Celebrity Liquor Brands: Are They Any Good?

Putting Timberlake, Clooney,
Drake, and McConaughey through the wringer.

Written by Scott Meslow

Scott Meslow is a culture
critic whose other bylines include GQ, Vulture, The Week, and The Atlantic
It’s not hard to see why
celebrity-backed liquor brands get a bad rep. Imagine spending your whole
career perfecting a skill—and then suddenly, Tom Cruise wanders into your
office and says, “Hey! You know who can do your job just as well as you can?
Love it or hate it,
celebrity-backed liquor brands are here to stay. It’s easy to see why: you know
how you might get really into craft beer and brew up some growlers in your
basement? Celebrities have the exact same impulse. They also have enough clout
to get their pet project onto store shelves around the world—and, of course, to
make a little extra money on the side. When you have Elon Musk adding to his
already-overstuffed portfolio with a “Teslaquila,” you know you’re on the verge
of a major trend in liquor.

Celebrity Liquor Brands Elon Musk Teslaquila
These deals come in many
shapes and sizes. Some celebrities just lend their name to a liquor label,
which offers a cynical kind of win-win: the celebrity gets the cache of being
attached to a bottle of booze, and the booze company gets PR (and a likely
sales boost) after being associated with an eye-catching name.
But there are a few companies
where celebrities did more than just shoot a commercial and slap their name on
a bottle—liquors in which famous people actively collaborated with professional
distillers on a bottle of their own. So for this project with The GentleManual,
I decided to track down four liquor brands who claim that big-name celebrities
actually had a hand in crafting the liquor itself. And for the record: all four
of these brands are widely available—after gaining this perspective, you can
try any of these liquors and judge for yourself. 
When it comes to making
quality booze, does being famous give you an edge? It was, uh, a mixed bag:

Sauza 901 Triple-Distilled

Celebrity Liquor Brands Sauza 901 Tequila
The price: Around $30

The celebrity: Justin Timberlake
How big a role did the
celebrity play?
Well, it’s named after the area code for Memphis, where
Timberlake grew up. But while Timberlake launched 901 less than a decade ago,
the brand has already gone through some pretty dramatic changes. Three years
after independently launching 901 in 2009, Timberlake’s tequila proved
successful enough that it caught the eye of Beam Suntory, which reached out to
Timberlake with a (presumably lucrative) offer for a relaunch—complete with a
new formula—under the Sauza brand. In a 2014 interview, Beam President Bill
Newlands praised Timberlake’s “passion” for tequila—and then conceded that,
yes, Timberlake’s “ability to influence” was a nice perk.
How does the celebrity drink
Timberlake’s personal mixologist—which, yes, is a thing he has—says
Timberlake likes a cocktail that mixes Sauza 901, lemonade, iced tea, and agave
syrup. (It’s essentially a boozy, lightly modified Arnold Palmer.)
The nose: Floral and honey.
The taste test: Sauza 901 is
light, easy-drinking, and fairly sweet, with very little burn. Most of all,
it’s smooth, which is what happens when you triple-distill a tequila. If you’re
the kind of person who usually shoots tequila, try sipping this one. It’s not
going to set the world on fire—but it’s a dramatic step above the rail tequila
you’ll find at your local watering hole.
Celebrity Liquor Brands Justin Timberlake Sauza 901
As far as I’m concerned, the
real star of the Sauza 901 is the price point. For just a little more money
than the price of one of Sauza’s cheaper brands, you can grab the 901 and get a
silver tequila with a little more character. That said: If you’re going to be
mixing it with, say, Sauza’s own sugary margarita mix, it doesn’t really make a
difference—so there’s no point in springing for the 901 unless you want a
bottle for sipping or tequila-forward cocktails.
If I had to sum up this bottle
in a Justin Timberlake song title:
“Right for Me”

Casamigos Reposado Tequila

Celebrity Liquor Brands Casamigos Tequila
The price: Around $40
The celebrity: George Clooney
How big a role did the
celebrity play?
Well, his signature adorns every bottle. But beyond the label,
there’s a whole mythology about the history of Casamigos. According to the
label’s origin story, Clooney and buddy Rande Gerber—hanging out at their
respective vacation homes in Cabo San Lucas—began hunting for a great-tasting,
easy-drinking tequila. When they couldn’t find one, they contacted a distiller
in Jalisco, Mexico, and tinkered around until they found one they loved. For a
few years, Casamigos was only shared privately among Clooney and Gerber’s
family and friends, but the distillery eventually pushed them to take the brand
to the masses. A little more than a year ago, Clooney sold the company to the massive
liquor conglomerate Diageo for about $1 billion.
How does the celebrity drink
Straight or on the rocks.
The nose: A little smoky, with
heavy notes of vanilla and caramel.
The taste test: I will admit
to a certain amount of skepticism about Casamigos’ romantic-sounding origin
story—George Clooney or not, it’s pretty hard to accidentally start a
billion-dollar company.
Celebrity Liquor George Clooney Casamigos
But I will concede: This is a
great tequila, worthy of a spot on any enthusiast’s bar cart. The first thing
you’ll taste is the sweetness, which lingers on the taste buds without ever
becoming cloying, and eventually settles into a mild but pleasant spiciness.
This is a tequila that manages to balance both versatility and depth of flavor.
And if you’re traditionally a whiskey drinker, the Reposado—served either
straight or on the rocks—might be exactly the gateway you need to become an
agave devotee. (For the record, The Casamigos Reposado is aged in whiskey casks
for seven months—but they also make a blanco, which is un-aged, and an anejo,
which is aged for 14 months.)
If I had to sum up this bottle
in a George Clooney movie title: Out of Sight

Virginia Black American

Celebrity Liquor Brands Virginia Black Whiskey
The price: Around $40
The celebrity: Drake
How big a role did the
celebrity play?
It’s… kind of unclear? Virginia Black was produced in
collaboration between Drake and Brent Hocking, who founded DeLeón Tequila. As
for Drake’s role… Well, he posted about Virginia Black a bunch on his
Instagram. He hawked it on Fallon. He shot a couple goofy commercials with his
How does the celebrity drink
Judging by his Fallon appearance, he’ll chug a whole glass on the rocks.
The nose: Maple syrup and
brown sugar.
Tasting notes: This is a weird
one. It’s somehow, simultaneously, way too sweet and way too shallow: First
you’ll taste a lot of sugar, and then you’ll taste… nothing. The brand brags of
a high-rye content, but I couldn’t detect any of that. Virginia Black is so
saccharine that I checked the box to make sure I hadn’t purchased a flavored
bottle by mistake. In short: Virginia Black is, at best, a whiskey for people
who don’t like whiskey. (It’s also bottled in Indiana, not Virginia, so make of
that what you will.)
Celebrity Liquor Drake Virginia Black
I guess you could use Virginia
Black for a whiskey and Coke—but only if you feel like whiskey and Coke isn’t
already sweet enough. Other than that: Pour it straight down the drain.

If I had to sum up this bottle
in a Drake song title:
“Doing it Wrong”

Wild Turkey Longbranch
Kentucky Bourbon

Celebrity Alcohol Brands Longbranch Bourbon
The price: Around $40
The celebrity: Matthew

How does the celebrity drink

How big a role did the
celebrity play?
McConaughey has been the “creative director” of Wild Turkey for
a while now, but Longbranch is his baby—a partnership with master distiller
Eddie Russell that took two and a half years of experimentation. The goal was a
Kentucky bourbon that blended seamlessly with McConaughey’s home state of Texas
(in this case, by steeping the whiskey in mesquite wood).
The nose: Smoky and peppery
with a hint of molasses.
Tasting notes: Smooth and a
little sweeter than your average bourbon. You can see why McConaughey insists
on drinking it neat; even a little ice would dilute a bourbon that’s pleasant
enough to drink, but devoid of any truly distinctive qualities.
Celebrity Liquor Matthew McConaughey Longbranch
It’s hard to say anything bad
about Longbranch, because this is the kind of bourbon that’s approachable
enough to please pretty much any drinker. But when you can get a bottle of Wild
Turkey’s flagship bourbon at literally half the price, there’s no reason to
spring for the Longbranch.

If I had to sum up this bottle
in a Matthew McConaughey quote:
“Alright, alright, alright.”
Scott Meslow is a culture
critic whose other bylines include GQ, Vulture, The Week, and The Atlantic. His
career has taken him from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to New York City and
then, somehow, back to Los Angeles again.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.