Dylan’s latest gig: making whiskey

Dylan’s latest gig: making whiskey
Bob Dylan in a promotional photo for his Heaven's Door whiskey, which will be introduced in May 2018

In late 2015, an unexpected name popped up in the liquor industry press: Bob Dylan.
A trademark application for the term “bootleg whiskey” had been filed under Dylan’s name. Among those who noticed the news was Marc Bushala, 52, a lifelong fan and a liquor entrepreneur whose bourbon brand, Angel’s Envy, had just been sold for $150 million. Bushala said he immediately spent weeks “obsessing over this concept of what a Dylan whiskey could be”.
So he reached out, and after being vetted by Dylan’s representatives, Bushala – who speaks branding jargon like “flavour profile” and “name exploration” in an earnest Midwestern accent – talked to Dylan by phone, and proposed working together on a portfolio of small-batch whiskeys. As he saw it, there was just one problem: The name “bootleg”, while an apt Dylanological pun, wasn’t quite right for a top-shelf liquor. Might Dylan, Nobel Laureate, be open to some name exploration?
“It was a little bit daunting,” Bushala said of his pitch.
But it worked. Next month, he and Dylan will introduce Heaven’s Door, a collection of 3 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 5 decades confounding expectations.
Dylan is not simply licensing his name. He is a full partner in the business, Heaven’s Door Spirits, which Bushala said had raised $35 million from investors.
“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 travelling 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.”
The marketing of celebrity alcohol tends to lean on the perceived lifestyle of its mascots. Drink George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila, for example – sold last year to Diageo for up to $1 billion – and acquire some of his movie-star glamour. Want to party like Jay-Z? Buy an $850 Armand de Brignac.
“It’s about fairy dust,” said Michael Stone, the Chairman of the brand licensing agency Beanstalk, who is not involved with Heaven’s Door. “People are looking for some of the fairy dust to be sprinkled on them from that celebrity’s lifestyle.”
Heaven’s Door is meant to conjure a broader idea of Dylan that is part Renaissance man, part nighthawk. The label design is derived from his ironwork sculptures, with rural iconography – crows, wagon wheels – in silhouette.
And in promotional photos lighted 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 Dylan as an urbane but still gritty crooner – one who might well wind down his day with a glass of bourbon.
“Dylan has these qualities that actually work well for a whiskey,” Bushala said.
“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 is entering the craft whiskey market as the business is exploding.
(New York Times News Service)