Bob Dylan’s Whiskey Brand Poised for Take Off
Bob Dylan has gone into the liquor business as a full partner in Heaven’s Door Whiskey, a newly-founded American whiskey maker. The brand name plays off one of Dylan’s most evocative songs, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Specifically written for Sam Peckinpah’s now-classic 1973 western, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Dylan delivers the haunting ballad that echoes through the film, which starred singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson as Billy, with legendary actor James Coburn as Pat Garrett and the equally legendary Dylan himself as “Alias,” in a small but pivotal role.
There are in fact two versions of the film, one of which does not have the full version of the Dylan song, and is a much weaker film for the lack of it. One of Dylan’s most popular, and most often covered songs, the song is now taking on a second life as a brand of whiskey that Dylan originally wanted to call, “Bootleg Whiskey,” according to a 2015 trademark application.
Over the years, Dylan has ventured into arts and crafts, as a sketch artist, painter and ironmonger. He’s also designed his own homes, owns restaurants, and various other ventures, including much talked about but rarely seen television advertisements, always keeping a low profile, which is easy for him since he almost never gives interviews. Officially, his net worth is estimated at around $180 million, but that doesn’t include the value of his musical catalogue, which could push him over into the billionaire category if he were to sell it…which he won’t.
A Nose for the Business
Unlike a certain American president, who licenses the use of his name but is rarely involved in the projects he gives his name to, Dylan is a full partner in Heaven’s Door Whiskey, banking on his sixty-year reputation as a serious drinker (although no one has ever called him an alcoholic) and a connoisseur of the finer things in life. As a whiskey maker, he joins the likes of brewers and vintners such as George Clooney, who recently sold his Casamigos brand of tequila for a reported $1 billion, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (before the breakup), Justin Timberlake, Drew Barrymore, Bruce Willis, Danny DeVito, and Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Francis Ford Coppela, the Grateful Dead, and even Donald Trump himself. Unlike Trump, who does not drink and therefore never even tasted his own brand of Vodka which he started in 2006 and walked away from in 2o08, Dylan has a highly educated palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of whiskey, according to his partner in the Heaven’s Door venture.
One question on Dylan’s new venture not answered in the media coverage is how do you start a”new” brand of whiskey when the essence of a whiskey is in the aging process. There are numerous factors that affect the final product in whiskey making, including the raw materials, the water, even the types of wood used in the process of cooking the whiskey, but the most important component in producing a fine whiskey lays in the nature of the casks in which the whiskey is aged, and the length of time that the whiskey is aged in the barrel.
A Talent For Marketing
One of the things that has always separated Dylan from his peers in the music industry has been his initiative talent for low key but very effective marketing strategies. In recent years, he has found innovative ways to re-market his catalog to new generations of music buffs, releasing a hard bound book with all of his original song lyrics, often in several different versions, and a complete omnibus edition of his albums on both CDs and vinyl, both of which became instant collector’s items.
So, how does a brand new whiskey maker create a 25-year-old whiskey right out of the starting gate? The answer is simple: branding. You purchase whiskey from distillers who have been producing the same basic product for generations, then blend their products together until you get the taste you’re looking for. Decanting the blended whiskey into specially seasoned barrels enables a new distiller to brand its product with an even more distinctive taste, but less discerning distillers are apt to throw in some additives to refine the taste of the final product.
One of the keys to the marketing puzzle is that you can claim the age of a blended whiskey (or whisky if you’re in Scotland) to be equal to the age of the oldest whiskey in the blend, or you can go out and find enough 25-year-old whiskeys in the barrel so that you can blend the final product to produce the taste you’re looking for.
That’s why Heaven’s Door will be producing a limited edition of 25-year-old whiskeys called Bootleg Editions at $300 a bottle, while the standard issue whiskeys will price out in the $30-$80 range…and that’s why after years or not touching a drop, I’ll be buying one of those $300 bottles, even if I never open it.
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