Tangled up in booze: Bob Dylan launches his own brand of whiskey

For a man whose Bootleg Series now runs to 13 albums, distilling his own Tennessee liquor seems like a logical next step

Bob Dylan will next month launch a range of whiskeys, hoping to capitalize on growing demand for all things celebrity-tagged.

The 76-year-old singer and Nobel laureate has joined with liquor entrepreneur Marc Bushala to turn a deconsecrated church in Tennessee into a distillery. Their Heavens Door Spirits a Tennessee straight bourbon, a double barrel whiskey and a straight rye will first be available in Tennessee, Florida, California, Illinois, New York and Texas. A wider rollout will follow.

Dylans new project was announced on Saturday. You dont always find inspiration, he mused in a press release. Sometimes it finds you. We wanted to create a collection of American whiskeys that would each tell a story.

Bushala, 52, told his story to the Guardian. The project began, he said, when he noticed Dylan, whose Bootleg Series now runs to 13 albums, had filed a trademark application for bootleg whiskey. Bushala contacted the enigmatic singer and made his pitch.

Knowing that Dylan is a whiskey aficionado, Bushala decided to approach the project from a whiskey-centric point of view. That appealed to Bob, he said. This is not a vanity project for him. Its a passion project.

When it came to a name, the two men wanted a standalone name for whiskey that could also be a nod and a wink to Dylan.

Dylans songs are not short of whiskey references, among them Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight) (Daddy he made whiskey, my grandaddy he did too / We aint paid no whiskey tax since 1792); Blind Willie McTell (Hes dressed up like a squire / Bootlegged whiskey in his hand); Gotta Serve Somebody )Might like to drink whiskey / Might like to drink milk); and Moonshiner (Ive spent all my money / On whiskey and beer).

Bob Dylan with a cup of something softer probably in Manchester in 1966. Photograph: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

The two men got down to 10 favourites, then agreed to go with a reference to Knockin on Heavens Door, a hit from the 1973 album Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid which in fact does not refer to whiskey.

Everyone felt strongly that Heavens Door was just a perfect name, Bushala said, especially given the imagery were using on the bottles wrought ironwork from Dylans own metalwork foundry in Los Angeles.

Someone as eclectic and diverse as Bob, Bushala said, should put out an evolving collection or portfolio of whiskeys. To achieve that, he said, he raised $35m from investors.

He was after a mood or a feeling

Dylans idea for his own whiskey came from a more down-to-earth source: his earliest incarnation as a Woody Guthrie-esque, riding-the-rails wandering minstrel.

In a statement to the New York Times, the singer said: Ive been traveling for decades and Ive been able to try some of the best spirits that the world of whiskey has to offer. This is great whiskey.

Bushala said: There have been spirits and whiskey in his music for as long as hes been making it, going on 60 years, and in the kind of rural Americana that plays into it. So for sure in his mind, there were elements he was after. But it wasnt directly articulated.

He was after a mood or a feeling. He wasnt after saying, This should taste more smokey or have more corn or rye, or adjust the proof.

Presented with one distillation, Bushala said, Dylan said simply the drink should feel more like a wood structure. We were nodding like we understood, Bushala said. But we didnt really.

Dylan is seeking to tap into a booming market: the value of the American whiskey market has grown by 52% over the last five years, to $3.4bn in 2017. Nor is he the first celebrity to attempt to distill profits from hard liquor. Sean Combss involvement with Ciroc vodka has helped make the rapper and producer seriously rich while George Clooney last year sold his Casamigos tequila brand to the beverage giant Diageo for as much as $1bn.

Nor, perhaps to the horror of Dylan purists, is this the singers first foray into the world of commerce. The singer is a periodic pitchman, endorsing Chobani, Chrysler and even Victorias Secret.

He didnt sell out, Bushala said. This is his brand, and its his idea. We just helped him do what he wanted to do. Bob does not want to be face man of the brand and he does not want the packaging to scream Dylan.

Dylans signature is therefore on the reverse side of the label, Bushala said, making it visible only when the bottle is empty. He was willing to do that but hes not going to appearances or bottle signings. He didnt even pick up his Nobel prize so hes not going to go out touting this. And thats great because its authentic for Dylan and authentic for the brand.

With some irony, perhaps, the rules that will govern the success or otherwise of Dylans project will, like his whiskey and his music, hark back to Americas past. Liquor distribution in the US is still based on a post-prohibition model, each market tightly controlled by licensed state distributors. Those markets have to be broken into much as folk musicians or promoters once toured local radio stations, seeking precious airplay.

There are parallels, Bushala said. Youre going from account to accounts and hand-selling. Youre going round, knocking on the doors.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontTangled up in booze: Bob Dylan launches his own brand of whiskey

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