by Kenny Hedges
Everyone seems to forget that Dan Aykroyd has an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the movie Driving Miss Daisy. In another actor’s career, it’d be the crowning achievement, mentioned with his name at every opportunity. However, somehow, it’s turned into just another interesting footnote in the career of this varied and multi-faceted talent, who has gained claim to fame as an auctioneer, actor, musician, writer, and distiller.
Ottawa-born, Aykroyd has deservedly been granted membership into the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario, the highest awards of recognition according to the Canadian Honours System. It may come as a surprise that he wanted to become a priest, given his upbringing in the Catholic Church. Had he not made the timely pivot into becoming an actor, the world would have lost the chance to appreciate his talents.
Since 2008, one of Aykroyd’s main pursuits has been the production of high-quality vodka. Crystal Head Vodka, co-created with painter John Alexander, is renowned for its filtration process making use of Herkimer diamonds. Last June, Aykroyd announced the debut of a Pride Edition magnum bottle – a rainbow-coloured skull to coincide with Pride Month.
The bottle, designed by Alexander, is true to Aykroyd. Crystal skulls were purported to be pre-Mesoamerican artifacts, though science has refuted such claims. Still, some believe they have a link to supernatural or mystical power.
It’s no secret that Aykroyd famously believes in the supernatural. His brother, Peter, is the closest thing to a real-life “Ghostbuster” the world is going to see, and Aykroyd himself released a DVD in 2005 entitled Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs. He claims to have encountered the “men in black” on the set of the Britney Spears film Crossroads. It’s nothing Aykroyd is shy about discussing, as he did at length on Joe Rogan’s podcast on September 12, 2019. But before he opened up about his beliefs, he made sure to put in a plug for Crystal Head; business before anything else.
Aykroyd’s first career is also getting some long-awaited cult appreciation. On October 26, home video and music company Shout Factory is releasing a Special Edition Blu Ray of his directorial debut, Nothing But Trouble.
It’s far from Aykroyd’s first experience selling liquor, though it’s certainly far more professional than the makeshift dive bar he set up for fellow cast members at Saturday Night Live in the mid-70s. But, as Elixuer learned, even back then, they searched for the good stuff.
Having made a name for yourself in show business, what prompted the move to spirits and wine?
It all started by my wanting to improve the tequila choices for Canadian consumers commencing with my own summer dockside cocktail bar. Before J.P. DeJoria granted me the import rights to bring Patron Spirits into Canada, there were only two brands to choose from. Now my countrymen can enjoy the full range of Patron products.
Although no longer involved with the company after Bacardi purchased it, I remain an avid consumer of the brand. So, it was Patron originally that partnered me with a distributor in Canada that happened to own a few Niagara wineries. Putting my name on a few blends, we came up with a few award-winning whites and reds. Quite exciting at the time, but the line is no longer produced, and the wine business will be left for others to pursue.
What did you learn from your years in comedy and music that you were able to apply to the wine industry?
The beverage alcohol industry is totally about entertainment, so to transit from doing music and comedy into hosting at my various nightclubs and bars was natural. Where do artists go to hang out and unwind? Places where they can congregate over drinks.
Many celebrities have launched alcohol brands. Do you find the celeb-owned drinks world a friendly or competitive space?
No doubt the beverage alcohol industry is very competitive, and rivalries occasionally see owners and distributors confront each other’s initiatives aggressively. But there’s room in the business for everybody in every category.
Crystal Head is fortunate enough to occupy a significant space in the luxury array of products due to our vodka’s assured, decade-long history of award-winning quality and excellence of manufacture. If your product does not have these consistent elements in place, then it will drop off the market quickly, as numerous vodka brands have in the last 10 years.
You famously opened a little hole-in-the-wall bar for SNL cast mates. Do you find there is a unique connection between drinking and comedy?
The Blues Bar at Hudson and Dominick Streets in Manhattan came between the Toronto 505 Club, where all the Second City stars use to hang, and House of Blues with its 13 operating venues. Many memorable nights were had at that original Blues Bar with hosts, cast members and music stars attending our after-party jams. Naturally, the place rocked with laughter the whole night.
As to drinking and comedy, to me, a drunk is not funny. Often people who drink to excess think they are being hilarious. However, a skilled actor doing an impression of someone who is drunk can be quite superb in the proper context—[think of] William Powell, Red Skelton, Frankie Fontaine, Foster Brooks, Dean Martin and Buster Keaton.
From your descriptions of The Blues Bar, you weren’t exactly drinking Niagara Cabernet Sauvignon or Crystal Head vodka. Did you find that your tastes refine with age?
The Blues Bar stocked whiskey and cases of cold Rheingold Beer from pallets in the cellar that had somehow survived but were still drinkable. It was strictly “bring your own.” Since then, meeting Steve Cropper [Guitarist for The Blues Brothers, Booker T and the MGs], my pick for red is a Brane-Cantenac, Margaux, [France], and white is a Corton-Charlemagne.