Donald Clarke: Expect all celebrities to have their own tequila by 2050

It transpires that Black Irish is Mariah Carey’s entry into the ‘Irish cream’ wars

Mariah Carey promoting her cream liqueur brand,   Black Irish, which is a tribute to her Cork heritage

Mariah Carey promoting her cream liqueur brand, Black Irish, which is a tribute to her Cork heritage

 

Barely a week goes by when we don’t shout “Good on you, Mariah Carey”. For more than 30 years the five-octave melismatist has been breaking new ground in the field of fabulousness. Last week a tweet emerged of Ms Carey, silvery as a mermaid, lying on a beach beside a bottle of something called Black Irish. “Two years in the making. Truly a cause for celebration!!! @goblackirish”, she wrote. 

It transpires that Black Irish is Carey’s entry into the “Irish cream” wars. It will come as no surprise that this viscous concoction – nicer on ice cream than in a glass – has been around since only the early 1970s. In an article for this paper four years ago, David Gluckman described how, then working in brand development with International Distillers & Vintners, he came up with the idea of mixing cream with Irish whiskey in “about 30 seconds”. 

The Americans can keep Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Steve Bannon. We will happily raise a glass of… Well, not  that obviously, but something lovely to New York state’s bravest octave wrangler

There was some muttering about the name of Carey’s version. The phrase “black Irish” has two meanings. In the United States the Spanish Armada is sometimes fancifully invoked to explain – though no explanation is required – why some Irish people have black hair and dark eyes. That stereotype of the freckled redhead is hard to shake. “Black Irish” is elsewhere more usefully employed to describe Irish people of colour. Mariah is declaring herself among their number.

Unexpectedly, the Irish strand does not come (or not directly, anyway) from the Carey side of the family. Her father, Alfred Carey, was of black Venezuelan extraction. Her mother, the unambiguously named Patricia Hickey, had parents from the great county of Cork. Who would not wish to welcome all 20 of Mariah Carey’s octaves to the party? The Americans can keep Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Steve Bannon. We will happily raise a glass of… Well, not that obviously, but something lovely to New York state’s bravest octave wrangler.

The kerfuffle does, however, point towards an odd phenomenon on Planet Celebrity. For some decades we have enjoyed contrasting the monkish habits (in public at least) of contemporary US stars with their sozzled, cigaretting predecessors. Back in the 1950s, Hollywood breakfasted on bowls of Lucky Strike soaked in Wild Turkey. Few industry professionals, after a working lunch, could make it back to their cars – and they really did drive home – at anything more vertical than a literal crawl.

This was one of the selling points of Mad Men. Just look how those guys and gals put it away! Now, we hear endless Irish and British stars explain how, after first landing in Hollywood, they get frowned at if they have a glass of wine with dinner. “Do you think you should see someone?” It’s all liquidised kohlrabi with heritage cassava these days. Hooch is not supposed to be fashionable.

Bob Dylan has 'co-created' a range of whiskeys creakingly named Heaven’s Door. Online suppliers will forward you a bottle of Bob’s bourbon for as little as €102

How then to explain the dizzying rise of celebrity-endorsed liquor? Nice old Paul Newman offered the world nothing more intoxicating than a salad dressing. His successors put their names on whiskeys, gins, tequilas, vodkas and anything else that causes you to mist over and sing along to Tony Bennett.

George Clooney and his pals devised a tequila named Casamigos that they subsequently sold to Diageo, the brand-gobbling booze behemoth, for $1 billion. “Acting used to be how I paid the rent, but I sold a tequila company for a billion f***ing dollars. I don’t need money,” Clooney later said in an uncharacteristically unguarded moment. A bottle of Casamigos Blanco will set you back about €72 here.

Bob Dylan has “co-created” a range of whiskeys creakingly named Heaven’s Door. Online suppliers will forward you a bottle of Bob’s bourbon for as little as €102. Who are the Dos Hombres behind the Mezcal of that name? They are, of course, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. You’d think that show would have scared punters away from intoxication, but here we are.

And we could go on all day. Matthew McConaughey has a bourbon called Longbranch. Dan Aykroyd will pour you Crystal Head Vodka from an actual crystal head. The New Zealand vodka VDKA 6100 boasts that “Robert De Niro … helped us with the design, packaging, branding and positioning”. Conor McGregor has apparently done well out of his own Proper No Twelve whiskey. And so on.

The stars are, as ever, following the money. The luxury spirits market in the United States – into which most of the above fall – has been booming in recent years. As the entertainment business continues to rearrange around new streaming technologies and the challenges of Covid, a ready buck from a product as old as civilisation is not to be sniffed at. Expect more to follow in the wake of Mariah Carey. Expect everyone to have their own tequila by 2050. The future is sozzled. 

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