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Why do all celebrities want their own brand of alcoholic beverages? From George Clooney’s tequila to Emma Watson’s gin

More and more A-listers are looking for a way to redistribute their wealth and associate themselves with values such as authenticity by becoming involved with the spirits industry, where the presence of women is still rare

George Clooney, Rande Gerber
George Clooney and Rande Gerber in a promotional image for their Casamigos tequila, courtesy of Diageo.

George Clooney was the actor who made the most money in 2018 – and he did not even appear in a single film. That year, the 61-year-old performer raised $239 million, but not thanks to the movies; thanks to tequila. Specifically, one called Casamigos that he shared with businessman Rande Gerber ― Cindy Crawford’s husband ― and real estate developer Mike Meldman. Their goal was to create “the best tasting, smoothest tequila [...], that didn’t have to be covered up with salt or lime,” as stated in its official website. After several years doing blind tastings, they found what they were looking for. “It was never intended to be released to the public,” they explain. But they did it anyway, in 2013, when they acquired a license and began to sell it. The success of Casamigos was overwhelming; so much so that in 2017 the British distillery Diageo purchased the product for $1 billion, which earned Clooney $233 million and the leadership in the list of the best paid actors.

After this success, many celebrities followed in his footsteps, launching their own brands of agave spirits, either tequila or mezcal. In 2015, Justin Timberlake did it with Sauza 901, a line of premium triple-distilled tequila, and Adam Levine, from Maroon 5, created Santo Mezquila with guitarist Sammy Hagar, a fusion of the two distillates that they came up with during an after-dinner conversation. A year later, Michael Jordan launched Cincoro tequila, which he thought of while waiting for a table in a restaurant. Singer Maluma entered the business with Contraluz mescal, as well as the actor Dwayne Johnson, with Teremana tequila, which sold more than 600,000 nine-liter boxes in 2021, just one year after its launch, becoming the fastest-growing tequila in history.

To Karen Locke, founder of the alcohol branding agency High-Proof Creative, these celebrities resorting to tequila as “a way to redistribute their wealth outside of their professional career” is only logical. First, because according to the analysis of IWSR – the main source of data on the global alcoholic beverage market – tequila has just surpassed whiskey as the second most valuable spirits subcategory in the United States. Agave spirits contributed $1.6 billion to this industry in 2022, second only to vodka. In addition, she points out that this kind of drink provides “the opportunity to create a story” around it: “It has a long and intricate process that often involves traveling to other parts of the world, like Europe or Mexico. George Clooney wearing jeans in an agave field is sexier than the production of vodka in a distillery in Middle America.”

In this sense, Locke highlights the authenticity with which Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, the protagonists of Breaking Bad, have imbued their Dos Hombres mezcal. “We searched high and low all over Oaxaca, met incredible people along the way and after a beautiful yet grueling search throughout that majestic landscape we believed we may have found our place. Our mezcal. It was on a dirt road, in a tiny village, hours away from the center of town, we found it and it was perfect. Holy shit it was perfect. We looked at each other and just simply nodded. This is it,” they relate in the Instagram post where they presented the product in 2019.

Whiskey, despite having lost the silver medal in the American market, has also attracted many celebrities and their fortunes. Matthew McConaughey (Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon), Jamie Foxx (Brown Sugar Bourbon), Bob Dylan (Heaven’s Door Whiskey), Drake (Virginia Black Whisky) and David Beckham (Haig Club Whiskey) are some of the music, film and sports stars who have launched their own brands. Jeff Hopmayer, founder of the beverage consulting firm Brindiamo Group, believes that one of the reasons why celebrities bet on this distillate is their desire to be associated with what it represents. “In the case of whiskey, they seek to align with values such as tradition, authenticity and craftsmanship,” he says. And it is profitable, too: the famous Irish wrestler Conor McGregor, for instance, sold his Proper Twelve Whiskey in 2021 for €130 million euros ($140.5 million) to the Mexican company Becle, the owner of José Cuervo.

A man’s business?

According to Niall Brown, CEO of Braeburn Whiskey, a firm that specializes in investments in this drink, it is no longer enough for celebrities to lend their faces to brands as a way to make money. “Now, younger consumers want authenticity. Creating a new brand seems like the logical step,” he assures. What is not so logical is the fact that the female celebrities are being left out of this business. One of the few exceptions is Kate Hudson, who in 2019 launched King St. Vodka, named after the location of her former New York home, where she used to throw dinner parties and cocktails.

Channing Tatum, with his Born and Bred vodka, or Jason Momoa, who this year launched a sustainable vodka brand named Meili, are just a few examples of other male performers who have taken on this challenge. For most of their female counterparts, however, this remains an untapped industry. “Historically, there has been a tendency to associate them with beauty and fashion brands, while male celebrities have been associated with products related to sports, technology and alcoholic beverages,” explains Hopmayer. Actor Ryan Reynolds is co-owner of Aviation Gin, for which he also signed a sale agreement to Diageo for $610 million; meanwhile, his wife, actress Blake Lively, launched a brand of soft drinks called Betty Buzz. “I don’t drink. I know that’s odd coming from the wife of an infamous gin slinger,” she states on its website. “Over the past many years of mixing but not drinking cocktails, it became clear mixers are the unsung heroes of the drink world and deserve just as much love as alcohol.”

Nevertheless, industry experts confirm that things are changing. “The stereotype of the typical whiskey drinker as an older man still persists, but change is happening and women are becoming the key of the industry at many distilleries,” Brown acknowledges. Hopmayer adds that “in recent years, there has been a shift towards greater diversity, with female celebrities launching successful brands in the alcohol industry as well,” even if they tend to favor drinks with a lower alcohol content. That is the case of Cameron Diaz and Avaline, a line of white and rosé wines that she created in 2020 with Catalan grapes, as well as her Charlie’s Angels co-star Drew Barrymore, who since 2013 has a collection of her own wines, made in Monterey, California. Two more recent examples are that of Jennifer Lopez, who in early April released her own spritz under the name DeLola, inspired by Italian culture; and Emma Watson, who on April 29 announced the launch of her Renais gin, a project she shares with her brother Alex. “It is an ode to the sun-kissed vineyards of Chablis where my family has been making wine these past 30 years,” she explained on Instagram.

Brad Pitt took advantage of the Cannes Festival, which began on May 16, to present The Gardener Gin, which will hit US stores in a limited edition in September. In addition, at the 2023 Oscars gala they served Fleur de Miraval, a 390 dollar rosé champagne that Pitt produces in the Champagne region of France. Angelina Jolie, whom he divorced in 2016 after 11 years of relationship, was part of the business, but in 2021 she sold her share of the vineyards in a move that the actor called “evil and vindictive” for not having offered it to him, which even led to him suing her.

Drink 818, a tequila brand that belongs to the model Kendall Jenner, has also been controversial, as she has been accused of appropriating Mexican culture. Some social media users have criticized the fact that, despite using Mexican products and the aesthetics of the country, this tequila is not available in Mexico. The photographs where she promotes the product by taking a sip in the middle of a Mexican agave landscape while wearing jeans, a shirt and a pair of braids have also drawn a negative response, as she is perceived as trying to emulate, from a place of privilege, the stereotype of Mexican indigenous women. Thus, George Clooney wearing jeans in an agave field is sexy; Kendall Jenner wearing jeans in an agave field is disrespectful.

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