“It was a natural fit for me, really, predicated on my experience on Justified,” Walton Goggins says of his recent foray into the cocktail industry with Mullholland Distilling. The actor recently partnered with longtime friend Matthew Alper to create one of the first L.A.-based spirits companies since Prohibition. Mulholland Distilling produces gin, vodka and, perhaps closest to Goggins' heart, whiskey.
“So much of that show [Justified] centered around what either Raylan Givens [played by Timothy Olyphant] was drinking or me, Boyd Crowder, what I was drinking,” Goggins explains of the way the FX series demonstrated social hierarchy through the kind of whiskey the characters drank. This obsession with the way whiskey weaved its way into his storyline partly inspired Goggins to venture into the hooch industry.
“It’s something that I’ve been passionate about for a long time and I like making drinks. I like libations,” Goggins told L.A. Weekly via Skype while watching the sunset in Cape Town, South Africa. The actor was on location for his role in the upcoming Tomb Raiders movie. Goggins, who has received critical acclaim for his performances in hit shows and films including Justified, Django Unchained, Sons of Anarchy and The Shield seems no less passionate about his spirits brand than his ascendant acting career.
Goggins isn’t the only celebrity recently involved in the alcohol industry. It seems a slew of stars have jumped on the wagon, either endorsing, partnering with or actually owning and developing their own alcohol brands.
Celebrity association with booze labels isn't anything new. For decades ad campaigns have featured famous faces. Mila Kunis is currently the face of Jim Beam. Will Ferrell has starred in Bud Light commercials, while Absolut Vodka commissioned Zach Galifianakis to make a video promoting the brand. But recently, celebrities aren't just getting paid to promote other companies. Many ambitious stars like Goggins are starting from scratch to create their own labels.
"We felt that there was a hole in the market and that a high-quality, casual American vodka was not being put out there," says Jack Maloney, who co-founded Born and Bred Vodka with actor Channing Tatum. Maloney, who at one time worked as Tatum's assistant, says the idea for the duo's Idaho-distilled vodka stemmed from Tatum's need to stay in good physical shape for a series of movie roles he was playing.
"Instead of having a beer at the end of the day or a glass of whiskey, because vodka is sort of the lower-calorie option, and there’s not as much sugar or carbs in it, we ended up drinking vodka. We really fell in love with the stuff and our palates evolved," Maloney says. But he and Tatum didn't connect as consumers to the fancy Russian vodka brands they were served in delicate frosted glasses. "We wanted a casual, Americanized option. We’re much more inclined to spend some time out in the woods or at a dive bar versus a nightclub or some sort of fancy black-tie event."
Instead of looking for a major brand to sponsor their endeavor, Maloney and Tatum set out on their own. According to Maloney, they reached out to more than 50 reputable American distilleries with the hopes of creating their very own vodka. They landed on the small family-run Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs, Idaho, where Tatum has now invested enough money to make him part owner.
"We have taken a route far less traveled in this endeavor," Maloney says. "We didn’t partner. A lot of brands partner with a huge portfolio like a Bacardi or a Diageo, someone that’s huge that can sort of pump in some money. We have really kind of bootstrapped this thing. We’re taking a more craft approach."
Another celebrity craft brand comes from Oklahoma, where bandmates and brothers Hanson have founded Hanson Brothers Beer Company. As an homage to their hit single "Mmmbop," their flagship brew, a pale ale, is aptly named Mmmhops.
"It’s completely from the ground up. Obviously when we first started toying with the idea and brainstorming about it, it was at its infancy and we were beer enthusiasts. But by the time we had really begun to consider making beer, selling beer, building a brand, we were able to brew our own beer," Taylor Hanson says from London in a phone interview as he and his brothers prepare for a world concert tour. Their musical career is once again getting attention, so one might wonder why the brothers would also delve into the time-consuming beer industry. But the answer is similar to Goggins and Tatum: They're passionate about it.
"The Hanson brothers beer story is really us building something that we’re passionate about because of our love of craft beer," Taylor Hansen explains.
"We were craft beer fans first just like we were music fans first," he says. "And so with building a beer company, we’re brewing beer for ourselves."
The brothers have found multiple ways to cross-promote their beer and music. They founded the Hop Jam music and beer festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and offer a free music download on every beer label. But they aim for the beer to stand on its own.
"There are many people who would like to think that 10 years from now, people will be discovering our beer and going, 'Can you believe the guys who started this are also in a band?!' as opposed to the other way around.
For it to stand up on its own and really be recognized for the quality, it has to be that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it." Taylor Hanson reiterates that in addition to it being a passion project, the beer is a true business venture as well, one that they're happy to juggle with their music career.
Some celebrities are creating new alcohol genres.
“I had the time of my life creating my tequila and rum and learned a lot from the experiences,” says rocker Sammy Hagar, who recently partnered with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine to make Santo Mezquila, a tequila-mezcal blend.
“I knew there was something else out there to be discovered,” Hagar says. “Mezquila is a brand-new category, and I saw it as a huge opportunity to create something new and introduce to the world.”
Former 49er Joe Montana launched Aviation American Gin. Justin Timberlake has his name on Sauza 901 tequila. Drew Barrymore and Francis Ford Coppola make wine.
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But not all celebrity-owned booze brands are putting their star names forward. Armand de Brignac, a centuries-old luxury Champagne brand, was purchased by rapper Jay Z in 2014, but you won’t find signs of that anywhere on its website. The luxury bubbly is produced with grapes grown by the Cattier family, who have been tending the family’s vines for more than 250 years. Jay Z (born Shawn Carter) purchased the brand, which is also known as Ace of Spades, for an undisclosed amount. When we asked for comment on Jay Z’s ownership and participation in the brand, Armand de Brignac’s rep responded, “I spoke to the team at Armand de Brignac and unfortunately I have to decline participating in a story of this nature.”
It's unclear why the company would be so coy about its superstar ownership. Perhaps it's in line with Tatum's and the Hanson brothers' hope for their bottles to stand on their own.
"For us, Born and Bred needs to exist outside of Channing [Tatum]," Maloney says. "It can’t just be the Channing brand, otherwise it will hit a ceiling. It will plateau and we won’t be able to grow it beyond that."
But it's certainly a good start.