Why are pop stars – from Elbow to Mariah Carey – selling their own alcoholic drinks? Tony Barrell investigates
THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2011
Rock’n’roll and alcohol have had a long, and not always happy, marriage. If it wasn’t for strong drink, dozens of fine musicians including John Bonham and Rory Gallagher might still be with us today. Stars such as Jim Morrison and the Grateful Dead have had beverages named after them, while Bucks Fizz and Matthew’s Southern Comfort did it the other way round. Music and booze are also linked by cockney rhyming slang: you can go for a few “Britneys” instead of beers, mix some tonic with your “Vera Lynn”, or enjoy a “Leo Sayer” (all-dayer). So it’s not a huge leap for pop stars to enter the drinks industry, as the band Elbow are doing.
You could almost keep Elbow as a brand name, and make various beers for their different albums
“The whole band came into our sample cellar,” says John Robinson, brand manager of Robinson’s brewery in Stockport, “and they tried every one of our beers and told us what they liked and what they didn’t. Then we developed their own brew.” Build a Rocket Boys ale, a “golden premium session bitter” named after their latest album, will be launched in October at the Manchester Food & Drink Festival. There may even be a long-term relationship here. “You could almost keep Elbow as a brand name and make various beers for the different albums and singles they bring out,” muses Robinson.
This is neat marketing: the earthiness and integrity of real ale suit Elbow down to the ground. A whole musical world away, Mariah Carey has also found the perfect alcoholic match for her bubbly-but-demanding image. When bottles of the glitzy new Angel brand of champagne were provided for the singer and her then husband, Nick Cannon, at their first-anniversary party in Las Vegas in 2009, she fell head over heels. “She told me she’d drunk some champagnes in her life, but she thought Angel Champagne was amazing,” says the drink’s 45-year-old creator, Stefano Zagni. It was a happy coincidence, he adds, that she was preparing to launch the album Memoirs of a Perfect Angel. “Mariah said she’d love to get involved, and rather than just endorsing the product, she became a shareholder in the business.” Zagni tells me that Angel is pitched “at the female palate”, and that he is launching a rosé version developed with “hands-on” input from Carey.
Pharrell Williams also had the ladies in mind when he launched Qream. The 38-year-old American rapper said he had conceived the silky, vodka-based liqueur – available in strawberry or peach flavour – “to celebrate the beautiful, independent and sophisticated women of today”. Qream has avoided the controversy of other rap stars’ tipples, such as Snoop Dogg’s caffeine-laced alcoholic malt drink, Blast, which has been criticised across much of America for targeting underage drinkers. At least Nelly’s own energy drink is alcohol-free, though it comes with the less-than-appetising name of Pimp Juice.
The Wurzels, the “scrumpy and western” band, brought out their own cider in 2007. It is sadly now discontinued
The synergy is so good in many of these ventures, it’s as if the stars are playing that popular guessing game: if I were a drink, what would I be? The Wurzels, the “scrumpy and western” band who sang about fermented apples in the 1970s, brought out their own cider in 2007 – sadly now discontinued. And one notorious performer has trumped all this other musical booze by choosing one of the most maligned drinks known to man. Absinthe was widely banned in the early 20th century, gaining a spurious reputation as a mind-corrupting drug. It didn’t help that the wormwood-infused drink was adored by bohemian artists and writers, who enjoyed the green liquid using a dodgy-looking ritual involving iced water, a perforated spoon and a sugar lump. So it was the perfect choice for Marilyn Manson, who conducted taste trials with a Swiss distillery before recently launching his own version, Mansinthe. The shock rocker’s drink has won good reviews, and a gold medal at a world spirits contest, but most pundits seem to have overlooked the fact that Manson’s absinthe bears the number of the Beast. It has an alcoholic content of 66.6%. ♦
© 2014 Tony Barrell