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8 best celebrity alcohol brands that left us star-struck

These premium spirits are made for sipping, not shooting

Jonathan Hatchman
Wednesday 11 May 2022 16:47
<p>We blind tasted to avoid any bias towards our favourite VIPs</p>

We blind tasted to avoid any bias towards our favourite VIPs

With the premium spirits category currently booming, it’s no surprise that more and more celebrities are investing in or launching their own alcohol brands. There are now so many celebrity-owned spirits, wines, beers and other alcoholic drinks on the market that it’s hard to keep track. Many are simply terrible, with cringe-worthy marketing stunts and gimmicky advertising, but others are genuinely quite brilliant.

While celebrities have owned or endorsed spirits for decades, George Clooney and Randy Gerber’s Casamigos seemed to really propel the trend. A huge success story, Casamigos was initially produced as a high-end tequila to be distributed as samples among the founders’ close friends. But when the production expanded, and the distillery alerted Clooney and Gerber they’d need a licence to continue production and distribution, the brand was sold to alcohol giant Diageo in 2017 for a whopping $1bn.

Since then, countless celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon. And, after all, if you have a high profile and enough revenue, it’s easy enough to sway distillers and partner with distributors. Many consumers are also happy to pay premium prices for spirits not just endorsed by their favourite celebrities, but owned by them, at least in part.

The whole thing just makes sense. Agave spirits are arguably the most popular choice, currently experiencing a boom in popularity and taking a small amount of time to produce, but whiskies, gins, vodkas and cognacs are also readily available.

But while some bottles are gimmicky, others are definite passion products, with actors, musicians, models and athletes taking time out of their careers to make innovative beverages. And with the good ones, that passion really shows in the final product: proof that producing spirits can be so much more than just a lucrative side hustle.

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How we tested

We provisionally tasted these spirits on their own, without ice and from identical glasses, using a blind-tasting method to avoid any bias. For additional tasting purposes, each spirit was mixed in a classic cocktail particularly well-suited to its category. Whiskies were used to make an old fashioned, tequilas and mezcals featured in palomas, vodkas were showcased in dry martinis and gins were mixed into classic aviation cocktails.

The best celebrity alcohol brands for 2022 are:

El Recuerdo mezcal joven

Best: Overall

  • ABV: 40%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 9/10

Owned in part by MMA fighter Jorge Masvidal, El Recuerdo mezcal is renowned for its smokiness, characteristic of traditional Oaxacan mezcals. Instead of being produced at a traditional Palenque, El Recuerdo mezcal is made at the largest distillery in Oaxaca, with a goal to distil the cleanest mezcal ever produced, using modern machinery, cutting-edge technology and production methods more synonymous with tequila. Made using agave Espadín plants, the mezcal is crafted with traditional techniques and cooked over river rocks with certified pine and oak woods to achieve an environmentally friendly product. The rocks and woods utilised are certified by the Semarnat (Mexican ministry of environmental protection) to ensure the distillery takes care of the planet’s diversity through responsible and sustainable management of local forests.

From the brand’s portfolio, two expressions are available: El Recuerdo mezcal Joven and Gusano. The Gusano incorporates a maguey worm, which gives a silky texture, while the Joven is a little sharper, with a bold smokiness. Those smoky notes are also joined by plenty of sweet toasted agave, faint salinity and just a touch of dark chocolate on the palate. A remarkable, good value mezcal that’s a home bar essential for both beginners and enthusiasts alike.

Aviation gin

Best: Celebrity gin

  • ABV: 42%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 9/10

Aviation Gin was founded by Christian Krogstad and Seattle-based bartender Ryan Magarian, but actor Ryan Reynolds bought a stake in the brand in 2018. Named after the classic aviation cocktail, the spirit led the way for a new wave of contemporary gins upon launch, upsetting purists by crafting a less juniper-forward gin. It’s also generally recognised as the United States’ first distiller/bartender partnership, with Aviation Gin distilled by House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon.

The exceptionally smooth and complex small-batch gin is made with seven main botanicals, vaunting prominent aromas of sarsaparilla, sweet orange peel, coriander and lavender. When sampled neat, Aviation Gin has dull juniper and cardamom notes on the palate, joined by earthy caraway, anise and pepper alongside a whisper of smoke, which lingers in the background. The spirit also has a large rye content more typical of dark spirits, which works well alongside the natural notes of cinnamon and cassia. Bright cardamom and lavender notes work particularly well with the floral character of crème de violette – a traditional ingredient used for aviation cocktails. An outstanding celebrity-owned gin at an unexpectedly reasonable price point.

Crystal Head vodka

Best: Bottle

  • ABV: 40%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 8/10

Regardless of what’s inside, Crystal Head vodka will most likely be the most striking bottle on any shelf. The spirit has become particularly renowned for its skull-shaped bottle, which in most cases would be a case of companies overcompensating for inferior products. But with Crystal Head, that’s certainly not the case. Not only is Crystal Head one of the best celebrity-owned spirits, it’s also one of the best vodkas on the market.

Launched by actor Dan Aykroyd, the brand was inspired by the lack of additive-free vodkas on the market. Canadian corn is used in production, distilled four times before being filtered seven times. Herkimer diamonds are also used in the filtration process – a kind of quartz said to lend remarkable purity. After all, charcoal has been used for decades, so jumping to the compressed version of charcoal does make sense, as well as sounding particularly fancy. The spirit is then blended with pure Newfoundland water to bring it to strength. Vanilla sweetness is joined by plenty of citrus and peach notes, plus a long, smooth finish: best sipped neat, from the freezer, or mixed into a bone dry martini.

Dos Hombres mezcal

Best: For splurging

  • ABV: 42%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 8/10

A huge leap from producing methamphetamine on screen as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have segued into the agave spirits business. Off the back of Breaking Bad, the list of possible gimmicks was endless when it came to launching Dos Hombres, but Cranston and Paul didn’t bite. Instead, it’s simply an exceptional mezcal without all the hyperbole surrounding other more bombastic celebrity-owned spirits with flashy marketing campaigns. Made in partnership with Gregorio Velasco, a third-generation mezcal producer, Dos Hombres comprises a unique blend of Espadin agave from the hillsides of a small Oaxacan village.

The result is a refined, smoky mezcal with some vegetal sweetness. On the nose, floral aromas of lavender are joined by some orange and lemon rind, while some smoke lingers on the palate alongside syrupy vanilla and gorgeous mango notes, which make Dos Hombres perfect for sipping neat or using in a wide variety of cocktails.

Teremana tequila reposado

Best: Slow sipper

  • ABV: 40%
  • Volume: 75cl
  • Rating: 8/10

Founded by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Teremana is a small-batch tequila crafted at the highest peaks of the Jalisco highland mountains. For the production of Teremana, blue weber agave is roasted for three days in a brick oven to really bring out the bright citrus flavours. Once cooked, its shredded and leftover fibres are used for organic compost for the agave fields – just one of the brand’s efforts to reduce its impact on the land. The liquid is then distilled in handmade copper pot stills.

Of the three expressions available, the Teremana Blanco is unaged, while the Teremana Reposado uses the same base liquid but is aged in barrels formerly used for ageing bourbon. The result is a refined tequila with bold vegetal and black pepper notes on the nose, with a faint sweetness prevailing on the palate, tamed by deep earthiness. Lemon and butterscotch then develop at the back of the palate and linger on the smooth, approachable finish. A premium sipping tequila that’s far too good for shooting.

Wild Turkey longbranch

Best: Celebrity whiskey

  • ABV: 43%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 8/10

Wild Turkey isn’t a celebrity-owned spirits brand per se, but in 2016, the iconic Kentucky distillery hired Matthew McConnaughey as its creative director and celebrity spokesperson. Sure, many spirits brands have celebrity spokespeople, but McConnaughey was directly involved with the creation of Wild Turkey longbranch. A premium expression born from a 24-month collaboration between master distiller Eddie Russell and Matthew McConnaughey, longbranch is a premium small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon, with the liquid aged for at least eight years.

After rigorous experimentation, the flavour profile is achieved via a proprietary process combining two separate filtration methods. The first filtration is through American white oak, while the second is through charcoal from Texas mesquite wood. Instead of lending a prominent mesquite flavour, the charcoal helps to polish the final product, in part responsible for the whiskey’s smooth, full finish. Typical bourbon notes of vanilla, charred oak and caramel are joined by savours of cherry, honey, nuts, dark chocolate and a prominent rye note.

Proper No Twelve Irish whiskey

Best: Budget Buy

  • ABV: 40%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 7/10

Launched by MMA champion Conor McGregor, Proper No Twelve is an Irish whiskey inspired by McGregor’s love of Ireland, its people and, of course, its whiskey. In his search for a team to produce his whiskey, McGregor strived to find people that shared the same passion for Ireland and its whiskey. He eventually found this at Becle’s Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland – Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery, situated in an area renowned for its rich soil and pure spring water. Made using Ireland’s finest golden grain and single malt whiskey, Proper No Twelve features a blend of Irish whiskeys, with the liquid triple distilled before being aged in oak barrels.

With Proper No Twelve, what’s most surprising is the price in correlation to the quality of the whiskey. While it’s certainly not the smoothest Irish whiskey on the market, Proper No Twelve tastes far more refined than most commercially available, sub £25 bottles. Plenty of vanilla and charred wood notes are imparted from the oak barrels, while honey permeates alongside spiced orchard fruits and a light alcohol burn that’s not exactly unpleasant, lingering on the finish with some more honey sweetness.

Coachbuilt whisky

Best: Newcomer

  • ABV: 46%
  • Volume: 70cl
  • Rating: 7/10

In partnership with renowned whisky expert George Koutsakis, Formula One driver Jenson Button launched Coachbuilt, a premium Scotch blended whisky. Featuring a blend of whiskies from all five whisky-producing regions in Scotland, Coachbuilt intentionally showcases the different flavour attributes from each region, with each of the liquids aged in sherry casks for an unspecified “marrying period”. Once aged, the resulting whisky is complex, rich and full-bodied. Summer fruits and spice are joined by chocolate and a suggestion of orange rind, while some gentle smoke lingers on the long, soft finish with sweet toffee notes.

The verdict: Celebrity alcohol brands

Of the celebrity-owned spirits tested, all were standouts, with the wide variety of different styles and categories making it difficult to choose just one best buy. El Recuerdo mezcal Joven is a particular standout, however, based on its flavour, sustainability, great value and its perfect balance of adhering to and respecting classic Oaxaca mezcal styles while being produced using innovative, forward-thinking methods. It’s an all-around excellent example of the rapidly growing agave spirits sector, suited to cocktails but ideally sipped neat and savoured alongside a slice of orange and a pinch of sal de gusano (worm salt). Far too good to shoot.

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