George Clooney was the actor who earned the most money in 2018 and that he did not appear in any movie. The 61-year-old interpreter raised 239 million dollars that year, but it was not thanks to the cinema, but to tequila. To a tequila called Casamigos that was born from “the nights of tequila and friends” that Clooney shared with businessman Rande Gerber ―Cindy Crawford’s husband― and real estate developer Mike Meldman, as explained by the three partners on the distillate’s website. His goal was to make a tequila so flavorful and smooth that no salt or lime was needed to palliate its taste. After several years conducting blind tastings, they found what they were looking for. They launched it in 2013, when they acquired a license and started their professional sale. The success of Casamigos was overwhelming. So much so that in 2017 the British distillery Diageo bought the product for 1,000 million dollars -905 million euros-, which earned Clooney a check for 200 million euros and leadership in the list of the best paid actors.
After this successful business, many celebrities have followed in the footsteps of the actor and have launched their own brand of agave spirits, that is, tequila or mezcal. In 2015, Justin Timberlake did it with Sauza 901, a line of tequila premium triple distilled, and Adam Levine, from Maroon 5, created the Santo Mezquila drink with guitarist Sammy Hagar, a fusion of the two distillates that they devised by chance over a table. A year later, Michael Jordan brought Cincoro tequila to the market, which arose from a chat while he was waiting for a table in a restaurant. The singer Maluma has also launched into this business, with Mezcal Contraluz or the actor Dwayne Johnson, with Teremana tequila, which sold more than 600,000 nine-liter boxes in 2021 -one year after its launch-, becoming the tequila It has grown the fastest in history.
Karen Locke, founder of the American alcoholic beverage marketing company High-Proof Creative, sees it as logical that all these stars look to tequila for “a way to redistribute their wealth outside of their professional career.” 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 category of spirits in the United States. Agave spirits contributed $1.6 billion to this industry in 2022, second only to vodka. But also, she considers that it is a drink that “gives 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 with jeans in an agave field is sexier than the production of vodka in a distillery in the center of the United States”, he assures, when asked by EL PAÍS.
In this sense, Locke highlights the authenticity with which the protagonists of breaking bad, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, have focused their Dos Hombres mezcal. “After a beautiful but exhausting search through Oaxaca, we thought we had found our place. Our mix. It was on a dirt road, in a small town, hours from the center of the city. Damn, it was perfect. We looked at each other and just nodded. It is this ”, they relate in the Instagram publication with which they presented the product in 2019.
Whiskey, despite having lost the silver medal in the North American market, has also seduced many celebrities when it comes to investing their fortunes. Matthew McConaughey (Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon), Jamie Foxx (Brown Sugar Bourbon), Bob Dylan (Heaven’s Door Whisky), Drake (Virginia Black Whisky) or David Beckham (Whisky High Club) are some of the stars of music, cinema and the sport that have launched their own brand of this spirit. Jeff Hopmayer, founder of the consulting firm for the alcoholic beverage industry Brindiamo Group, located in Nashville (USA), believes that one of the reasons why celebrities bet on this distillate is that they are interested in being associated with what represents. “In the case of whiskey, they seek to align with values such as tradition, authenticity and craftsmanship,” he says. It is also lucrative: the famous Irish wrestler Conor McGregor, for example, sold his Proper Twelve Whiskey in 2021 for 130 million euros to the Mexican company Becle, owner of José Cuervo.
A men’s business?
According to Niall Brown, executive director of the Braeburn Whiskey company, specializing in investments in this drink, it is no longer enough for celebrities to lend their faces to firms to earn money. “Now younger consumers want authenticity. Creating a new brand seems like the logical step, ”he assures this newspaper. What is not so logical is that the famous are left out of this business. Actress Kate Hudson is one of the few exceptions. In 2019 she launched King St. Vodka, which she named after the location of her former home in New York, where she used to throw dinner parties and cocktails. “I have always found the spirits industry fascinating and I love Dirty Vodka Martinis. The entrepreneur in me is looking forward to the challenge of building a brand in a whole new industry,” she commented at the time.
Channing Tatum and his Born and Bred or Jason Momoa, who in 2023 has launched his own sustainable vodka under the name of Meili Vodka, are just a few examples of other male performers who have risen to that challenge. For most of her female colleagues, however, it remains an unknown 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 alcohol brands,” Hopmayer says. The actor Ryan Reynolds is co-owner of the Aviation Gin gin, for which he also signed a sale agreement to Diageo for 610 million dollars – almost 550 million euros. Instead, his wife, the actress Blake Lively, has opted to launch the Betty Buzz brand of soft drinks, “without alcohol and with fewer calories than usual,” as advertised. “I do not drink. I know it’s strange coming from the wife of an infamous gin drinker,” Lively quipped when she introduced the project, “I’ve seen that soft drinks are the unsung heroes of the beverage world and deserve as much love as alcohol.”
Even so, industry experts confirm that things are changing. “The stereotype of the typical whiskey drinker as an older man still holds up, but change is happening and women are becoming the lynchpin of the industry at many distilleries,” Brown acknowledges. Hopmayer also believes that “in recent years, there has been a shift towards greater diversity, with female celebrities launching successful brands in the alcohol industry as well”, although they tend to go for drinks with a lower alcohol content. This has been the case with Cameron Diaz and Avaline, the range of white and rosé wines that she created in 2020 from Catalan grapes; or that of his Los Angeles partner Charlie Drew Barrymore, who has a collection of his own wines, made in Monterrey, since 2013. There are also two recent examples: that of Jennifer López, who at the beginning of April released his own spritz under the name DeLola, inspired by Italian culture; and that of Emma Watson, who on April 29 announced the launch of Renais gin, a project she shares with her brother Alex hers. “It is an ode to the sun-kissed vineyards of Chablis, where my family has been making wine for the past 30 years,” she explained on Instagram.
Brad Pitt took advantage of the Cannes festival, which began on May 16, as the setting to present his new gin The Gardener Gin, which will hit US stores in a limited edition in September. In addition, at the 2023 Oscars gala, Fleur de Miraval was served, a pink champagne of 390 dollars -350 euros- that Pitt produces in its French Champagne cellar. Angelina Jolie, whom he divorced in 2016 after 11 years of relationship, was part of the business, but in 2021 he sold the part of the vineyards that corresponded to him ―something that the actor called “evil and vengeful” for not offering it to him , so much so that he came to sue her.
The tequila brand of the American model Kendall Jenner, Drink 818, has also been controversial, which they have accused of appropriating Mexican culture. Some users criticized on social networks that, despite using Mexican products and the aesthetics of the country, this tequila is not available in Mexico. Nor did he like that Jenner promoted the product drinking tequila in a landscape of the Mexican steppe with jeans, a shirt and a pair of braids. “Kendall Jenner from the privilege of her making an ad about her tequila, with similar clothes and braids very common to the Mexican stereotypes of indigenous women,” criticized a user. George Clooney in jeans in an agave field is sexy, but Kendall Jenner in jeans in an agave field is disrespectful.
‘Spain is different’
There are American customs that have permeated Spain, such as celebrating Halloween or asking Santa for gifts. But celebrities putting out their own brand of spirits isn’t one of them. “Cultural factors and differences in consumer habits play a role. In Spain there is a long tradition of locally produced wines and spirits, which makes it more difficult for celebrity-owned brands to gain a foothold. By contrast, in In the US, celebrity culture is widespread and consumers are more willing to try new products just because they are endorsed by celebrities,” argues Brindiamo Group’s Hopmayer. In fact, the few samples of celebrities who have released their own brand of alcoholic beverages in Spain are wine-producing, such as the wines from the Andrés Iniesta Winery that the former soccer player produces in Fuentealbilla, his hometown, although in recent years this business only accumulates losses.
“Spain is traditionally interested in other markets,” says Niall Brown of Braeburn Whisky. And in other celebrities. Because there is a brand of food products created by a Spanish celebrity that has succeeded: Sabores de la Esteban. The famous television collaborator Belén Esteban started this business of gazpachos, creams and chips in 2021 with 3,000 euros and in its first year for sale she closed her accounts with a profit of more than 160,000 euros.