In 1959 a publicity photo appeared in American newspapers around the country showing a grinning – ever cool looking – Dean Martin.

In his hands was a liquor bottle, identical to the bottles sitting on the floor before him. The labels on the bottles featured a caricature of Dean Martin’s face above the logo, “Dino’s.” Each bottle was a different kind of booze. There was a “Dino’s Distilled London Dry Gin,” a “Dino’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” and a “Dino’s Vodka.” The caption explained that Dean Martin had gotten into the liquor business with his own line of alcohol. After noting that Martin wasn’t the drunkard he portrayed (he just played it up for laughs), the caption stated, “all he knows about his new venture is that he owns 33 1/3 percent.”

It’s this last line that I want you to pay attention to because it tells the entire story of celebrity liquor brands.

Martin had the reputation of a reckless boozer who would appear drunk in countless performances. In reality, Dino didn’t imbibe half as much as he made it seem and knew little about his own line of products. Martin never traveled to the distilleries himself. He never made the product. He was a paid spokesman who held the bottle and smiled for the camera in exchange for a third of the spoils. A good deal. But he and the company that made the whiskey wanted us to believe it was HIS juice.

Dean’s story demonstrates that this kind of grift goes back decades but also shows how many celebrity-led spirits remain the same today.

(Original Caption) Hollywood, CA- Dean Martin, reputedly one of movieland's biggest imbibers, is going into the liquor business. The liquor, his own brand, Dino's, invades the shelves this month. The line will include Bourbon, Scotch, and Vodka. Though Martin is known as a great drinker, he denies he is a drunkard, and says he lets the reputation stay with him for laughs. All he knows about his new venture is that he owns 33 1/3 percent. Photo filed 10/14/1959. Image by Getty Images. Artist: Bettman

“... All he knows about his new venture is that he owns 33 1/3 percent.”

In the currently crowded liquor market, an increasing number of recognizable faces are crowding liquor store shelves. Having your own booze label has become a profitable portfolio piece and a status symbol among celebrities. While this has been common for over half a century, celeb booze was less trendy than it is today.

When Sammy Hagar came out with his Cabo Wabo Tequila in 1999, he demonstrated how modern-day notables such as himself could make a fortune in the spirits game just by being famous. What started as a private-label tequila for the Red Rockers restaurant in Cabo St. Lucas, the brand was sold for a cool $80 million in 2007.

Celebrities and large spirits companies took notice. Liquor powerhouse Diageo partnered with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs in 2007 on the massively successful Ciroc Vodka line. Combs’ deal gave him 50% of the profits, effectively making it his brand, and they sold a lot of bottles to the urban market and beyond. Other hip-hop royalty like Jaz Z (D’usse Cognac) and Drake (Virgina Black) also got in on the action. Rapper Fifty Cent reportedly sold his stake in Effen Vodka for $60 million in 2017.

The list goes on and on…and on. Some are laughable cash grabs, like Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila or David Beckham’s Haig Club Scotch; Becks is a notorious teetotaler. Others make sense, like Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey by Irish UFC supervillain Conor McGregor, or Metallica’s BLACKENED American Whiskey, where barrels are treated to a steady diet of heavy metal to agitate the whiskey. It’s a technique they call “black noise sonic enhancement.” Dan Akroyd owns Crystal Head Vodka, and his Ghostbusters co-star Bill Murray partnered with Mikhail Baryshnikov to create Slovenia Vodka.

Country music legend George Strait is involved with Código 1530 Tequila, and the far less legendary Blake Shelton has Smithworks American-Made Vodka. Sports stars are also in on the action. Former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw is the face of Bradshaw Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and former Steeler Charles Woodson recently launched Woodson Whiskey. Even Peyton Manning is in on the action with Sweetens Cove Spirits Company.

Some are blunt about which celebrity is shamelessly plugging the brand, like Sugarlands Shine Chipper Jones’ Sweet Tea Moonshine, while others fly under the radar, like SelvaRey Rum by Bruno Mars. Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson plays a tequila maven as he pitches Teremana Tequila.

Limited, one-and-done pop-up spirits are also gaining popularity. Examples include Four Walls Irish Whiskey by Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Kiamachi, a rye whiskey produced in collaboration with Willett by stadium rockers Kings Of Leon.

I could go on, but you get my point. To those interested in artfully crafted spirits, the world of celebrity booze tends to fly against the things we love about liquor, the reasons we research, seek it out, and scour old dusty shelves for that long-forgotten bottle of liquid art we’d always heard about but never tried. But truth be told, some brands with celeb backers know the product and are passionate about their respective spirits.

Warbringer Bourbon’s Warmaster Edition, a collaboration between Oxnard Distillery and MMA Heavyweight Josh Barnett, is an example. Barnett, a diehard whiskey nerd, paired with Sepe Creek because of their small size and unique take on their craft bourbon, which utilizes mesquite to create an American spin on a smoky Scotch. Barnett is actively involved and hand-picks each cask himself.

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad also earn a shoutout here due to their dedication to the quality of their Dos Hombres Mezcal. Sure, Paul and Cranston sourced it from a producer in Mexico, but they sourced it, not an army of consultants and booze experts. They traveled to Oaxaca, beat around the dusty streets and alleyways for a while, and then found the right taste and producer for something they would stand behind. There’s certainly merit in that.

Another labor of love is Singani 63, which features an obscure, regional brandy made in the high Andes of Bolivia from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes. The brand is owned and championed by director Steven Soderbergh and makes this list because it’s such a weird, niche category. Soderbergh discovered this mysterious spirit while making the movie Che in 2007 and resolved to introduce Singani to the United States. A sizeable amount of time, money, and passion goes into the project, so you know Soderbergh takes the brand quite seriously.

In conclusion, I encourage you to treat these liquor brands like Mark Zuckerberg treats his T-shirts. Don’t buy them for their name alone; buy them because what’s in the bottle tastes good. If you enjoy what they’re selling, then by all means, enjoy. But buyer beware: you are paying a premium for your favorite celebrity’s involvement.

Clint Lanier is a professor in the English Department of New Mexico State University. He is also the co-author of Drunken History, Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs, and Dives of America, and Craptails: the World’s Worst, Weirdest, and Most Disturbing Drinks. He has also written about spirits and travel for The Huffington Post, Fodors, Eater, and