Celebs Like a Label in Their Stable

Mary Pickford cocktail.
Mary Pickford cocktail. (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)
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By Jason Wilson
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Normally, I am not impressed by what celebrities do. But despite myself, I became very excited a few weeks ago when I read that Dr. Dre soon will launch a cognac called Aftermath. I became further excited to learn that Snoop Dogg has also entered the cognac market. He will be in partnership with Landy Cognac, a drink that, until now, was famous mostly for its bottle, shaped like a curvy woman's torso draped in a tiny red fabric dress.

In the past, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre have proven to be relatively credible arbiters of spirits. After all, they could have name-dropped any old gin in the 1994 hit "Gin and Juice," but they chose to call for Tanqueray (rhyming it, in fact, into cultural consciousness). It remains an excellent choice for nearly every gin cocktail.

Most other celebrities, however, I would not take drinking advice from.

Take Danny DeVito. The guy shows up on "The View" (allegedly) drunk on (allegedly) limoncello, and very soon afterward, a Danny DeVito-branded limoncello hits the market. I had high hopes for this one, since the Web site even has a catchy jingle: "Danny DeVito's limoncello! It's a taste of life from this famous fellow!" But, sadly, it tastes mostly of sugar and left a strange, sugary sediment in the glass.

Take Donald Trump. Would you buy a premium vodka from an avowed teetotaler who once told Esquire, "I've never understood why people don't go after the alcohol companies like they did the tobacco companies"? Yet a couple of years ago, Trump launched a vodka brand, boasting that it was quintuple-distilled. Well, Trump's vodka tastes like something distilled five times: nothing.

Take Willie Nelson, who has a bourbon brand called Old Whiskey River. Now, you might think that Willie Nelson and bourbon would be a no-brainer. Unless, of course, you consider the New Yorker profile a few years back in which Nelson admitted he doesn't really drink much anymore, claiming his wife got him "into rice milk and now soy milk, which I greatly enjoy. A soy mocha's a fine thing." Frankly, the bourbon tastes like it was made for someone who's more into soy mochas than whiskey.

Both Trump's and Nelson's boozes are produced in partnership by Drinks Americas, the same company creating Dr. Dre's Aftermath cognac (and his soon-to-be-released "sparkling" vodka). I remain hopeful.

Perhaps the most successful celebrity spirits have been made by rockers. Former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar recently sold a majority stake of his highly regarded tequila brand Cabo Wabo to Gruppo Campari for $80 million. Motley Crue singer Vince Neil (also a vintner with a 90-plus-rated cabernet sauvignon) peddles a pretty decent tequila called Tres Rios; on the package is a photo of Neil in a cowboy hat and unbuttoned shirt, toasting consumers with a margarita. And Mansinthe -- "the official Marilyn Manson Absinthe" -- won gold at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

If the world of celebrity spirits is a mixed bag, the world of celebrity cocktails is even odder. Given that memorable cocktails are named after towns, weather, cars, flowers, animals, bodily functions and sex acts, it's surprising that in our celebrity-drunk culture there are not more named after actors and musicians. I vaguely remember, from college, something called an MC Hammer, a mix of vodka and Gatorade, but celebrity-named cocktails are few and far between.

One of the classic cocktails is the Mary Pickford, named for "America's Sweetheart," the first big-screen star and perhaps the archetype for the modern celebrity. The few cocktails named for contemporary celebrities are pretty trashy, which perhaps stands to reason. The Paris Hilton, for instance, is a mix of vodka, orange vodka and Mountain Dew. There are two recipes named for the rapper Flava Flav. One involves peach vodka, Sprite and pineapple juice. The other involves Hennessey cognac, electric-blue-hued Hpnotiq and Jagermeister, all to be poured "into a plastic cup," according to the online bartending site Drinksmixer.com.

Back in May, when hype over the "Sex and the City" movie was in full roar, US Weekly featured signature cocktails for each of the four ladies, all of them, coincidentally, using Skyy vodka. (Three cheers for the editorial-advertising firewall!)

· The Charlotte: vodka, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, Amaretto, Godiva chocolate liqueur and half-and-half.

· The Samantha: vodka, Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo añejo tequila, simple syrup and lime juice.

· The Carrie: vodka, triple sec, mango juice, lime juice and simple syrup.

· The Miranda: vodka, Campari, pomegranate juice and triple sec.

Horrible cocktails all. Though probably better than the movie.

None of those, however, holds a candle to the worst celebrity-inspired cocktail: Crunk Juice, the mix of cognac and energy drink (for example, Red Bull) that's advocated by rappers such as Lil Jon (on his CD titled "Crunk Juice"). Though it should be noted that he owns a California winery ("not no ghetto Boone's Farm; this is some real wine," he's said), Lil Jon also markets his own energy drink, called Crunk!!! (Those exclamation points are his, not mine.)

Ever since this column began, I have tried to make a palatable, sophisticated version of Crunk Juice. Over and over again, I have failed. Perhaps I've just been waiting for the right cognac.

Jason Wilson's Spirits column appears every other week. He can be reached at food@washpost.com.

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