From Orson Welles hawking California “Champagne” and Billy Dee Williams insistence that malt liquor “works every time”’ to Mila Kunis working in the Jim Beam barrel warehouse, the booze business has long relied on celebrities to, well, sell booze.
But it’s less common for famous folk to actually be involved with creating a spirit, and the results are often…less than delicious. (Remember Danny DeVito’s Limoncello? Neither do we.) However, sometimes the celebs turn out to be halfway decent at making booze (or at least know the right people to hire), and in their honor, here are a few notable spirits by notable people that won’t make you gag.
Ron de Jeremy ($30)
Yep, Ron Jeremy has a rum. Yes, that Ron Jeremy. And despite the punny name, the Hedgehog’s unforgettable visage staring out from the label and a website that offers a selection of recipes for “drinkxxx,” this is actually pretty good stuff. The seven-year-old spirit is made in Panama by a master distiller who ran Havana Club in Cuba in the ‘70s. It offers a lot of sweetness, balanced by oak and spice flavors.
Selvarey Cacao Rum ($30)
Bruno Mars is a co-founder and part-owner of this new rum brand—and he came up with the name—but strangely enough, he stays in the background when it comes to selling the stuff. It’s actually made by the same Panama distillery that puts out Ron de Jeremy, but Selvarey’s two bottlings are quite different: Selvarey White is a mix of three- and five-year-old rums that are filtered to remove the color and is pretty tasty, but Selvarey Cacao really stands out. The heavily aged rum is infused with locally harvested cacao, giving it strong cocoa flavors but no sweetness. It makes a lovely twist on the classic Daiquiri. Selvarey is currently only available in California and Nevada, but you can buy some online to ship almost anywhere in the US.
Casamigos Reposado Tequila ($50)
When you’re a millionaire movie star who loves tequila, you can start your own brand! George Clooney partnered with his buddy Rande Gerber, a nightlife impresario who’s owned bars and clubs all over the country, along with an experienced Mexican master distiller, to create Casamigos. (Gerber just so happens to be married to Cindy Crawford, which led to Clooney and Crawford in bed together in a memorable commercial.) The 100-percent-agave tequila is made the right way, with lengthy agave-roasting and fermentation periods followed by seven months in a barrel leading to deep flavors of caramel and honey, with a subtle pepperiness.
Cîroc Vodka ($32)
Sean “Diddy” Combs is far from the first (or last) hip-hop star to endorse a brand of booze, but he doesn’t just hawk Cîroc; he’s in charge of all marketing and branding for the vodka and gets a cut of its profits. He’s pretty good at his job, as Cîroc’s sales have increased more than 40-fold since Combs signed on in 2007. (In fact, he recently partnered with Cîroc’s parent company again, buying 50 percent of DeLeón Tequila.) The vodka is made from French grapes, which give it an exceptional smoothness. If flavored vodka is your thing, Cîroc does a pretty good job, offering a full range, from coconut and pineapple to “red berry,” that doesn’t taste terribly artificial or overly sweet.
Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila ($35)
You could argue that Sammy Hagar’s found more success in booze than in music. In 1996, the Red Rocker found a distillery in Mexico to make a house tequila for his chain of Cabo Wabo restaurants, and the stuff was so good that it quickly grew well beyond its namesake. In fact, in 2007, Hagar sold 80 percent of the company to international drinks conglomerate Gruppo Campari for a cool $80 million! (He sold the rest of it three years later for another $11 million, and then started his second brand, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum.) The unaged blanco is the best of the bunch, showing floral, citrus and vegetal notes.
Back in the late 1800s, absinthe was the favored drink of controversial artists and poets, so what better spirit is there for shock rocker Marilyn Manson? Unsurprisingly a long-time absinthe fan, Manson himself was involved with the formulation of this Swiss-distilled liquor, and a watercolor self-portrait of his graces the label. He was right on trend: Mansinthe came out in 2007, the same year that absinthe was re-legalized in the US. The stuff is actually pretty widely respected in the world of absinthe, which is often plagued with fake and low-quality crap pawned off on tourists. It’s got a strong anise punch, with woodsy herbs and pepper underneath.
Aviation Gin ($30)
In addition to four Super Bowl rings, Joe Montana has owned quite a few booze businesses. Back in the ‘90s, he was an investor in a Kansas beer distributor; he’s collaborated with California winemaker Ed Sbragia on Montagia Cabernet Sauvignon since 2000; and last year, he bought into Portland, Ore., distillery House Spirits in order to expand distribution of its flagship gin nationwide. So it’s thanks to Joe Cool that you can find this fine spirit outside of Oregon. It’s a pretty non-traditional gin that eases up on the juniper flavor in favor of citrus, cardamom and lavender. You’ll love it in its namesake Aviation cocktail, an old-school mix of gin, maraschino liqueur, creme de violette and lemon juice.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.