A Closer Look at Celebrity Brands of Craft Spirits & Beer

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Actors, musicians and other celebrities love craft beer and spirits just like the rest of us. Yet the difference is that they often have the means, resources and connections to make significant investments in the industry. An increasing number of famous individuals have been getting interested in the craft beverage business and putting their names onto labels of products they stand behind or perhaps have even helped create.

  Here’s what the celebrity craft beverage industry looks like right now, major players in this field and what there is to look forward to in the future.

Celebrity Involvement in the Industry

  Celebrities take a step away from their typical work to get involved with craft beverages for various reasons. Some have a true passion for the craft, while others are in it for the money or just looking for more exposure and additional ways to promote themselves. While some celebrities learn about the production process and engage in making beer and spirits themselves, others do little more than attach their name to a brand for cross-promotional purposes.

  Either way, celebrity-brand craft beverages are often unique because of their higher price tags and limited availability. Some celebrities use their beverage-related profits to benefit charities, and others use their star power to launch tasting rooms for VIP guests. However, there are unique challenges that come with producing, marketing and selling celebrity craft beverages that other beer and spirit companies may not encounter. For example, a beverage brand may suffer when an affiliated celebrity declines in popularity or is involved in a scandal. Meanwhile, a celebrity’s popularity may be affected if the beverage he or she promotes isn’t received well by the public. Some craft beverage fans believe that beer and alcohol belong to them personally and not the rich and famous. Therefore, they might be turned off by the concept of celebrity affiliations and avoid these products entirely.

  But for people who are loyal to certain celebrities or just curious to try celebrity-affiliated beverages, these are accessible products that can often be purchased in stores and online. More popular beverages are usually found in liquor specialty stores, such as Binny’s and Total Wine & More. But you might have to search for more obscure and exclusive celebrity-brand beverages online through sites like Cask Cartel and Sip Whiskey.

Examples of Celebrity Beverage Endeavors

  From musicians across all genres to television personalities and film actors, a diverse array of celebrities have been making their mark on the craft beverage industry in recent years. Some of these examples were limited editions that are no longer sold, while others are ongoing efforts that are changing the industry one bottle or can at a time.

  For example, actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd co-founded Crystal Head Vodka as a way to introduce additive-free vodka and bring more creativity to the vodka industry. Along with his business partner, artist John Alexander, Aykroyd envisioned a new kind of vodka without unnatural ingredients and has a true passion for the product.

  Several years ago, pop music star Justin Timberlake entered into a co-branded partnership with Sauza Tequila to create Sauza 901 silver tequila. The name 901 references the area code in Memphis, which is Timberlake’s hometown. Timberlake said that he developed a love for tequila after visiting Jalisco, Mexico and seeing the craftsmanship that went into each bottle of the spirit.

  Iconic hip hop legend Snoop Dogg partnered with his friend and co-founder of Trusted Spirits, Keenan Towns, to establish his own spirits brand. Known as the “King of Gin and Juice” because of his famous song of the same name, Snoop Dogg developed Indoggo Gin, which mixes seven premium botanicals with all-natural strawberry flavoring. In the past, the musician has also had marketing deals with the Corona beer brand, released his own rosé wine and made investments in the cannabis industry.

  Meanwhile, actor William H. Macy co-owns Woody Creek Distillers, which is based in Colorado and operates a distillery and tasting room just west of Aspen. Not only has Macy invested in the brand, but he has also rebranded himself as Willie Creeks, an alter ego who is a musician and offers life lessons that ultimately promote rye whiskey.

  Another celebrity who has been involved in the spirits industry is actor Ryan Reynolds. He teamed up with Aviation Gin in 2018 after falling in love with the spirit and investing in the company. Since then, Reynolds has become a co-owner of Aviation Gin and driven the creative marketing for the brand. In recent years, and staying true to the aviation theme, he and the brand have teamed up with businessman Richard Branson to serve the gin onboard Virgin Atlantic and British Airways flights.

  A financial success story in the celebrity spirits industry brings us to the actor George Clooney. The idea behind Clooney’s tequila brand, Casamigos, came about after he and his friend, Rande Gerber, were in Mexico and wanted to find a smooth tequila they could sip all day without the dreaded next-day hangover. This was back in 2013, but the friends still personally tasted every batch of tequila made four years later. The brand exploded in popularity, mainly through word-of-mouth and having Clooney’s name attached to it. In 2017, they ended up selling the brand to Diageo for $1 billion, which made Clooney the highest-paid actor of the year.

  Thus far, celebrities have been more involved in the spirits industry than in craft beer or wine. But to a lesser extent, those markets are also drawing the attention of the rich and famous.

  The late-1990s and early-2000s pop band Hanson, comprised of three brothers who love craft beer (now that they’re old enough to drink it), launched the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Hanson Brother Beer. They created their own craft beer business in 2013 with their flagship beer, Mmmhops, a 7.5 percent English-style pale ale. Since then, the brothers launched the Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival, collaborated with other breweries to create unique beers and dedicated a portion of their beer-related profits to clean water wells in Africa through a nonprofit organization they created.

  Another celebrity beer collaboration involves The Grateful Dead and Dogfish Head Brewing, based in Milton, Delaware. The psychedelic rock band has been involved with the brewery since 2013 and has worked together since then to create a third version of American Beauty HazyRipple IPA. The band’s “American Beauty” album and famous track “Ripple” inspired the beer, which features the iconic Grateful Dead dancing bear image on the label. However, the band’s involvement with other aspects of the beer production process is limited.

  To show how diverse and widespread the celebrity beverage industry has become, here are some additional examples of celebrities and their affiliated beer and spirit brands:

•    Kenny Chesney – Blue Chair Bay Premium Rum

•    Kendall Jenner – 818 Tequilla

•    Marilyn Manson – Mansinthe

•    Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – Teremana Tequila

•    Mark Wahlberg – Flecha Azul

•    Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson – Effen Vodka

•    Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul – Dos Hombres Mezcal

•    Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs – Cîroc Vodka

•    Channing Tatum – Born and Bred Vodka

•    Drake – Virginia Black Whiskey

•    George Strait Código – 1530 Tequila

•    Bob Dylan – Heaven’s Door Whiskey

Considerations and Looking Ahead

  The celebrity-brand beverage industry continues to be exciting because there’s always something new in the works to look forward to. There is always a strong public fascination with rich and famous people, and that trend is not likely to disappear anytime soon. As an increasing number of celebrities enter this industry, the competition increases and drives the demand for superb product quality that goes beyond just a popularity contest of celebrity status.

  Yet there are significant legal considerations that celebrities must keep in mind as they venture into the beverage industry for the first time. Collaborative efforts between celebrities and spirit-makers can take on various forms. These include development deals that give celebrities greater control over the final product and endorsement deals that offer little more than using a celebrity’s name. Other deals involve simply using a famous person’s image to promote an existing brand all the way up to full ownership, in which a celebrity owns both the brand and the means of production.

  Specific state and federal laws separate the roles of beverage producers, distributors and retailers, which can make it challenging for celebrities to navigate if they want to be involved in more than one part of the business. Other issues that celebrities must consider before diving into the beer and spirit industry are background checks needed to obtain alcohol beverage licenses, the age of their target audience, morals clauses in their contracts and endorsement disclosures required by the Federal Trade Commission.

  Alcohol production is proving to be an enjoyable and profitable side gig for numerous celebrities interested in connecting with their fans in new and unique ways. But to get beyond the initial hype and keep craft beverage customers coming back for more, it is time to embrace the spirit of innovation and achieve long-term growth with products able to stand on their own, even without a familiar name and face behind them.

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