Sammy Hagar is already on top of the world in the ever-crowded celebrity spirits competition. For his next number, he’s joining the ready-to-drink cocktail party.
The Red Rocker and onetime frontman for Van Halen and Montrose made a big name for himself in booze with Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum and Santo Spirits tequila. Before that, he collected $100 million total for the Cabo Wabo tequila brand he founded in 1996.
Now, Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktail Co. is set to join the burgeoning ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail category with four different canned sparkling rum cocktails – Tangerine Dream, Pineapple Splash, Island Pop and Cherry Kola Chill – debuting in early fall in California, Nevada and Texas, with more states to follow.
The RTD cocktail trend – including hard seltzers and premixed drinks such as margaritas, Moscow mules and daiquiris – is exploding and was the only alcohol beverage category to grow in 2020, reaching $30.5 billion worldwide, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. The market researchers expect RTDs to grow 27% in volume worldwide this year. In the USA, which consumes the most RTDs, the drinks represent nearly 10% of the total alcohol market.
“I know I’m a little bit late getting into the business,” Hagar told USA TODAY. “By the time we got everything together, that market is now becoming flooded.”
Hagar’s experience could help his RTDs win consumers. The cocktails use Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum and he taste-tested them until they met his approval. Sold at retail in four-packs of 12-ounce cans, the cocktails weigh in at 5.5% alcohol by volume and 130 calories, slightly more calories than the popular 100-calorie target of most hard seltzers and health-conscious beers. “We were trying to do the 99-100-calorie thing, but there was not enough flavor,” Hagar said.
“I think we made a better cocktail than anything else on the market. That’s why I got into the business,” said Hagar, who will announce the cocktails at the Nightclub & Bar Show Tuesday in Las Vegas. “I wouldn’t get into the business if I didn’t think I could compete at the highest level.”
Hagar was at the forefront of another trend: celebrity spirits, which has drawn interest from such diverse participants as country musicians Thomas Rhett (Dos Primos tequila) and Blake Shelton (Smithworks hard seltzer), rapper Travis Scott (Cacti hard seltzer), actors Dan Aykroyd (Crystal Head vodka), Jamie Foxx (Brown Sugar Bourbon) and Shay Mitchell (Onda tequila seltzer) and designer Vera Wang (Vera Wang Party prosecco).
One of the more interesting collaborations has been actor Nick Offerman with single malt scotch maker Lagavulin and Guinness for the Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish, an 11-year-old scotch finished for four months in beer barrels from the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Maryland.
Released last month ($80), the scotch reveals “notes of chocolate and vanilla and even a little bit of caramel, which is pretty fascinating,” Offerman told USA TODAY. “I’m not a terrific palate or connoisseur. I usually make fun of myself when we get into those conversations. ‘I can taste just a hint of regret in there, but as for currant, I’m not so sure.’”
Offerman’s character Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation” had a love of Lagavulin, which led to the actor doing videos for the distillery, including a holiday YouTube ad in 2015 of him sitting by a fire for 45 minutes drinking scotch. Two years ago, Lagavulin released a 2019 Offerman Edition 11-year single malt scotch that Offerman helped create. This year, he and his father, Ric, got on Zoom to help create the latest special edition, which hit retailers this month.
Working with Lagavulin is like “winning the lottery year after year,” he said. Offerman said getting involved in spirits can offer another creative outlet for performers, and “in the arts, in general, the personalities often go very well hand in hand with all sorts of intoxicants. … I suppose I would blame it on the stage. Dionysus is the god of the grape, as well as the two-act play.”
More celebrities get involved in alcohol products as a way of “building lifestyle empires for themselves, and alcohol plays into that perfectly, helping them create relevant connections with their fans,” said Brandy Rand, chief operating officer of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
Some invest in the brands, and others get involved creatively, she said. “It’s a win for alcohol marketers, too, as celebrities can leverage their social media following to create lucrative new built-in consumer audiences for those products,” Rand said. “To break through clutter, brand owners see a valuable benefit to working with celebrities as they can immediately dial in and have relevance to select demographics that fit their brand image.”
Celebrity spirits brands can face pitfalls. Actor Michael B. Jordan apologized and said he would rename his new J’Ouvert rum after backlash over use of the name, which stems from Caribbean culture. Last month, Kendall Jenner got some backlash over perceived misappropriation of Mexican culture in a social media campaign for the launch of her 818 Tequila.
Hagar suggested celebrities get really involved, whether it’s learning the types of sugar cane used in rum or experimenting with how to make tequila taste better. “Make it yourself. That is the fun of it,” he said. “These guys that are just slapping their name on a brand, they are missing the whole fun ride. They are going to enjoy the payday if it happens, (but) it’s not necessarily guaranteed. It’s a pretty crazy business. People are hip.”
Hagar’s name will probably make Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktails stand out amid other RTDs and celebrity spirits, said Jason Shullo, corporate vice president of food and beverage for Golden Entertainment, which owns several hotels and casinos, including the STRAT Hotel, Casino & SkyPod in Las Vegas and 66 PT’s Taverns in Nevada.
“It’s been interesting to see all these celebrities come out with different products whether it’s The Rock (actor Dwayne Johnson) with Teremana with tequila, Sammy with everything he’s been doing for the last 20 years with tequila and rum,” Shullo said.
RTDs have become big sellers at bars, and his locations will sell Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktails, Shullo said. Hagar “has got a name out there, he’s got a brand,” he said.
Customers know what they are getting with an RTD, and bartenders can serve more people faster, he said. “This is not Zima of 25 years ago. This is going to stick around.”
Contributing: Pamela Avila and Hannah Yasharoff