We had the honor of meeting Mr Emil Underberg in the founder house of Underberg, in the German town of Rheinberg, where he shared a few words with us about the company’s past, present and future.
How did the company started?
“The start of the Underberg company is closely connected with the development of the product “Underberg”. In 1846, after a long and careful development process, Hubert Underberg I. – the company founder – introduced a unique herbal product to the market.
In his youth Hubert Underberg grew up in a quite entrepreneurial environment. His parents ran a business which today we would call a chemist’s. The young man travelled to the Netherlands to get trained in trading herbs and banking businesses, which was common at that time. There he also made the acquaintance of a mixed drink, an herbal elixir which the landlord with Genever. Hubert Underberg held these bitters in high esteem but was surprised that the composition and the quality of this herbal drink was varying so much. Finishing his studies he returned home to create a drink that would combine the soothing effects of the herbs with modern production methods, which should result in a product of consistent high quality. Hubert carefully selected each herb and developed a stage by stage procedure which guaranteed the careful extraction of the active substances from the selected aromatic herbs.”
What is your biggest career influence?
“Being the 4th generation owner of a family business, the pioneer work of the founder, Hubert Underberg, is today a role model for me. In a time where high quality products and brands were unknown, he managed to establish his family name as a brand. He was so successful with this, that he had to fight many counterfeits and copy cats of his brand. His entrepreneurial spirit is till today a great inspiration for me.
also my father, Emil Underberg I., who invented the portion bottle is a strong influence for my decisions. He ran the company during the hard times of the 1930s and 1940s and managed to save the company during war times, although we had to stop production in 1941 since we were cut off our international herbs suppliers. What impresses me till today is that he was so visionary that he used this crisis situation as a chance to completely reinvent the brand packaging with the portion-sized bottle. This does impress me till today.”
What is the idea behind the bottle’s size? Was it always a small portion like this?
“In the beginning Underberg was not bottled in today’s unique portion-bottle. For nearly the first century – from the invention of the company in 1846 till the beginning of Second World War – Underberg was sold in a big standard bottle size of 700 ml and 1000 ml which were common at that time. What was unique already then was that the Underberg bottles were covered in straw-paper to protect the precious liquid from sunlight.
In the 1940s the grandson of the companies’ founder, Emil Underberg I., had the idea to sell his product only in a portion-sized bottle. As mentioned above here he turned the crisis of the Second World War in an opportunity to change the brand. Due to the allied blockade we had to stop production in 1941, because many of the herbs needed were simply no longer available. In this time Emil Underberg started to work on his idea of a portion-bottle, which was finally launched in 1949. With this step he not only ensured the authenticity of his product. The key idea was to offer the consumer always the ideal portion of Underberg to promote the digestion. This was also the beginning of the slogan: “Underberg, the portion of well-being”!”
How long does it take for the procedure and a bottle of Underberg to be created?
“The whole production process from start to finish takes at least 9 months. This is a quiet slow and elaborate process. However, the careful extraction of the valuable herbal ingredients and vitamins is a special art that takes its time. This is followed by a maturing process in barrels made from Slovenian oak.”
In your opinion, what is the best way to enjoy Underberg?
“Underberg is best served in the Original Underberg tall glass, this is what I call the perfect serve… In comparison to other brands or spirits Underberg should be poured directly at the table. The secret here is to poor Underberg in a 45 ° angle, because otherwise the follow of the liquid stops. This emphasizes the high value of Underberg on a festively decorated dining table. Every drop of our hand-crafted Underberg is precious!
The Original Underberg tall glass itself is an item with a long-standing tradition in our company. Since 1855 Hubert Underberg had been taking part in the world exhibitions, which were very significant at that time. In 1867, at the World Exhibition in Paris, the company appeared with an extraordinary pavilion. During his stay at the exhibition in Paris Hubert Underberg went over to the famous glass artists from Murano and asked them to develop for him a Underberg glass which towers above all the other glasses on the festive table. The result was our today’s tall glass with a height of 24 centimetres.”
Is it common for German people to drink bitters & bitter drinks?
“Similarly to Italy with its established Amaro culture, drinking herbal bitters or herbal liqueurs has a long tradition in Germany. For centuries it was common for Germans to drink herbal beers or alcoholic drinks laced with herbs. Based on this tradition my ancestor, Hubert Underberg, was one of the pioneers to create this high-quality brand.
Till today this tendency towards herbal drinks is strong. In the past years we have seen a shift from herbal bitters towards herbal liqueurs. However, what makes me happy is that people are interested more and more in the rich culture of herbal bitters and digestives we have in Germany. This segment is really experiencing a small renaissance during the last years.”
What are some trends you are seeing in the cocktail market in the near future?
“As mentioned above we see that herbal digestives are again becoming more popular. This is not only limited to Germany but does happen in many markets. Since Underberg is sold in more than 100 markets worldwide we really see this effect around the world. And like in many case the cocktail market or better bar scene is leading the way here. Personally, I am delighted to see this strong revival of classic bitter cocktails. Even a few years ago it was hardly possible to find a cocktail bar with a good choice of bitter cocktails. This has changed dramatically in the last years. As you might now I believe that drinking Underberg neat is the best way to enjoy it. However, I think that this classic cocktail trend is greatly helping Underberg too, even in an indirect way.”
What is your favourite cocktail to drink?
“You might be surprised to learn that I am not a cocktail drinker at all. I am from a generation where you usually used to drink only neat or on the rocks. Therefore, I cannot really name you a favorite cocktail. This is however also an advantage, because if you don’t have a preference you can taste and try things with open eyes.”