Several years ago, Joel Harrison and Andy Silvester met in a south London pub discussing lower-league football. Fast forward, and Joel is now the co-author of several books on spirits and one of the world’s leading booze writers and creative consultants, and Andy Silvester is City A.M.’s Acting Editor – with a penchant for cocktails and London’s bars. Here’s their first column – there will be many more.
We all know the Yanks can put on a show.
Take the Presidential Inauguration. Here, when we swap leaders, we get a removal van parked in front of 10 Downing Street – an awkward speech with the closest thing to a celebrity appearing being Palmerston, the resident cat, purring away in the background. Over in D.C., it’s J-Lo, Lady Gaga and a Springsteen after-show.
In the US it is no different on the sports field- take the Super Bowl as the prime(time) example. Whilst many eyes will be on the quarterback matchup – with the best right now Patrick Mahomes up against the best of all time Tom Brady – there’s plenty more entertainment available, from Grammy-winners performing the Star Spangled Banner to Canadian sensation The Weeknd’s half-time show.
And with that in mind, we’re taking a look at some classic spirits given a uniquely American twist, celebrity-ownership in the world of spirit drinks.
Yes, it might seem like a gimmick, getting a celebrity to endorse a drinks brand. Yet there are a few that have gone that little bit further, with a celebrity owning the brand themselves.
Leading the pack is the old salt-and-pepper smoothie himself, George Clooney who founded his tequila brand – Casamigos – with Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman in 2013. Far from being slammed (geddit?), Casamigos was lauded for being a high-quality sipping spirit, and in 2019 the brand was acquired by drinks giant Diageo for a fee estimated to be nearing a billion dollars. Not bad business for the actor and his friends.
Not to be left out, Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds was so impressed with Aviation, an American craft brand distilled in Portland, Oregon, that he bought the company. Founded in 2006, Aviation gin builds its flavour around the signature botanical of sarsaparilla root and by 2018 Reynolds had put his money where his mouth was, acquiring a stake in the brand and promoting Aviation on a global scale. And guess what? Diageo acquired the brand in 2020, allowing Ryan Reynolds to focus his attention on… buying non-league Welsh football club Wrexham. Really.
One that hasn’t gone the way of a big drinks company is Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka. A kosher-certified spirit made using Newfoundland water filtered through 500 million year old crystals called Herkimer diamonds, it is housed in a glass skull because… well, just because.
But if all that’s a bit too much celeb sparkle, there are some more understated – but incredible – stateside offerings well worth your time, and the world of American distilling is alive and kicking.
Of course, the flag-waving cheerleader for all things Americana is bourbon.
The American whiskey draws its flavour on using a mix of cereals, with a minimum of 51% corn. Combine this with maturation in brand new American oak barrels, and you load on vanilla and sweet, woody notes. For something a little different, join the hipsters in drinking Rye whiskey. The same as bourbon but with a 51% rye base, giving a big, bold spiced note that is perfect for making an Old Fashioned.
We’ve come up with a couple of cocktail recipes to toast the big sporting day, and one bottle that the winner would be happy to take home.. And unlike that Janet Jackson half-time show, follow our instructions and hopefully there won’t be any malfunctions…
A Classic Old Fashioned
The great thing about an Old Fashioned is that you can pre-batch it, so you’ll be able to make enough to see you through at least until the Half Time Show. Simply mix 4 parts bourbon (try Woodford Reserve) with 1 part sugar syrup, a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters and stir down with ice until diluted to your taste. Serve over ice in a short tumbler, with a cherry and a wedge of orange.
A Gin Rickey
This has its roots in Washington D.C. and is credited to a lobbyist named Joe Rickey. Pour 4 parts gin (try F.E.W. from Chicago), 1 part lime juice and a dash of sugar syrup into a shaker with ice. Give it a good shake, strain into a tall glass. Top up with ice and soda, and garnish with lime.
And if you find yourself on the winning side for Super Bowl Sunday, you might want to mark the occasion with an amazing bourbon.
If so, choose the highly sought after Michter’s 25 Years Old; amazingly well developed for a bourbon of this extreme age, each sip will make you feel like you’re in the winning locker room. It weighs in at $1000 a bottle, and will be available in limited numbers from only the best drinks retailers.
Of course, if that sounds too much like hard work, help is at hand. While we’d usually send you down to Nightjar to enjoy a Reverse Cherry Manhattan for a uniquely American punch, they – like everywhere else – remain closed for now.
Luckily they’ve gone online – and are delivering to your door. Bulleit rye mixed with Nightjar’s sweet vermouth alongside a host of licquers combines for a rich, chocolatey delight, served over ice with dehydrated orange. Order here.
So, you’re all set for the big game. Now you just need to work out why they keep stopping all the time…
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant