We’re deep in the “celebrity spirits brand” era. The conceit is pretty easy. A celebrity brings their clout to either an unknown brand or creates their own brand from scratch (or via white labeling) to sell booze to an already-engaged fan base. Once that brand is selling well, the famous face is able to sell out for hundreds of millions (or even billions) to a big-name spirits business, which then takes the project international — meaning even more sales for the brand (and a ton of money for the famous person).
Case in point, UFC champ Conor McGregor, who got into the Irish whiskey business back in 2018 with Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. The brand was his own team’s creation and was named after the neighborhood where McGregor grew up, in Dublin. The juice had serious pedigree too. McGregor’s team tapped former Bushmills distillery manager, David Elder, to create the blend from barrels made at the Old Bushmills Distillery (which does sourcing for a few Irish craft whiskey labels).
Over the last two years, with so-so reviews and incredible promo, the brand hit high sales figures — with $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, making it the fourth largest Irish whiskey brand in the world. McGregor seemed to be truly invested in his whiskey, too. To the point that he’d fight over it.
The success was undeniable, so it was no huge surprise when it was announced that McGregor had sold shares in the company to Becle (formerly Casa Cuervo), which also owns Bushmills (where Proper No. Twelve is made). What was a tad shocking was the quiet reveal that the 51% stake Becle was buying up gave them 100% of the company. Meaning that McGregor was no longer an owner (the $150 million deal reportedly doubled McGregor’s net worth to $300 million).
So what’s it all mean for Proper No. 12? Not much, on the production side — as it was already a Bushmills’ product. The whiskey will surely get a wider rollout internationally and Bushmills can leverage relationships in bars and with liquor stores. What is in question is McGregor’s role going forward. There might be a lucrative sponsorship deal in-store (or contracted as part of the buyout) or he may not be involved in promoting the brand at all, which would feel strange, being that its name references his childhood, it has succeeded by leveraging his celebrity, and the expression’s greatest distinguishing factor is its connection to a famous fighter.
These matters may take some time to come to light. While we wait, it feels like a good time to reassess the whiskey itself. Is it actually good or is this a case of celebrity status catapulting an “okay” spirit to mega-popularity?
Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey
Average Price: $30
As mentioned above, the whiskey is a blend created by former Bushmills’ distillery manager David Elder. Elder tested hundreds of barrels to find the perfect alchemy for Proper No. Twelve’s blend of Bushmills’ malt and grain whiskeys. They ended up with a four-year-old spirit (on average) that matured in ex-bourbon barrels.
The whiskey advertises itself as having “hints of vanilla, honey, and toasted wood.” And that’s largely true, in that there’s not much else.
The nose has a mild sense of vanilla beans with a hint of grain and wood but is thin overall. The taste is malty with a slight alcohol warmth, mineral water, and honey sweetness with a mild touch of apple and maybe black pepper. The end is more of dry pine with a hint more of the honey that fades very quickly, leaving you with warm malts.
But Is It Actually Good?
This is made as a workhorse whiskey and that’s exactly what it tastes like. It very much feels like they were coming after Jameson with the bottle design and mellow flavors. But there’s also a sense that the blend was built with an American bourbon palate in mind — those hints of vanilla, apple, pepper, and dry wood feel like they’re made for 20-something fight fans who know bourbon and now want to try Irish whiskey.
In the end, this is perfectly well suited to cocktails or highballs. Hell, it’s fine as a shot too. You’re not going to expand your palate or whiskey knowledge drinking it, but that’s sort of the point. It’s meant to be enjoyed without a ton of analysis. And that’s all good. Not every dram has to reach crazy-complex heights and we, as drinkers, can’t exactly expect that for $30.
Final verdict? It’s okay… if a little forgettable in the grand scheme of Irish whiskeys. Try it as a mixer or buy a bottle if you’re a big fan of Mystic Mac.