Although it seems like everyone in Hollywood is connected to spirits or wine in some way these days, back in the aughts, actor Dan Aykroyd was among the first when he founded Crystal Head Vodka in 2008.
The brand is most well known for its skull-shaped bottle, which is an exact 3D rendering of a human skull created by artist John Alexander. Since its original release, there have been offshoots of that bottle, including the iridescent metallic Aurora, which features a wheat vodka as opposed to the corn base of typical Crystal Head, as well as limited editions, such as the John Alexander Artist Series No. 1 and the Bone Bottle.
To only focus on the bottle is to do a disservice to the spirit itself. Aykroyd’s brand showcases a quality vodka made to exacting specifications: That includes high-quality sweet corn as the starting ingredient, a pure water supply, and zero additives. The latter point in particular is worth noting in a category where glycerol, citric acid, and added sugar are all common additions for cost-cutting flavor.
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VinePair spoke with Aykroyd to learn more about his history in the booze business, some of his most memorable drinking experiences, and the best way to make a (vodka) Martini.
1. You got your start in booze with tequila. How’d that happen?
I had a wonderful experience with Patrón Tequila with John Paul DeJoria, the founder of Paul Mitchell hair care products and the founder of Patrón. He was a friend of mine and an investor in the House of Blues. I was kind of afraid of tequila after certain past experiences, but he convinced me over a straight shot of Patrón Silver that I should try tequila again. I tried and loved it, and said, “boy, this is so much better than what I can get in Canada.” This was 12 or 13 years ago now, and we ended up bringing it into Canada… We were there for their entire run before Bacardi bought them.
2. What’s your favorite drinking destination, and why?
No question, my favorite place on the planet to drink is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, La. It’s the place where Jean Lafitte, at the height of his influence during the War of 1812, would basically meet with his men and women, divide up his spoils as a privateer, [and] would make deals there. […] Spend a Saturday night there and you’re in for one of the greatest experiences in the nation of America, and the great state of Louisiana, which is my favorite state — and New Orleans is my favorite city.
3. What’s the first drink you remember ever enjoying? What’s the story behind it?
For sure, an ice-cold quart of Labatt’s 50 in the woods behind our house near Hull, Quebec with fellow Canadian pre-teens during the dead of winter dusk on a Friday night after school. Look, I’d be 11 or 12 years old or something… sneaking a beer from the cellar of your parents’ fridge, that starts real early in Canada. Remember, Ottawa is at the same latitude as Moscow, so you’ve got the harsh wind, the snow… We lived on the edge of a 10,000-acre national park, and we’d go back in there and … half a dozen of us would sit around and make a fire in the woods, and consume this cold, cold Labatt’s — we would take it out of the case and put it in the snow.
4. After that, how did you begin dabbling into things like cocktails?
I went to Carleton University for roughly three years — I studied sociology and criminology and had a great time, actually, but dropped out to go into show business — and they had [a drink made with] Manischewitz wine and soda water, and they’d make a punch of it with lime pieces and lemon pieces, a very potent sangria type of punch. And you’d go to these parties… Another one was called the Purple Jesus party. You’d wake up with a purple tongue and swearing, “Jesus, I’m never drinking again!”
5. What’s a cocktail you could live without?
I could live without the Old Fashioned. If I ever order one, one is more than enough. It’s not that I don’t like whisky, though. Our company is actually developing a line called Signal Hill. It’s really a nice, well-aged Canadian whisky.
6. Is a Martini your favorite way to drink vodka?
I would say the number one would be the Martini. Number two would be to sample it, with a frozen shot glass. Another drink I had recently that I enjoyed and was a big hit down at the casinos in Las Vegas was a white Cosmo: white cranberry juice with elderberry syrup and egg white. Another one that’s a little exotic is a mix with vodka, Soho Lychee liqueur, and a little soda water.
7. OK, then. Since the Martini is your No. 1, describe your perfect Martini: Dry or wet? Olive or twist? Shaken or stirred?
What I’m drinking now that I love is, I’ll take 2.5 ounces of the Head, shaken, up in a Martini glass with a little shavings of ice in there. Add a twist, and prior to the pour, just a rinse of really fine white vermouth. These go down so easily… I gotta be careful! I want to drink in moderation, but I could see doing two or three or even four in an afternoon sitting, if I didn’t have anything to do on a Friday night.