The New York Times has reported that the Nobel laureate and music icon Bob Dylan is branching out into a new business at the age of 76—whiskey.
Dylan is lending his name and fame to Heaven’s Door Spirits—a name inspired by his 1973 song, Knocking on Heaven’s Door—which next month will start selling a small batch collection of bourbon, a double barrel whiskey and a straight rye.
“You don’t always find inspiration,” Dylan said in a statement to The Guardian. “Sometimes it finds you. We wanted to create a collection of American whiskeys that would each tell a story.”
A partnership that adds Dylan’s name to the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the Heaven’s Door distillery is located, fittingly, in a former church in Tennessee.
Credit goes to liquor entrepreneur Marc Bushala, whose bourbon brand, Angel’s Envy, was sold to Bacardi in 2015 for $150 million. The life-long Dylan fan was surprised that his pitch resulted in the musician is not simply licensing his name. Dylan is a full partner in the business, which Bushala told the New York Times has raised $35 million from investors.
An American Story
“We both wanted to create a collection of American whiskeys that, in their own way, tell a story,” Dylan said in a statement to The New York Times. “I’ve been traveling for decades, and I’ve been able to try some of the best spirits that the world of whiskey has to offer. This is great whiskey.” (He may be judging on limited taste tests; Dylan reportedly quit drinking in 1994.)
The collection’s label artwork is inspired by Dylan’s ironwork sculptures (he owns a metalwork studio in Los Angeles, where he has made a sculpture for the MGM National Harbor hotel, among other projects) with silhouettes of rural iconography such as crows and wagon wheels. The accompanying photos portray Dylan as “an urbane but still gritty crooner—one who might well wind down his day with a glass of bourbon,” as the Times puts it.
Bottling Dylan’s Essence
“Dylan has these qualities that actually work well for a whiskey,” Bushala added. “He has great authenticity. He is a quintessential American. He does things the way he wants to do them. I think these are good attributes for a super-premium whiskey as well.”
Dylan’s music has paid tribute to whiskey, including Moonshiner in 1963 and the song Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight) in 1970, which describes the distilling process in detail. But few might have suspected he’d extend his brand to a commercial endeavor like this. Still, he’s no stranger to partnering with brands (see below).
The Price of Fame
Heaven’s Door will sell for $50 to $80 a bottle. A limited edition annual Bootleg Series of ceramic bottles decorated with his oil and watercolor paintings will cost about $300 each.
Dylan is entering the craft whiskey market as the business is exploding. Helped by a craze for classic cocktails, sales of American whiskey grew 52% over the last five years, to $3.4 billion in 2017, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. More than 20,000 kinds of spirits are sold in the United States, and last year there were 27% more whiskeys on sale than in 2013, according to Nielsen.
A Celebrity Booze Gold Rush
So it’s a lucrative business, to be sure, and one that more and more celebrities are investing in. George Clooney and Rande Gerber last year sold their Casamigos tequila to Diageo for up to $1 billion. Jay-Z is behind each $850 bottle of Armand de Brignac. Drake co-owns Virginia Black Whiskey, Ryan Reynolds owns Aviation Gin, Justin Timberlake has his Sauza 901 Tequila, Matthew McConaughey is a co-owner and creative director of Wild Turkey Bourbon, David Beckham is a co-owner in Haig Club. And the list goes on.
“It’s about fairy dust,” Michael Stone, chairman of the Omnicom-owned licensing agency Beanstalk, told the New York Times. “People are looking for some of the fairy dust to be sprinkled on them from that celebrity’s lifestyle.”
Dylan’s A-Changing Attitude to Advertising
Dylan’s commercial endeavors have run the gamut from car ads to yogurt, starting with a spot for Coopers & Lybrand in which Richie Haven sang a cover of The Times They Are A-Changing in 1994—but the accounting firm was not allowed to use Dylan’s name, even when discussing the use of the protest anthem in the campaign.
A look back at some of his other brand tie-ins:
Google (Oscars, 2018)
IBM (Watson ad, 2015)
Chobani (Super Bowl spot, 2014)
Chrysler (Super Bowl spot, 2014)
Google Instant (2010)
Pepsi (Super Bowl spot, 2009)
Victoria’s Secret (In 1965, Dylan told a reporter that if he ever sold out to a commercial interest, it would be “ladies garments.” In 2007, he and his music appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial.)