A toast to Bob Dylan's whiskeys

Bob Dylan in a promotional photograph (left) for his Heaven's Door whiskeys, which comprise (above from left) a straight bourbon, a "double-barrelled" whiskey and a straight rye.
Bob Dylan in a promotional photograph for his Heaven's Door whiskeys, which comprise (from left) a straight bourbon, a "double-barrelled" whiskey and a straight rye.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Bob Dylan in a promotional photograph (left) for his Heaven's Door whiskeys, which comprise (above from left) a straight bourbon, a "double-barrelled" whiskey and a straight rye.
Bob Dylan in a promotional photograph (above) for his Heaven's Door whiskeys, which comprise a straight bourbon, a "double-barrelled" whiskey and a straight rye.PHOTO: NYTIMES

The iconic singer-songwriter joins the celebrity-branded spirits market with Heaven's Door, a collection of three whiskeys

NEW YORK • Now you can enjoy your whiskey when you listen to the music of Bob Dylan. After all, the liquor is endorsed by him.

The idea was distilled in 2015 when an unexpected name popped up in the liquor industry press: Dylan. A trademark application for the term "bootleg whiskey" had been filed under his name.

Among those who took notice was Mr Marc Bushala, 52, an entrepreneur whose bourbon brand, Angel's Envy, had just been sold for US$150 million (S$198.6 million).

He contacted Dylan and proposed working together on a portfolio of small-batch whiskeys.

There was one problem: The name "bootleg" was not quite right for a top-shelf liquor. Might Dylan, Nobel laureate, be open to some name exploration?

The musician played along. Next month, the duo will introduce Heaven's Door, a collection of three whiskeys - a straight rye, a straight bourbon and a "double-barrelled" whiskey.

They are Dylan's entry into the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the latest career twist for an artist who has spent five decades confounding expectations.

He is not simply licensing his name. He is a full partner in the business, Heaven's Door Spirits, which Mr Bushala said had raised US$35 million from investors.

The singer said: "We both wanted to create a collection of American whiskeys that, in their own way, tell a story. I've been travelling for decades and I've been able to try some of the best spirits that the world of whiskey has to offer."

The marketing of celebrity alcohol tends to lean on the perceived lifestyle of its mascots.

For example, drink actor George Clooney's Casamigos tequila - sold last year to beverage giant Diageo for up to US$1 billion - and acquire some of his movie-star glamour.

Want to party like Jay-Z? Buy a US$850 Armand de Brignac.

In promotional photos lit like classic movie stills, a tuxedo-clad Dylan, 76, gazes off in a dark cocktail lounge or lonely diner, glass in hand.

Like his recent albums of standards, they portray him as an urbane but still gritty crooner - one who might well wind down his day with a glass of bourbon.

He is entering the craft whiskey market as the business is exploding.

Helped by a craze for classic cocktails, sales of American whiskey grew 52 per cent over the last five years to US$3.4 billion last year, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council.

The Heaven's Door line goes for US$50 to US$80 a bottle.

But will the whiskey go down well with most fans? The idea of Dylan being connected to a commercial venture always sparks outrage, as it did in 2014, when fans cried "sell-out" for his involvement in two Super Bowl TV advertisements.

One was for Chobani yogurt, which used his song I Want You (1966), and another for Chrysler, in which he recited a patriotic script about the car industry.

But Dylan has never shied from commercial deals and, in the long run, they have barely grazed his reputation. He has done spots for Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, IBM and Google, and has also made a licensing deal for his full song catalogue to be available for use in a television drama now under development.

Mr Bill Flanagan, a veteran music journalist who has interviewed Dylan, likens him to country greats Hank Williams and Johnny Cash - self-made entertainers who saw no conflict in joining the marketplace.

And then there is simply Dylan's talent for provocation. "Dylan has always resisted any attempt to fence him in," Mr Flanagan said. "As soon as people start calling him king of the folkies, patron saint of the counter-culture or beloved anti-commercial leftist icon - he almost always does something to thwart that."

A fair number of fans will now be able to raise a toast to that with his whiskey.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'A toast to Bob Dylan's whiskeys'. Print Edition | Subscribe