Staying above the table in celebrity booze
• Legendary artist and musician Bob Dylan is partnering to launch a line of craft American whiskeys under the name Heaven’s Door.
• The first whiskey releases by Heaven’s Door include a Tennessee straight bourbon whiskey, which has been aged for six-and-a-half years; a double barrel whiskey; and a straight rye whiskey. The premium spirits are made in collaboration with a number of master distillers and blenders from across the U.S., and the singer’s artworks adorn the bottles.
• The company intends to open a distillery and “brand experience center” in a 140-year-old church in Nashville in 2019, according to the Heaven’s Door website. For now, the whiskeys are available in Tennessee, Texas, California, Florida, New York and Illinois with a suggested retail price range of $49.99 to $79.99.
Although some may take a cynical view of celebrities who seem to cash in by partnering with a business to connect their name with a product, Dylan and spirits entrepreneur Marc Bushala insist the singer isn’t simply licensing his name and persona. Bushala said in a statement that the idea for Heaven’s Door came to him when he saw Dylan had filed a trademark application for “bootleg whiskey.”
Dylan follows a long line of celebrities with their own alcohol brands, including singer Sammy Hager, actor and singer Justin Timberlake, actor Drew Barrymore, the Dave Matthews Band, actor Dan Ackroyd and George Clooney, according to Proof. And many investors working with celebs may be hoping for an outcome similar to Clooney’s tequila.
Last year, Diageo agreed to purchase Casamigos, the Clooney-associated super-premium tequila brand, for up to $1 billion. At the time, the spirits company said the acquisition was “an exciting opportunity” for Diageo to strengthen its focus in the fast-growing tequila category. Clooney’s worldwide popularity, and the notion he created a beverage he enjoys drinking with no thought of turning it into a billion-dollar deal, likely adds to Casamigo’s appeal.
Heaven’s Door also could be knocking at the right time. The craft whiskey market has grown 52% in the past five years, to $3.4 billion in 2017, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. And consumers are sipping premium products. Revenues for high-end premium bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys were up 46% during the past five years; while super-premium products saw revenue growth of 148% in that period. Dylan’s name and association with the spirit, coupled with the alcohol’s growing popularity, could be a powerful combination.
The Dylan product, however, enters a crowded market. According to Nielsen, more than 20,000 kinds of spirits are sold in the U.S. and the number of whiskeys on shelves has jumped 27% since 2013. In addition, WhiskyCast said consumers often are more interested in trying new flavors or drink styles that could cause once trendy products to dwindle in popularity once the fad is over.
Heaven’s Door seems to be hitting many of the right notes at the right time. Super-premium bourbons and whiskeys are hot, consumers are eager to give celebrity alcohol brands a try, and Nashville has a growing “cool” factor. Still, the ultimate success likely lies in whether consumers think Dylan’s whiskeys are worth the price once the novelty factor fades.