than the original. The lower ABV is also apparent on the palate. The entry is much softer and thinner than Jägermeister with cinnamon and allspice as dominant here as the licorice is in the original. The midpalate is all holiday cake with cinnamon, ginger, clove, black pepper, and allspice mixing with vanilla, sugar, and almonds. While licorice is still there, it’s dialed way, way back into the background and is now in a supporting role. The orange, which is faint in the traditional Jägermeister, is much more pronounced here. The finish is medium long with cinnamon, clove, and vanilla combining with a slightly sugary note. While there’s a slight bit of heat towards the finish, it’s not very pronounced.
Jägermeister Spice is a nice seasonal offering and it does refocus Jagermeister into something that will appeal more to the drinker hooked on pumpkin spice lattes. Unfortunately the lowering of the ABV makes Jägermeister Spice much more difficult to mix with. While dialing down the licorice makes Jägermeister a much better candidate to be used for a holiday flip or nog, the alcohol level isn’t strong enough to support it. It’s understandable that Jägermeister wanted to make their holiday offering more approachable, but I think they shouldn’t have backed down more than 5% on the alcohol.
Jägermeister was one of the very few “one product” companies left, whose ranks also used to include Maker’s Mark (until they, too, released a brand extension with Maker’s 46). Jägermeister Spice is a clear indication that brands no longer can sit on their laurels, even when selling millions of cases a year. The current beverage market demands innovation and change, and so it’s nice to see Jägermeister respond. However, Jägermeister Spice is really only a half step in this direction. Clearly meant to be a seasonal offering, we expect Jägermeister Spice to vanish after the holiday season is over. There’s also a question of who exactly is going to buy this. Will tried and true Jägermeister drinkers embrace this more holiday cookie-like liqueur?Probably not. At the lower ABV, bartenders are also probably not going to be rushing to mix with it. Jägermeister has spent so much time cultivating a macho brand, it’s hard to see Jägermeister Spice bringing more women to the table, although the taste profile seems to be very much crafted for them. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out, and if Jägermeister will continue to experiment with innovative offerings that expand who they are and what they do. I just hope that in the future they’ll keep the ABV up.