Planning and delivering a new craft liquor label built around a Hollywood legend.

By Mark C. Anderson

John Paul Dejoria of Los Angeles-based Rok Drinks has developed an impressive list of smash-hit businesses, including Patrón Tequila and the Paul Mitchell haircare dynasty, thanks in large part to a gift for marketing. Now his company is introducing a dynamic botanical-style gin and a seven-times-distilled vodka with a brand that represents another promotional coup: the name Humphrey Bogart. The president of the drinks division, Allison Kennedy, and its chief operating officer, Jeff Moses, took Shakers through the primary steps to build the brand, and tipped off a sister brand’s debut — which will be among the biggest spirits premieres of the next five years.

Develop a concept and lock in the name.

In Bogart, Rok recognized an international icon the American Film Institute named the greatest male screen presence in history. To sweeten his crossover appeal, he lived out a storied romance with his wife, screen star Lauren Bacall, and was famed for his fashion sense and — harmoniously enough — love of cocktails. A partnership with Humphrey Bogart Estate led to the development of spirits with immediate name recognition, a luxury for a brand-new concept. “Bogart’s is a brand that would make the man himself proud,” Kennedy says.

Construct interesting flavor profiles that reflects the brand.

Bogart was a huge gin martini fan, which helped inspire a classic gin with a modern spark. Rok et al spent a year in research and development on recipes and now sources juniper from Italy for fragrant aromas, then adds fresh citrus zest, vine-ripened cucumber, lightly roasted and crushed macadamia, English lavender and cilantro to the still. The vodka goes through seven rounds in a column distillery, as it’s filtered down to 1-micron precision, giving it smoothness and clarity with a silky and dry finish that enjoys fruity and peppery elements. Both work well, appropriately enough, in a martini.

Source a quality distillery.

Rok partnered with a California producer in Jackson, an hour south of Sacramento, who agreed to do Bogart’s spirits exclusively under the name Rok Distillery. Jonathan Kendrick, CEO of Rok’s parent company, elaborates. “The demand we saw internationally, combined with the U.S. pre-orders, made it clear that we needed our own dedicated distillery to guarantee supply,” he says. “And since we’re building a brand dedicated to an American film icon, it seemed only right that our distillery should be in California.”

Maximize branding.

“We just wanted to stay true to the man’s image,” Kennedy says. “No second rate performances,” Bogart’s son Stephen Bogart, who she calls “a living historian,” has been central to that effort. “My father loved this country,” Stephen says, “and the fact that we are lucky enough to be able grow our company and create jobs in America is a wonderful thing.” The fact the endeavor is a partnership and not a licensing relationship means access to images and personal stories that bring Bogart back. Each bottle features a liquor-friendly Bogart saying like, “The whole world is three drinks behind” and “Never trust a man that doesn’t drink.”

Take aim at the next big thing.

What Dejoria accomplished with Patrón is industry legend: He not only revised the image of a much-maligned, even feared, spirit (tequila), but developed a concept that drew major pop attention and premium prices. Now he’s working on an organic tequila made in Jalisco, Mexico — not far from the Patrón facility — called Bandero. Arriving in a leather satchel to provide some shelf panache, odds are more than good this will make a big splash.

Bogart’s Gin and Vodka ($22-$25) is available in high-end liquor stores including Total Wines in California and several southern states. >
More at bogartspirits.com.