Let’s rewind 23 years, to 1996. Sammy Hagar was the frontman for Van Halen. (Yeah, it still surprises us as well.) But more to the point, the Red Rocker was also in the midst of launching his very own spirits brand, Cabo Wabo Tequila, which made him a rarity among celebrities.
Times have changed. In the last couple years, all manner of musicians and Hollywood types have gotten into the game, be it working with established brands or launching their own labels. Here are a few of our favorites.
Aviation Gin (Ryan Reynolds)
Yes, the man who brought us such characters as Van Wilder and Deadpool is the new owner of Portland, Oregon-based Aviation Gin. The spirit was first released in 2005 and was purchased by Reynolds in early 2018. While he doesn’t have a hand in making the gin, he’s been a promotional force, giving interviews and starring in online ads for the brand. The gin itself has a modern, citrus-forward profile. So, unlike what you’ll find in London Dry gins, Aviation’s juniper notes are subtle, rather than the centerpiece. If you’d like to try a softer-style gin, or just want to mix up your next Negroni with something new, Aviation will treat you right.
Heaven’s Door 10-Year Tennessee Bourbon (Bob Dylan)
You know the times-are-a-changin’ when a rock and roll great casts his lot with Victoria’s Secret, then follows it up by lending his name to a new line of whiskeys. Turns out, Mr. Tambourine Man is just as prolific with his spirits as he is with his albums—this release being the fourth in the just-launched Heaven’s Door series. The nose on Heaven’s Door 10-Year Tennessee Bourbon is blowin’ in the wind with toasted nuts, fresh-baked brownies, and oatmeal. On the palate, you’ll get cinnamon, hazelnut, and chocolate-covered cherries. Bringing it all back home is the extraordinarily long finish, dabbled with mocha. This one deserves a platinum record.
Shakmat Armenian Brandy (Alexis Ohanian)
Ohanian (for the uninitiated, he’s the founder of Reddit and the husband of Serena Williams) has gone back to his ancestral homeland for this extra-aged brandy, limited to a release of just 2,400 bottles. All the spirits in the blend are distilled from indigenous Armenian grapes, aged in Caucasian oak and bottled with a 23-year age statement. The result, as you’d expect, is a bit like an XO cognac on the nose, full of vanilla and raisins. On the palate, Shakmat Brandy gets big and round and fruity, almost like an aged Metaxa from Greece—more raisins, nuts, baking spices, and a huge hit of tobacco.
Blackened Whiskey (Metallica)
As far as marketing gimmicks go, blending some choice whiskeys into a used brandy barrel, then blasting it with Metallica songs to “affect the spirit inside the barrel” with sound waves isn’t a bad one. Here, the band teamed up with late, great whiskey man Dave Pickerell. The blend is undisclosed, although they do say it’s predominantly bourbon, augmented by rye and other whiskeys. As for the sound waves … well, each batch of Blackened Whiskey is bombarded by a certain playlist curated by one of the band members. (Mine, Batch 89, came from bassist Robert Trujillo. It began with “Damage Inc.” and ended with “Sad But True” if you’re wondering.) Devil’s horns aside, however, this is wonderful whiskey—soft and floral on the nose, with a big, round hit of burnt caramel on the palate. It finishes with a long, slow cinnamon, er, power chord.
Crystal Head Vodka (Dan Aykroyd)
Apart from its association with a Blues Brother, Crystal Head Vodka has a few other selling points in its favor: It’s made with water from Newfoundland, it’s distilled four times, and it’s filtered three times—including through layers of Herkimer diamonds. Because why not. And there’s that handsome skull-shaped glass decanter in which it’s sold. The nose gives off a lot of oily grain notes, but on the palate you’ll pick up some subtle citrus peel and a bit of cinnamon and black pepper spice that leads to a long finish. It makes a wonderful Dirty Vodka Martini.
Wild Turkey Longbranch (Matthew McConaughey)
Wild Turkey Longbranch is a collaboration between Master Distiller Eddie Russell and the brand’s creative director, Matthew McConaughey (yes, the actor). As a nod to McConaughey’s Kentucky and Texas roots, this eight-year-old Wild Turkey bourbon is refined with a two-step filtration process: the first using charcoal made from American white oak and the second using charcoal made from Texas Mesquite wood. On the nose it has aromas of vanilla, baking spices, and tobacco, and flavors include caramel, toffee, pear, citrus, and subtle smoke.
Singani 63 (Steven Soderbergh)
The first thing to know about Singani is that it’s a distinct spirit native to Bolivia. It’s a brandy, but unlike most brandies, it must be made from a single grape—the Muscat of Alexandria—the growing and distilling must occur within a specific plot of land in the Bolivian Andes, and the grapes must be grown and distilled at a minimum of 5,250 feet. Oh, and the first brand to be imported into the United States, Singani 63, comes from Steven Soderbergh, who developed a taste for the spirit many years ago while filming Che in Bolivia. Singani 63 is clean and aromatic, with notes of citrus and perfumed florals. You can drink it neat, but if you’d like to mix things up, try subbing Singani 63 in place of pisco in your next Pisco Sour, or whip up a quick Singani Collins.
Mansinthe Absinthe (Marilyn Manson)
Manson himself claims to not even like the taste of absinthe. But hey, the spirit’s creepy connotations are probably good enough for him. Besides, he got to paint a creepy watercolor for the label. Mansinthe is more about the mint and wormwood notes than the anise, which doesn’t really show up until further along on the finish. You might even detect a bit of rum-like funk up front, at least before you dilute it with water. (And you should.)
ABV: 66.6% (Get it?)