Dan Aykroyd and the vodka of the Crystal Head on quest for purity
Dan Aykroyd is one of those show biz people with a suitcase full of stories. (In Aykroyd's case, the harmonica comes in a separate briefcase.) Here's just one, about how he gained an appreciation for big, plump red wines:
When Aykroyd and John Belushi were still on "Saturday Night Live" and shooting "The Blues Brothers" — which after 30 years still must hold the record for most cop cars wrecked in a movie — they'd knock off in the evening and head to Steve Cropper's house in the hills just above the Universal lot. It turns out Cropper — best known as the guitarist in Booker T and the MG's and the iconic Stax Records house band — is a pretty committed oenophile.
"He enhanced the knowledge of my palate," Aykroyd said. "We'd wrap the night of shooting, we'd finish around 7 or 8 and go right up to his house and he'd cook these beautiful burgers and open up his cellar and he turned me on to all the big reds of the world."
This explains why there's Dan Aykroyd Wines, and it's not far from there to distilled spirits, including his new vodka, Crystal Head, bottles of which the man himself will be signing at the Twin Liquors at Hancock Center from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday. You can't miss the bottle — it's a beautiful glass skull designed by artist John Alexander. But, Aykroyd stressed, it's not just a packaging gimmick.
"I said, 'We're not going to put junk in this bottle,' " Aykroyd recalled. "We just manufactured our millionth bottle. People are responding to the neat package but also to what's in the bottle. Crystal Head represents the vodka you want to step up to. We're not gonna own the world, but we're supplying a luxury item that my waning celebrity can help sell."
The juice is made with Canadian wheat and corn (the latter giving it a suggestion of sweetness), with water from the glacial aquifers of Newfoundland. It's quadruple distilled, then filtered through charcoal and Herkimer diamonds — quartz crystals, actually, from upstate New York. It's also certified kosher.
James Beard-decorated critic Anthony Dias Blue gave Crystal Head Vodka a 91 rating (out of 100): "Silky and smooth with vanilla; a clean, dry spirit with a kick of heat on the finish."
Though my vodka palate is by no means as sophisticated, here's my take after pouring a wee dram cold into a snifter: Absolutely none of those nasty rubbing-alcohol phenols you get from cheap vodka, a hint of sweetness from the corn, character that's a result of not being filtered too many times and a flirty, peppery burn on the back end. I'd buy it even without the awesome bottle.
"There's a genuine psychic satisfaction when you step up to a Crystal Head drink," Aykroyd said. "Six shots, no hangover. I can guarantee that. After that, I can't guarantee it. Am I having any fun? Oh, no."
Why the name? Take it away, crystalhead.com: "Legend has it that the 13 Crystal Heads are said to project enlightenment, positive energy and mystical properties. ... So what better vessel to hold a non-enhanced vodka that is 'Pure Spirit.'?"
Um. OK then. But this is right up Aykroyd's alley because he's long had a fascination with ghosts and unexplained phenomena. The onetime Ghostbuster and fabled UFOlogist will, without your asking, bring up the Stephenville UFO sightings near George W. Bush's ranch in January 2008.
For a guy who jokes about his celebrity being in twilight, he sounds pretty busy. He's the voice of Yogi Bear in a 3-D movie of the same name directed by Eric Brevig and slated to come out toward the end of the year. (Justin Timberlake is Boo-Boo.) He's still opening Houses of Blues all over the country, including one coming up in Connecticut. The wine business has been steady for seven years or more. And now vodka.
And let's not forget this is a guy who recorded in the studio with Ray Charles, jammed numerous times with "my brother James Brown" and rattles off a long list of friends that's pretty much anybody who matters in music, comedy and the movies during the last three decades. But he's not bragging. The man's Canadian, after all.
"I feel very fortunate for the collaborators with whom I've been able to work," Aykroyd said. "I've worked with the greatest people."
You know why, right? He's on a mission from God.
Dan Aykroyd will appear from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at Twin Liquors Marketplace (1000 E. 41st St.) to sign bottles of Crystal Head Vodka.