From actors to athletes, the parade of celebrities investing in and promoting their own alcohol brands these days seems unending. This is especially true for the Spirits category, which has seen a rush of high-profile brands enter the market following George Clooney’s mega success with Casamigos Tequila. From world-famous athletes like LeBron James to glitzy media personalities like Kendall Jenner, these stars-turned-spirits moguls are giving the drinks industry something to talk about.
They’ve certainly got hype. But are they actually selling well on-premise? To explore this expanding category, we dove into Union’s guest ordering data to uncover what’s really happening with Celebrity Spirits brands — defined as those founded by a celebrity or operating with a known celebrity ownership stake — at high-volume bars and restaurants.
We found that a majority of Union venues, nearly 80 percent, carried Celebrity Spirits in the 12-month period ending July 31, 2023. Of all Spirits sold in that period at Union venues, celebrity brands represent about 10 percent sales share.
“That’s a hefty share,” explains Gary Ross, Union’s chief growth officer. “To put celebrity brands in perspective, their share represents more than double that of Rum’s share of all Spirits sold at Union venues. Star power is giving a tangible boost to these products, helping to win over on-premise guests.”
Ranking the Top Celebrity Spirits Brands
The niche Celebrity Spirits category is growing slowly but steadily on-premise, with share up 16 percent in the 12-month period ending July 31, 2023. But that growth is largely driven by the segment’s most successful brand, Casamigos, which represents 91 percent sales share of Celebrity Spirits. Behind that, there’s every other celebrity brand.
“If you take Casamigos out of the equation, certainly Cîroc, Teremana, and D’Ussé shine brighter, together accounting for over half (56%) of all celebrity spirit sales share,” Ross says.
Casamigos — launched in 2013 by actor George Clooney and partners — both dominates on-premise Celebrity Spirit sales and grew its share by nearly 3 points in this period. Meanwhile, all other contenders in the Top 5 have lost some share or remained stagnant during the 12-month period. Cîroc was down by 1.5 points, Teremana by 0.5 points, D’Usse by 0.1 points, and The Finnish Long Drink 0.4 points. While the fluctuations in share change are relative to each brand’s sales share, none of them come even close to Casamigos growth trajectory.
“George Clooney’s Casamigos is a tough act to follow,” says Ross. “Casamigos launched a decade ago, so the brand’s advantage is not just from Clooney’s celebrity power. They practically invented the premium Tequila market.”
More than 50 Celebrity Spirits brands are sold at Union’s bars and restaurants across the U.S. Of the top-selling 15 brands at Union, nearly half are Tequila. Three are Vodkas, and two are Gin or Gin-based. Whisky, Cognac, Mezcal, and an RTD make the list, as well. The Top 15 Celebrity Spirits are owned by a mix of celebrity types: Musicians, actors, athletes, and one media personality — Kendall Jenner — who also happens to be the only female celebrity owner ranking among the top brands.
The space, excluding Casamigos, is increasingly competitive among brands, and legal battles often make the headlines. Sean Combs’ Cîroc ranks favorably as the No. 2 best-selling Celebrity Spirit brand at Union, as one of the earliest entrants to celebrity-owned premium Vodka in 2003. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Tequila brand, Teremana, launched in 2020 and has already secured the No. 3 spot after Casamigos and Cîroc. At No. 4, D’Usse Cognac was launched by rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter (who sold his controlling stake to Bacardi this year for about $750 million following a legal dispute). Crafted by one of the most prestigious Cognac houses in France, the high-end Brandy has seen stellar success in the U.S. market since its launch in 2012.
At No. 5, an outlier among the top-selling items at Union is The Finnish Long Drink, a Gin-based RTD whose primary investors include actor Miles Teller, along with musician DJ Kygo and golfer Rickie Fowler. It is the only celebrity-owned RTD within the top-selling Celebrity Spirit items at Union bars and restaurants.
After the Long Drink, the remaining top brands on the list each represent less than .5 percent of all Celebrity Spirits. “They represent a small share overall, but there’s an enormous amount of star power at play,” Ross says.
Mulholland Distilling, a brand by actor Walton Goggins (of FX Network’s The Shield and Justified), comes in at No. 6, thanks to its robust Vodka sales (though the company also sells Gin and Whiskey), beating out 50 Cent’s Effen brand of Vodka. Dos Hombres Mezcal (from Breaking Bad actors Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston) and folk singer Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door Whiskey beat out a variety of other brands — mostly Tequilas.
More established brands from NBA legend Michael Jordan’s Cincoro Tequila and country musician George Strait’s Codigo 1530 Tequila also make the Top 15 list, while comedian Kevin Hart’s Gran Coramino Tequila has made a quick ascent since launching last year. And relative newcomers 818 Tequila (Kendall Jenner) and Lobos 1707 Tequila (LeBron James) are showing their strength with quick on-premise gains. Actor Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin, which launched in 2006 (Reynolds joined in 2018), is the only Gin to make the Top 15 list.
Ranking the Top-Selling Celebrity Brands by Category
We examined Tequila, Vodka, and Whiskey to see how brands fared against one another (ranked by dollar sales share) within their category. With Casamigos as its lead, Tequila brands dominate Union’s ranking of top Celebrity Spirits brands, making it an increasingly competitive — and lucrative — category.
According to Ross, the timing is right for high-profile stars to be lured to the Tequila category. “Tequila is one of the fastest-growing Spirits subcategories,” he says. “And Celebrity Spirits brands, especially Tequila, tend to sell at a high premium, making these products attractive as investments.”
“The Tequila category continues to expand so of course we see celebrities enter that space, but we also see it across Gin and Whiskey,” says Shawn Thurman, CEO of WES Brands, a company that develops, markets, and sells innovative alcohol brands backed by celebrities including actor Mark Wahlberg and actor/comedian Jamie Foxx.
Top Celebrity Spirit Brands, By Category
Ranked by dollar sales share
Top celebrity tequila and mezcal
- Casamigos, George Clooney
- Teremana, Dwayne Johnson
- Dos Hombres, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul
- Cincoro, Michael Jordan
- 818, Kendall Jenner
Top Celebrity Vodka Brands
- Cîroc, Sean Combs
- Mulholland, Walter Goggins
- Effen, 50 Cent
- Woody Creek Distillers, William H. Macy
- Crystal Head, Dan Aykroyd
Top Celebrity Whiskey Brands
- Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan
- Old Camp Whiskey, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley
- Sweetens Cove, Peyton Manning
- Woody Creek Distillers, William H. Macy
- Brother’s Bond, Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley
Among the top celebrity-backed Vodka and Whiskey brands, a fresh slate of stars make the cut.
While sales are nowhere near that of the biggest celebrity Vodka brands — Cîroc, Effen, and Mulholland — comedian Dan Aykrod’s ultra-premium Crystal Head Vodka comes in a hard-to-miss clear, skull-shaped bottle that gets attention at some Union venues. Actor William H. Macy’s Woody Creek Distillers Vodka also makes the list, as does its Whiskey.
Heaven’s Door and Old Camp lead the Whiskey category. Old Camp Whiskey, from country music duo Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, showed significant strong growth since last period, nearly doubling its sales.
In other Spirits categories, the low-ABV RTD Long Drink leads in sales share among Gin-based celebrity brands, with Aviation Gin in second; Blue Chair Bay commands the Rum category, and D’Ussé dominates Cognac.
Top-Selling Celebrity Spirits Items
Ranked by dollar share
- Casamigos Blanco Tequila, George Clooney
- Casamigos Reposado Tequila, George Clooney
- Casamigos Añejo Tequila, George Clooney
- Casamigos Mezcal Joven, George Clooney
- Teremana Tequila Blanco, Dwayne Johnson
- D’Usse Cognac VSOP, Jay-Z
- Cîroc Vodka, Sean Combs
- The Finnish Long Drink Traditional (Gin), Miles Teller, DJ Kygo, Rickie Fowler
- Cîroc Vodka Red Berry, Sean Combs
- Mulholland Vodka, Walter Goggins
- Cîroc Vodka Peach, Sean Combs
- Dos Hombres Espadin Mezcal, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul
- Heaven’s Door Tennessee Bourbon, Bob Dylan
- Teremana Tequila Reposado, Dwayne Johnson
- Cîroc Vodka Apple, Sean Combs
- Effen Cucumber Vodka, 50 Cent
- Aviation American Gin, Ryan Reynolds
- Cincoro Extra Añejo Tequila, Michael Jordan
- Cîroc Vodka Pineapple, Sean Combs
- Cîroc Vodka Mango, Sean Combs
- 818 Blanco Tequila, Kendall Jenner
- D’Usse Cognac XO, Jay-Z
- Codigo 1530 Tequila Blanco, George Strait
- Lobos 1707 Joven Tequila, LeBron James
- Bumbu Rum, Lil Wayne
Whether by item or brand, sales are led by Casamigos. The brand’s Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo Tequilas — along with its Mezcal Joven — are top-sellers at Union venues. The proliferation of agave-based items, including Teremana, Cincoro, 818, Codigo 1530, and Lobos 1707, is indicative of Tequila’s dominance of the celebrity space.
Cîroc’s flavored Vodkas are popular at Union venues, in red berry, peach, apple, pineapple, and mango. Effen’s cucumber flavored Vodka is, as well. Mulholland’s Vodka competes with those two long-established ultra-premium Vodka brands, coming in at the No. 10 item on the list.
At No. 25 and the only Rum, Bumbu Rum makes an appearance on Union’s top-selling Celebrity Spirits items. The Sovereign Brands Rum, made in the Caribbean, is backed and endorsed by rapper Lil Wayne.
How Celebrity Spirits Are Finding Success On-Premise
Lisa Hawkins, a spokesperson for the Distilled Spirits Council estimates there are 20,000 Spirits brands in the U.S. While only a fraction of those are celebrity owned, more and more celebrities are tapping into the style and sophistication of super premium spirits, she notes. At Union venues, Celebrity Spirits account for about 160 items out of more than 6,000 total Spirits items sold on-premise — representing less than three percent of items, but bringing in over 10 percent of sales share. In such a vast market of products, these brands have an inherent advantage, she says.
“A celebrity’s star appeal can be a huge plus for launching a new spirits product,” Hawkins says. “With thousands of spirits brands in the marketplace, celebrity spirits benefit from instant brand awareness and a built-in and engaged consumer base.”
At $16.25, the average drink price for a Celebrity Spirits brand is an impressive 73 percent higher than for an average Spirits drink, priced at $9.38. Guests pay a high premium for Celebrity Cognac and Tequila brands, which are priced significantly higher compared to other categories of celebrity brands.
But Union data shows that a Celebrity Spirit doesn’t have to be a headliner, like Casamigos, to be successful with guests. Certain brands are finding success by having an outsized presence at just one or two venues where they’re a highlight of the beverage menu. “Specific venues can play a huge role in a celebrity brand’s sales,” explains Ross.
Exceptionally large venues like Encore nightclub in Charlotte may carry an impressive array of celebrity brands, many of which sell successfully. But smaller venues, like Bouldin Acres in Austin, focus on just a few specific brands, giving those brands outsized sales. Heaven’s Door (folk singer Bob Dylan) is a headliner on Bouldin Acres’ cocktail menu in Austin, for example.
Bouldin Acres’ general manager, Savannah Longden, says: “We feature Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door in our apple butter Old Fashioned. Personally, I go with brands that seem to be more popular and will sell well. And of course, I taste it to see if it’s actually good.”
Similarly, country musician Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum brand is a big seller at a national chain bar with multiple locations, contributing greatly to its on-premise success. The Coconut Rum is very popular, but a variety of flavors, from Banana Rum Cream to its more traditional Spiced Rum, contribute to guest appeal.
A celebrity may be the face of a brand, but it’s not the only thing that drives sales, according to WES Brands’ Thurman. “There are so many factors at play from authentically crafted, to taste and quality of ingredients, to sustainable and philanthropic efforts,” Thurman says. In other words, a celebrity affiliation may get a guest to try a brand, but it’s the quality that keeps them coming back.
5 Brands to Watch at On-Premise
Of the top brands, these are the Celebrity Spirits brands with the most promising sales trajectories at Union’s bars and restaurants. According to Ross, “We looked at a combination of factors, from their pace of growth to their on-premise sales, to determine which brands had the most velocity in the competitive space.”
Blue Chair Bay Rum
This brand of flavored and spiced rums, owned by multi-platinum country singer-songwriter Kenney Chesney, has been around for 10 years. Still, its recent on-premise growth is impressive. Blue Chair Bay sales grew three times as fast as celebrity brand Rum sales overall in the 12-month period ending July 2023. Chesney has been a busy man this year, and his focused on-premise marketing efforts no doubt are adding to increased sales. He wrapped up his “I Go Back” tour just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his Rum brand. He also released a selection of just 8,400 bottles of a 16-year-old rum distilled in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and added a Mocha Rum Cream to the brand lineup, promoting it as a perfect Spirit for an Espresso Martini — a cocktail that continues to climb at on-premise venues.
Dos Hombres Mezcal
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul — better known as Breaking Bad’s partners in crime Walter White and Jesse Pinkman — are gaining visibility with a mix of strong branding and hands-on celebrity involvement, and by focusing on a singular subcategory, Mezcal, with laser-sharp precision. Smart marketing tactics, like traveling the country in their Never Ending Tour truck and even pouring samples at Costco, are contributing to their overall success. On-premise at Union venues, the brand experienced a solid 42 percent growth in its share of celebrity brand sales in this 12-month period with its artisanal Espadin Mezcal and limited-edition Tobala, both made in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s a solid increase for the “other” agave spirit, and shows promise for Dos Hombres’ brand longevity.
Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA superstar LeBron James launched this lineup of Tequila and Mezcal in 2020. In the 12-months ending July 2023, the brand saw skyrocketing growth at Union venues. Lobos 1707 has been garnering attention as of late with limited edition releases such as Añejo (9,000 bottles total). Overall, its sales have been climbing at Union venues, particularly in New York and California, since spring of this year. Interestingly, the uptick in sales started soon after James set a new NBA record as the all-time career scoring leader.
Los Angeles-based Mulholland Distilling offers a portfolio of premium spirits, each bottle stamped with a company’s tagline that sums up its brand identity as “the spirit of Los Angeles.” The brand is seeing great success at Union venues, mostly in Southern California, and mostly with its Vodka. The award-winning Vodka is distilled six times from 100 percent non-GMO corn. Though actor Walton Goggins and cinematographer Matthew Alper started the brand back in 2016, its recent growth caught our attention. The brand climbed the charts this period, up against its nearest Celebrity Spirits category competitor, from about two percent of Cîroc Vodka’s on-premise sales (the No. 1 celebrity Vodka at Union) to about one-third of Cîroc’s sales.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s ultra-premium brand is the No. 2 celebrity Tequila after Casamigos. And though it currently only represents 1.4 percent share, Teremana could overtake declining brand Cîroc as the No. 2 top-selling Celebrity Spirit in the coming year if it gains additional traction at on-premise. Much of its early gains were at retail, as the brand launched during Covid in 2020. Teremana sales at Union venues started climbing in early 2023, and Forbes coined it the “fastest-growing Tequila of all time” when the brand hit a milestone of one million cases in overall annual sales earlier this year.
These brands stand out right now, but the bottom line is that the Celebrity Spirits space is increasingly crowded and competitive. Ross adds: “It’s a fast-paced niche with significant potential. These celebrity brands are able to gain exposure and build distribution very quickly, making the space hyper-dynamic on a month-to-month basis.”