Dan Aykroyd is grinning these days, just like the skull-shaped bottle that contains his bestselling vodka, Crystal Head. The Newfoundland-made spirit was finally launched in Ontario this week, ending a ban that sparked a public outcry in the wake of a column I wrote last year. The actor’s home province had been the only jurisdiction in North America to deny him shelf space, declaring the packaging in violation of the liquor board’s social-responsibility mandate. Mr. Aykroyd, star of such films as Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers, was in Toronto last Thursday to sign bottles at a store, selling 393 skulls (at $59.95 each) in three hours. After shooting a promotional video for his website, he shook out a dozen or so ice cubes from the back of his shirt and sat down with The Globe and Mail at One restaurant in Yorkville.
You keep ice up your shirt?
If I’m working on camera and I start to sweat, I put the ice down my back. I’m a polar bear, man. I’m a Canadian.
What do you think prompted the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s change of heart?
The public basically started a kind of letter-writing and Web campaign to ask why it was not available. The consumer really pulled it through for us.
You have a family farm near Kingston, you make wine in Niagara and import Patron Tequila into Canada. Did you play ban-buster by lobbying behind the scenes?
Our office completely refrained from that. I wrote a letter to the PR guy at the LCBO saying, “Look, I love the LCBO. We do business with wine and Patron, and when you take the vodka, it’s going to be great for us all.”
I gather the LCBO asked you to redesign the carton.
We made a little adjustment to the box so the skull wouldn’t be so overt and in your face, which was just fine.
When we spoke last year, the vodka was in every other province and all 50 states. You’ve now sold two million bottles. What’s next?
We are in the United Kingdom, Germany, China, the Caribbean. We’re looking at Australia soon and Mexico and South America. And we’ve got a lot of interest from Russia.
What do your celebrity friends think of Crystal Head?
David Geffen, the producer and music mogul, loves it. Johnny Depp turned Keith Richards on to it. When Keith was still drinking, I sent him a case. Now, he’s stopped consuming alcohol. Jimmy Buffett likes it. So does Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live. Jay-Z, I’ve heard, loves the bottle and loves the vodka.
Did you grow up with wine?
My dad always had jugs of Gallo or Colli Albani at home. On a government salary, it wasn’t the most expensive, but there was always wine at the table. When I went to New York, the big thing was to go out for the nouveau Beaujolais, but that quickly wore off. Then, when we were doing The Blues Brothers movie, [guitarist]Steve Cropper had this amazing cellar. We would go up Friday night after shooting when we were in L.A. and have these lavish burger-and-steak parties where he would haul out the magnums of Caymus, Silver Oak and all these great California vintages.
You reformed the Blues Brothers with the late John Belushi’s brother, Jim. Are you still playing corporate gigs?
We played a private 60th-birthday party in August for a rancher in Texas who flew us in on his plane from Kingston to his private airstrip on 85,000 acres. He had two stages and we opened for the Eagles. He had a cake shaped like a mule drawing a barrel of oil with a derrick on the top spouting liquid chocolate.
Do you keep a cellar at the Aykroyd ranch in Ontario?
Basically, I drank all of it this summer. You’re serving T-bones, man, you go through that Margaux pretty quick, especially when you’re living on a lake with three or four hockey players who come over.
Ah, thirsty hockey players.
Every hockey player I know has an excellent nose and an excellent tongue. Kirk Muller, for instance, has excellent taste. Dave Ellett – he called his dog Caymus [after the famous Napa Valley cabernet] Dougie Gilmour loves to have the big, full red wines. Wendel Clark and John Erskine, too. I’ve had some good wine parties with those guys.
I heard the late actor River Phoenix gave you a special bottle.
He came up to visit me in Ontario with his lovely girlfriend, Samantha Mathis. We did the film Sneakers together. One night he said, “Can I grab a bottle of wine?” and I said, “Go ahead.” He grabbed a late-eighties Château Trotanoy, a Pomerol, and he drank half of it. I gasped. At that time, it was worth probably $800. I realized that was terrible of me. So I said, “Ah, good taste, River,” but he understood. So he bought me a bottle of the same type and I still have it.
I cracked open a double magnum of Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow from Napa the other day. I think it’s probably one of the best red wines in the world. Château Brane-Cantenac from Margaux and Diamond Creek – those are my two favourite reds
Are you picky about choosing the right wine for food?
I usually order food to complement my wine. I don’t order wine to complement my food.
Your wife is okay with that?
She’s the same way. We’ll do fun things. We’ll open a bottle of pink Champagne, like a Laurent-Perrier or a Billecart-Salmon or Mumm Napa pink, an excellent deal and just as good as any French pink. And we’ll get some pecorino cheese with some red-pepper jelly to complement the Champagne.
Ever drink vodka with food?
Jewish deli food is perfect with a chilled shot of Crystal Head, with a caviar setting or with chopped liver or smoked salmon or gefilte fish. Anything like that is just great because it’s after the Russian tradition.
This interview has been condensed and edited.