BY BYRON ARMSTRONG/JAN. 8, 2023
Bourbon is a favorite liquor of mixologists and, apparently, celebrities. Bourbon, not to be confused with whiskey, is in the spotlight due to some pretty high-powered celebrity endorsements. The difference between bourbon and whiskey is tied to the origin, the ratio of corn used during distillation, and the percentage of alcohol content.
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Whiskey originates from Ireland and Scotland and is made with a mix of rye, wheat grains, barley, and corn aged in oak caskets. Bourbon is whiskey's American cousin. However, at least 51 percent of bourbon's grain mash must be corn. Additionally, the distilled liquor should be less than 160 proof, and the bourbon must be stored in charred oak casts.
Corn, which is the ingredient all bourbon must be distilled from, gives the bourbon a slightly different flavor than whiskey. This different method of distillation originates in Kentucky, and its unique designation is protected under U.S. Trade Legislation, which points to how seriously we take our bourbon production.
Alcohol, like fame, is big business. According to Business.com, alcohol sales stayed afloat with little disruption during COVID-19 lockdowns. Alcohol has a global market that is predicted to overtake 2.2 trillion dollars.
The celebrity Ryan Reynolds is a primary investor in Aviation Gin who pocketed $610 million on the sale of the company last year. So, it makes sense that other celebrities would want to get in on the lucrative act. Considering the power of fame, celebrity-owned alcohol brands were only a matter of time.
11. Virginia Black
Drake looms so large in popular culture that his Virginia Black brand must be mentioned, although that's not necessarily a good thing. The Truth about Drake's whiskey is that it's less about respect for the tenets of craftsmanship and tradition involved with the production of a quality whiskey and more to do with cold hard cash, according to a Forbes article.
According to Pursuitist, Drake's partner, Brent Hocking, started as a finance bro who turned his love of high-end spirits into high-end profits when he sold the tequila brand DeLeón for an untold sum. He then partnered with Drake to create Virginia Black.
Though Virginia Black is technically a whiskey, it gains its profile from three bourbon blends. The brand's own marketing avoids labeling itself a bourbon. According to Whiskey Wash, Virginia Black scores a respectable 85 out of 100 for a relatively safe, uncomplicated liquor.
Virginia Black is supposedly made for women, which is probably pretty patronizing if you're a woman who happens to enjoy a quality whiskey with layered tasting notes beyond the usual.
10. Bluestone Manor Bourbon
Although Dorinda Medley could be considered a c-list celebrity on this list, "The Real Housewives of New York" reality tv star rubs shoulders with some heavyweight celebs. Medley reveals how Jay-Z inspired the bourbon brand. Medley recalls attending a fabulous party for the rap music mogul where she noticed women drinking dark liquor. Since several other people featured on the Real Housewives show already owned alcohol brands of their own, her goal was to create something unique.
According to CNN Business, Medley launched "The Spirits Lab" distillery close to her Bluestone Manor residence in Hudson Valley. Medley associates the flavor profile (smoky, caramel, butterscotch, and crème brûlée notes) with the comforts of home, right down to a bottle design, which is evocative of Bluestone Manor's decor and color scheme.
Even though it's a celebrity brand inspired by star power, it's affordably priced at $45. Bluestone Manor Bourbon is widely available across the U.S., thanks to a distribution deal with America's biggest alcohol dealer,
According to Paste, Bluestone Manor makes the grade as 70 percent of its wheat and malted barley mash are made up of corn with a 90-proof alcohol content after five years of aging in oak casts.
This liquor has sweet, soft notes that are reminiscent of gingerbread, toffee, and cinnamon. While this liquor isn't going to blow your mind with its complexity, it offers a smooth introduction to the world of bourbon for the inexperienced.
9. Wolf Moon Straight Bourbon Whiskey
According to Forbes, country music superstars Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line first collaborated on tour in 2014 but have now extended that relationship into the bourbon business. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley lent their prior experience launching the Florida Georgia Line's whiskey venture into the Wolf Moon bourbon brand.
In an interview with Billboard, Aldean explained the reasoning behind the Wolf Moon label as a reference to the pack mentality that exists among friends and family, which relates to how the trio views their creative and business relationship.
Cision PR Newswire alludes further alludes to that bond and its impact on the creation of Wolf Moon. The three founding partners all had a say in the tasting notes of the 80-proof bourbon, which aged for two years in traditional charred oak casts.
As such, the profile of the bourbon doesn't necessarily carve out any adventurous ground, preferring to lean into some of the most common tasting notes of bourbon. The familiar flavors of caramelized fruit, sweet corn, and baking spices are balanced out by the woodiness of the oak. This is another easy sipper for the casual bourbon drinker.
After a slow rollout in 2020 on ReserveBar.com, Wolf Moon can now be found across the U.S. for about $36 for a 750-milliliter bottle. Wolf Moon is another uncomplicated celebrity play on bourbon that's the perfect price point for someone wanting to dabble in a classic, easy-drinking bourbon before moving on to stronger batches.
8. Brown Sugar Bourbon
Onscreen, Jamie Foxx is an award-winner. Offscreen, Foxx is likely hoping some of that talent rubs off on his bourbon brand, BSB, Brown Sugar Bourbon. According to InsideHook, the brand was owned by billionaire Mark Cuban before Foxx bought it, but the original founders still handle distillation and logistics.
Foxx's first introduction to the bourbon's potential occurred at a party where he provided the libation to guests. The partygoer's exuberance for the liquor was his inspiration to own the brand.
Foxx has replicated his success in the entertainment field in the bourbon business. BSB is a two-time award winner for "best flavored whiskey" at The World Whiskey Awards. Remember, every bourbon is a whiskey but not every whiskey is bourbon.
Brown Sugar Bourbon is named after its tasting notes, which consist of brown sugar with a hint of cinnamon. The bourbon's uncomplicated flavor profile makes for smooth drinking. Its sweet and approachable nature makes it a great slow sip on its own or the perfect bourbon to use in your old fashioned.
According to The Dallas Morning News, although the cost of becoming a majority stakeholder in BSB is under wraps, it's paying off. There are now two versions of BSB on the market, one with higher alcohol content and less sweetness, and the classic version, which will set you back about $30 for a 750-milliliter bottle. It sounds like a great deal for a celebrity bourbon that favors general interest over bourbon aficionado approval.
7. American Highway Reserve
Since the origin of American whiskey is Southern, we shouldn't be surprised to see another country music superstar on this list. American Highway Reserve is Brad Paisley's entrance into the bourbon industry, and unlike our prior brands, Paisley seems to be courting a higher-echelon customer.
According to Paste, this bourbon has a $100 price tag that gets you a bourbon that consists of four different distillations of Kentucky bourbon aged anywhere from four to 15 years. The brand got its name from a truck that trailed Paisley on a 2019 cross-country tour.
The truck was loaded with American Highway Reserve. The truck was called the "rolling rickhouse," and Paisley claimed that everything from the motion of the 53-foot semi-trailer to the change in the local environment imbued the bourbon with the essence of the oak.
The irony of a luxury brand originally sold off the back of a truck isn't lost on us, but solid sales across 20 states can't be wrong. Bardstown Bourbon Company, a bourbon distiller from Kentucky, handles the job of distillation. That experience factors into a respectable 96-proof bourbon brand. Spicy oak with notes of cotton candy, shortbread, and more baking spices lead to a hint of pitted fruit and nuts.
A press release on Business Wire revealed that Paisley launched a reserve blend last Spring, which is a little stronger at 98 proof, though it has a similar flavor profile to the original. This is a nice celebrity bourbon with more horsepower than complexity for the casual imbiber.
6. Brother's Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley transitioned from their onscreen brand as vampire siblings on "The Vampire Diaries" into co-owners of brothers-themed bourbon brand Brother's Bond Bourbon. The duo's infatuation with bourbon was enhanced during downtime on the show.
The brand's name was inspired by the idea of bonds built over a stiff drink. The name also harkens back to the popular roles they played on the hit show. Brother's Bond is also a vehicle for the co-founders to encourage a bond with the Earth since 1 percent of the sales go toward regenerative farming initiatives.
Somerhalder and Wesley wisely found a distiller with over two decades of experience (CEO Vincent Hanna) who would allow them the sort of creative control where taste could be dictated by the two over late-night living room tastings. The result was a $40 to $60 bottle of copper pot and column distilled, 80-proof, four-grain bourbon.
In an interview with American Whiskey, the celebrity owners made it known approachability of the alcohol content was key to targeting the Gen-Z and Millennial market they most connect. As such, Brother's Bond is a contemporary but familiar-tasting bourbon that's made to be drunk straight, no chaser, and this is undoubtedly the best way to enjoy the spirit.
5. Digits Bourbon
There must be something about the competitive spirit of athletics that brings out the best in celebrity-owned bourbon brands. According to Gotham, Legendary NBA superstar Scottie Pippin's foray into the industry, with an assist from Napa Valley winemaker and distiller Dave Phinney, was hands-on.
Pippen even labeled bottles himself: The label was adorned with a photo of his signature. Although this Californian bourbon was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, the quality of this bourbon was far from a pandemic project. The wine casks make a lot of sense when considering that Phinney is the founder of "The Prisoner” wine line.
While the pair wanted the liquor to act as an introductory spirit, it loses nothing in complexity on the palate, with cocoa, vanilla, and cane sugar coming together for a smooth finish. In an interview with The Press Democrat, Pippin noted that he had wanted to create a spirit that was ideal for people who were just beginning to venture into the world of bourbon.
Classy, smooth, and approachable are all great descriptors for this bourbon from an NBA champion and Olympic gold winner who can now add bourbon distillery to his credits.
4. Sweetens Cove Bourbon
It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but if a football legend and a tennis star walked into a bar, the last punchline you would expect would be about the start of a celebrity bourbon brand. However, Sweetens Cove is exactly that, minus the bar. According to the Austin American Statesman, the team is composed of a cookie delivery service owner, a CEO, the chairman of a semiconductor company, and a real estate agent, alongside former football quarterback Peyton Manning and tennis pro Andy Roddick.
The co-founders were enamored with a golf course in Tennessee named Sweetens Cove. They purchased the land and were inspired to launch a bourbon distillery on it after learning about a ritual involving taking a shot of whiskey before your first hole-in-one.
The production of Sweetens Cove is handled by Kentucky's first female distillation master. It's a blend of three whiskeys from the region, aged anywhere from four to 16 years. It has a taste profile that balances caramelized sugar, ripe fruitiness, cloves, and smoky tannins from the charred oak. This blended bourbon coming from the distillery is considered a luxury purchase.
The Robb Report has given Sweetens Cove's newest iteration, Sweetens Cove 22, a score of 94 out of 100. This bourbon, at 114 proof, packs a punch beside its gold-plated $200 price tag. It's aged to perfection in oak barrels imported from Scotland. This alcohol gets you happy quicker, but it still goes down easy.
3. Bradshaw Bourbon
Terry Bradshaw probably never thought he would ever make his own bourbon; however, if he did, he would have no choice but to call it Bradshaw Bourbon. According to the Courier Journal, Bradshaw's love of horses and football is matched only by his passion for a great bourbon. He even went so far as to plan a big dinner around the bourbon at the Kentucky Derby Museum once.
According to The Drum, Bradshaw's Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey was a play to dominate the competition, including celebrity peer and buddy in the bourbon space, Matthew McConaughey. The NFL Superbowl champion and lively sports commentator even ensured that the alcohol content of Bradshaw Bourbon aligned with his quarterback completion ratio of 51.9 percent.
According to Men's Journal, in a professional tasting competition between bourbons under the $60 mark, a respected critic scored Bradshaw's bourbon second place. Bradshaw took the advice of a former high-ranking U.S. official by choosing bourbon as a cherished pathway to passive income, and it appears to be a fantastic investment. Bradshaw's winning record is admirable, in and outside of football, even if it might not be the best celebrity-owned bourbon brand around.
2. Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon
Matthew McConaughey is a huge A-lister in his own right. His bourbon brand, Wild Turkey Longbranch bourbon, is pretty A-list among celebrity-owned brands. According to The Robb Report, McConaughey's association with the brand ended as of December 31, 2022.
McConaughey became the Creative Director of the Wild Turkey Distillery in 2016. McConaughey teamed up with master distiller Eddie Russel, who assisted in bringing Longbranch to the world in 2018.
Texas is bourbon and barbeque country. Hence, McConaughey's upbringing is fully represented in an eight-year bottle of small-batch bourbon aged in American oak. Each bottle is proudly imprinted with McConaughey and Russel's signatures.
This is one of the best celebrity liquors and spirits ever made. Caramel and gingerbread spices blend with notes of wood smoke and a hint of southern citrus to create a layered, complex, yet smooth bourbon offering. This bourbon is easy on the whiskey novice and yet still interesting enough to make a veteran bourbon drinker happy.
According to Rolling Stone, McConaughey partnered with Walden Retreats in the Texas countryside to curate a suite called Longbranch Ranch as a nod to its luxurious nature. The suite offers an upscale camping experience with a $425 per night rate, which is matched by Longbranch as a donation to Trail Conservancy, a Texan organization that protects local bike and hiking trails.
Longbranch Bourbon truly shines, with or without McConaughey's star power.
1. Heaven's Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Since 2018, when American folk music icon Bob Dylan collaborated with Heaven's Door distiller Ryan Perry, bourbon aficionados have been singing the award-winning drink's praises (via InsideHook). There are several batches of this bourbon, including bootleg series II, which is aged 15 years before being transferred to Jamaican pot still rum casks.
While Dylan allows the distiller to handle the bourbon, as a full partner, he contributes his artistry to marketing and branding campaigns in the form of his image, song lyrics, poetry, and paintings. Indeed, one of Dylan's paintings is featured on the Bootleg Series Vol II bottle.
According to Forbes, the collaboration came about after Dylan trademarked the term "Bootleg Whiskey" for some unreleased recordings. After learning of this, the current CEO of Heaven's Door reached out to Dylan. Dylan's song "Knocking on Heaven's Door" inspired the name of the brand. The original Tennessee straight bourbon was followed up by the release of the 10-year-old bourbon and the aforementioned 15-year-old blend.
The whiskey is sourced from various producers in the U.S., and it has won more than 35 awards. It has all the classic bourbon notes of baking spices and sugars. Additionally, we also experience herbaceous and earthy notes related to the percentage of rye in the distillation and filtration process.
This is, quite simply, the best celebrity-owned bourbon on the market today.