While not yet a household name in the U.S., Underberg has been a go-to digestif for Europeans ever since its 19th century release. A fifth-generation family business from Germany, Underberg and its namesake amber-colored bitter are a common sight in bars across Europe.
Often compared to Fernet-Branca and Jägermeister, and beloved for its supposed hangover-healing properties, Underberg has developed a following among American bartenders for its rich, Christmas-like herbal qualities — some of whom even use the entire bottle in their cocktail creations.
Keep reading to learn 10 things you should know about this storied elixir.
175 Years Later, Its Recipe Remains a Family Secret
Hailing from Rheinberg, Germany, the brand was founded by Hubert Underberg in 1846. After tinkering with the recipe for years, Underberg finally settled on a distinctive combination of herbs sourced from 43 countries. Today, the recipe remains an airtight secret, known by just five people in the Underberg family.
Underberg Was an Immediate Hit
Following its launch, Underberg received many honors, including being presented at the first World Exhibition in London in 1851. Underberg’s success led to its first import into the American market, arriving in San Francisco in 1860.
Prohibition Couldn’t Stop Underberg
Underberg comes in at 88 proof, but because it was categorized by the FDA as a food product, it was still allowed to be imported into the U.S. during Prohibition. Due to this classification, it’s still possible today to stumble upon the bitter in grocery stores that don’t stock alcohol.
The Digestif Can Fit in the Palm of Your Hand
Prior to 1949, Underberg was sold in various bottle sizes, but by the end of World War II, Hubert’s grandson Emil decided in favor of tiny, single-serve 20-milliliter (approximately 0.68-fluid-ounce) bottles. The smaller size helped prevent counterfeiting and was touted by the company as a convenient traveling companion.
Underberg Is Not a Sipper
Underberg is meant to aid digestion following a meal. As its label explains, it is not intended to be sipped slowly, but rather “taken all at once and quickly because of its aromatic strong taste.” However, as author Brad Thomas Parsons notes in his book “Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas,” Brooklyn bartender Damon Boelte popularized drinking Underberg straight, at the now closed Prime Meats, with a “little black bar straw poking out of the bottle.”
Like Angostura, It Wears an Oversized Label
As the company explains, Underberg’s packaging has always been an important consideration. The straw-colored paper enveloping every bottle is meant to help protect it from sunlight, while also serving as a hygienic barrier.
Underberg Has Its Very Own Jingle…
After a 1977 television campaign popularized the brand’s jingle “Komm doch mit auf den Underberg” (which translates to “Come with me to the Underberg”) across Europe, the song has since been performed by numerous musicians — all of whom add their own individual twist on the song. One such band, the Swedish metal group Amon Amarth, is known to play a version of the tune, while also drinking Underberg, at its concerts.
…And Its Very Own Special Glass
At the 1867 Paris World Expo, Hubert worked with Italian glassblowers to develop a long-stemmed drinking vessel made specifically for the consumption of Underberg. This unique glass, which can still be purchased today, stands more than nine inches tall and is designed to help accentuate Underberg’s aromas.
The Brand Has a Brazilian Sibling
After emigrating to Rio de Janeiro in 1933, Hubert’s other grandson Paul began producing his own version of the family bitters in his new South American home. First called the Underberg of Brazil, the product was later renamed Brasilberg. Paul updated the recipe to include herbs sourced from the Amazon.
Save Your Underberg Caps for Swag
Underberg’s loyalty program, Tops & More, offers customers a chance to exchange their bottle caps for prizes like barbecue aprons, plates, and bowling score books, all branded with the company logo. Superfans take note; to score the ultimate prize — a leather belt that holds up to 12 Underberg bottles — it’ll cost 480 tops. Better start saving up now.