20 Minutes with Dr. Christina Jagla
Within the Dr. Jaglas story, new and old, medicine and cuisine, Wuppertal and Berlin meet. Dr. Jaglas is the capital-based digestif brand managing to free the bitter’s image from its thick coat of prejudiced dust. Before Dr. Christina Jagla singlehandedly turned it into her mission to rebrand her family’s bitters into an in-drink, the herbal liquor mostly was associated with tacky after-ski parties, deer’s heads and your grandma’s ‘Brotzeit’. But Dr. Jaglas’ bitters do not only differ from conventional labels in their branding – including chic pharmacy bottles, creative logos and exciting brand cooperations – but in their quality! While the products are manufactured from the most pure and high-quality healing herbs, almost all steps of the production process are handled by Christina and her family. In the Wuppertal family pharmacy, the herbs are macerated into elixirs by Christina’s father. But in Berlin we find the Dr. Jaglas headquarters. Here, Christina and her team take care of distribution, marketing, design, press and co. What started as a gimmick and gift from especially loyal patrons in a traditional Westphalian pharmacy and grew to a professional business in Berlin, now can be found in some of the best bars and restaurants within the world. We talked with the studied pharmacist about drinking at student parties, the medical properties of herbal bitters and how everyone thinks the brand Dr. Jaglas is a family enterprise, when, in fact, it is Christina’s brain child.
Nele Tüch: What’s new at Dr. Jaglas?
Christina Jagla: We just launched a non-alcoholic aperitif for Am Tacheles on Oranienburger Straße. It’s a special edition for Herzog & de Meuron – A hibiscus elixir. We started developing the elixir in cooperation with the architecture-project. They asked us if we could develop something alcohol-free and since we wanted to develop an nonalcoholic drink anyway, it was a very good fit. A happy coincidence, so to say.
The Tacheles is this former art house, where apartments, family and townhouses are now being built. And for everyone who buys an apartment or at every event that takes place at Am Tacheles, the non-alcoholic aperitif is served or gifted. So the idea was to create a product that would bring everyone to the table. Keywords here are family and tradition. That’s why the whole thing is alcohol-free.
NT: Theoretically, children can drink it, too?
Christina Jagla: Yes, exactly. Whereas you actually drink it with tonic water and a lime. And I don’t know if children would like that. But theoretically it would work even though it’s a long drink – just alcohol-free.
NT: The Tacheles has been a big institution in Berlin for years and now something completely new is being created there. A really exciting cooperation.
Christina Jagla: Yes, especially with Herzog & de Meuron. They are really great architects who built the Elbphilharmonie or the Tate Modern. For me, it’s great that we can move within these design and art circles.
“When people hear about bitters, a lot of them think of some stuffy herbal liqueur that is sticky and sits somewhere in the back of
your grandparents’ shelf. But it can actually be a very, very exciting drink.“
NT: You’ve managed to give bitters a new image. Before Dr. Jaglas, bitters were more likely to be associated with the grandparents’ sitting area or the alpine pasture. But you’ve managed that even the young hipster likes to drink bitters now – it’s become an in-drink.
Christina Jagla: When people hear about bitters, a lot of them think of some stuffy herbal liqueur that is sticky and sits somewhere, as you say, in the back of your grandparents’ shelf. But it can actually be a very, very exciting drink. That’s why we focus on making it with certified herbs. You can get an extreme amount of flavor out of it if you use the right herbs, reduce the sugar, and use the right spirit. The next step is just to publicize how exciting the drink can actually be. Gin has been totally forgotten for a while and has only been hyped again in the last few years.
NT: You have already had some cool corporations, which certainly helps the image…
Christina Jagla: Exactly, we originally developed our Glühweinkräuter Elixier (mulled wine herbal elixir) in 2016 for Bar Rutz on Chausseestraße, which now is a three-star restaurant. After that, we developed editions of the Maca Ginseng-Elixier for the newsletter DIE ZEIT.
NT: You started with pure digestives and then discovered quite quickly that the bitters also work as cocktails or drinks?
Christina Jagla: Before I launched Dr. Jaglas, we had the elixirs in the pharmacy. The focus really was on the bitters. But over time, we changed the formulas for them to taste delicious and now you can drink them as little shots. It went from a teaspoon after a meal to a little glass. But what’s special about us and where we differ from many herbal liqueurs is that we incorporate juniper berries in the recipe. Because of the juniper berries, a lot of bars and restaurants thought that our elixirs smelled like gin and they came up with the idea of creating drinks with our bitters. More and more bartenders started to develop drinks with our elixirs. But to be honest, I personally always recommend to try the elixirs without anything else.
NT: So these are old recipes that have been in the family for decades, but they have been developed further?
Christina Jagla: There is a basic recipe from which all elixirs are created. This is a monastery elixir. We only sell it in the pharmacy, and it is available in a small bottle that still has “one teaspoon after the meal” written on it. From this recipe, the Artischocken-Elixier was created and then, peu à peu, the other recipes developed. The gin, for example, is the distilled version of the Ginseng-Elixier.
NT: And theoretically you could take a teaspoon of the Dr. Jaglas elixirs as a medical remedy?
Christina Jagla: Exactly. There are many pharmacies that sell our products and their customers use them as any other bitter you can get in the pharmacy. My grandma, for example, always makes herself a mineral water with ice cubes and adds just one teaspoon of bitter. That’s enough for her, but you are still able to notice the bitters.
NT: What exactly are the functions of the elixirs?
Christina Jagla: All elixirs are based on over 30 bitter herbs. Bitter herbs always contain bitter substances, just like bitter vegetables. On an empty stomach, before eating, they stimulate the appetite. That’s why such classic aperitivi like Campari or Martini always consist of bitter herbs. When you have them in your mouth, saliva rushes in. Your mouth literally waters. After the meal, they function as a digestive. Bitter substances also stimulate the bile fluid.
“Family business always sounds so pompous, it’s a family pharmacy.“
NT: You studied to become a pharmacist and then worked at the Charité. In Berlin, you founded Dr. Jaglas on the base of the formulas from your family pharmacy. You grew up within this family business. Was it always clear to you that you would study pharmacy?
Christina Jagla: Family business always sounds so pompous, it’s a family pharmacy. Many pharmacies sell their own specialties in addition to the normal assortment of medications. I always knew that all these formulations from our pharmacy have a lot of potential. We also produce our own natural cosmetics, for example. But we do all these things on a small scale. So I thought about how these formulas that we offer in the pharmacy could also be sold outside the pharmacy, in concept stores, in restaurants, in delicatessen shops. And so the idea emerged to start my own company, to rebrand and to bring the elixirs to the market under their own name.
NT: Do you know how many pharmacies still exist that produce their own products? Is that something that is still done often or are those holdovers from a previous pharmacy-culture?
Christina Jagla: I think there are only a few pharmacies like this left. It’s still the case, though, that every pharmacist has to have a lab and a formulation. In the laboratory you make, for example, teas and in the formulation you do the mixing for medical agents, as well as creams and balms. This is obligatory for every pharmacy. There are always some pharmacies that mix and offer their own creams or their own essential oils. But probably not many of them exist anymore. On our scale, doing it professionally and with a larger assortment, it’s very rare. But what’s really interesting is that a lot of recipes originated in pharmacies. Bahlsen cookies or Fisher Men’s Friends both are based on old pharmacy recipes.
NT: I’m learning a lot today. So every pharmacy has to have a lab and its own formulation?
Christina Jagla: Exactly, as a pharmacist you are obliged to be able to produce every prescription yourself. You have to have all the equipment and all the ingredients. Of course, there are more and more pharmacies that find this to be too much work and will send you to the next pharmacy, but in principle every pharmacy should be able to mix your prescription.
NT: You just mentioned that you always thought your family’s formulations deserved more attention. You chose the bitters to build your brand around instead of the natural cosmetics. Why is that?
Christina Jagla: I drank the Artischocken-Elixier myself, back when I was in college. Both, my sister, who studied law in Münster, and me, studying in Freiburg, took the elixir to our friends for pre-gaming. Then, when I graduated, it was clear to me that I would launch this product someday.
But it doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in our natural cosmetic products. Actually, there is another really great product that I would like to bring to market. Under a different name, with another brand, I might launch a cosmetic company in the future.