If the taste of Jäger evokes nausea and blurry memories of sticky frat house basements, odds are you're American. The German liqueur has been synonymous with "party" on this side of the pond for decades, an association that the brand cultivated through a series of marketing campaigns that culminated in the Jägermeister Mobile Stage.
A rock stage on wheels, it brought such distinguished events to the North American public as Ozzy Osbourne's "Ozzfest" rock festival, a "Sassy & Classy Over 35 Modelling Contest," and a fake orgasm and cherry pie eating contest.
Last Monday and Tuesday nights, the marketing team of the historied German digestif visited Portland in an attempt to complicate this image.
A few months ago, they took apart the mobile stage and hired craftsmen to build a speakeasy-inspired bar on wheels in its place. It's filled with Jäger-inspired paintings, felt wallpaper with images of the Jäger stag, stained glass windows of crushed Jäger bottles and a Jäger-stained wooden centerpiece engraved with a nineteenth century German poem. The result is a DIY-style events space that feels more like an adult arts and crafts tent than corporate promotional tool.
Now they've taken their speakeasy on the road in a 12-state tour with a deceptively simple objective: to convince US audiences that Jäger can be classy. The central irony of their quest, of course, is that only through the rigorous efforts of American liquor importers did the drink ever become a party fixture in the first place. In the Old Country, aside from its ambiguous Nazi roots, the brand's main image problem is its disconnect from the youth culture, its reputation as an "older" drink associated with a traditional generation of working class parents who took it as an after-dinner digestive aid.
Their attempt to backtrack from years of Warped Tour-style marketing is indicative of a larger shift in consumptive habits. Suddenly, even Jäger wants to be artsy.
At their recent Portland stop, instead of bubby girls in tiny orange tee shirts, they enlisted local mixologists from Teardrop Lounge and the Commissary to promote their drink. They asked the bartenders to concoct Jäger-based cocktails inspired by Portland. The results included an ultra-rich dessert drink with pear brandy and a lighter summer drink.
The marketing team passed around bowls of licorice root and Chinese star anise for us to smell and fondle, highlighting each ingredient's country of origin on a vintage map projected onto one of the walls.
They gave each guest a printed copy of a fake newsletter with Portland-specific fun facts, cocktail recipes and brand lore. Today one of our art editors paused to admire the graphics.
Despite the attention to detail, the creativity and the enthusiasm with which they plied us with various Jäger concoctions, it's difficult to imagine many Americans viewing the liqueur as anything more serious than a seriously painful hangover. If you do want to try adult Jäger, though, mixing it with ginger beer is the way to go.