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Column: There’s Probably Going To Be More Celebrity Owned Whiskey Soon, For Better Or Worse

By buying up flavored whiskey brand Brown Sugar Bourbon, Hollywood actor Jamie Foxx is the latest to join a fast-growing cadre; celebrities who their own alcoholic spirits brands. George Clooney, The Rock, Kendall Jenner, Michael Jordan and Justin Timberlake have all invested in tequila. Ryan Reynolds has made a fortune on Aviation gin. Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Channing Tatum, and Dan Aykroyd all joined the vodka business. Jay-Z owns a Cognac. There are plenty of other examples that have emerged within the last few years, especially within the last decade.

This doesn’t exclude whiskey. In addition to Foxx, Derek Jeter owns a ‘whiskey’ brand where spirit goes through a ‘maturation’ process in the space of days. Peyton Manning and other sports stars including Andy Roddick co-own Sweetens Cove bourbon. Bob Dylan helped design the bottle on his Heaven’s Door whiskey. Drake released Virginia Black five years ago. Across the pond, actor Sam Heughan recently released his own blended Scotch brand. These are not the only examples.

Though the celebrity gin and tequila brands have perhaps received more attention, especially as some get bought up by larger corporations for eye-watering prices, it’s worth looking at the future of celebrities in whiskey, the category that has seen massive market growth in the last few years, with predictions that growth is set to keep going. With a recent explosion of smaller independent brands and new distilleries, the category also becomes ripe for investment. Business-savvy celebrities know attaching their name to a project will likely lead to sales and profits, so we’ll likely hear about more of them getting involved. These recent investments certainly won’t be the last of it.

Jamie Foxx BSB
Actor Jamie Foxx is now the owner of BSB-Brown Sugar Bourbon (Image via BSB)

The present and future involvement of celebrities in whiskey presents a double-edged sword for the wider industry.

A celebrity-owned product may draw attention from other brands and distilleries that otherwise deserve it. It’s even worse if the product they hawk is of poor quality. There’s also the issue of personal conduct. Though it hasn’t necessarily affected his popular whiskey brand, Proper No. Twelve, that he is now perhaps somewhat disassociated with, MMA fighter Conor McGregor has reportedly close links to some nasty criminals and has been investigated multiple times for violent behavior and sexual assault. Overall, this is not necessarily someone you want as a representative for Irish whiskey.

However, there are also benefits for the industry. Celebrity involvement will attract new consumers to whiskey. One also hopes that future involvement of female or minority celebrity owners, such as Foxx and Drake, may also help encourage much-needed wider conversations about diversity and inclusion across both the consumer and industry side of whiskey, which has traditionally been seen as a white man’s drink.

Interestingly, aside from Heughan’s Sassenach Scotch whisky, celebrity ownership of whisky brands is currently an American phenomenon. Heughan may be the first celebrity to own a Scotch brand, but he is not likely to be the last.

The real test will be to see if the next crop of A-listers to get involved with whisky, whether in the U.S. or otherwise, will emphasise what really matters through their involvement: flavor and provenance. Otherwise, we’ll have nothing more than a growing collection of attention-seeking gimmicks. Whiskey deserves better than that.

Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is a whisky writer, musician, author, spirits competition judge, and tastings host. As a whisky writer, Felipe has been widely published across industry magazines and websites. His book, London Cocktails, is published by Cider Mill Press and is distributed worldwide by Simon and Schuster. As a musician, he is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. For his work, he was named the 2022 Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year, and the 2021 Alan Lodge Young International Drinks Writer of the Year.

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