BrewDog's "Uncle Duke's" Whisky: Hunter Thompson Homage or Marketing Ploy?

Credit: Portrait by Pako Mera / Barcroft Images / Getty Images

Scottish beer-maker BrewDog is getting into the whisky business. A beer house getting into spirits isn't wholly remarkable — Stone, Dogfish Head, Ballast Point, and Rogue are all in the game with their own spirits after all. But BrewDog, characteristically the odd duck, are not leaning on their remarkably well-publicized name to sell the whisky. Instead, they're calling it "Uncle Duke's," a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson that leaves us wondering if this is an honest homage or a marketing ploy.

This Scottish-style whisky, aged three years in virgin oak barrels (like for bourbon), is an unusual type of whisky, but not all that out there when you consider its makers brought you, among other things, expensive beer in a dead squirrel, and did peyote on camera while making a beer in Mexico. The Hunter nod is, for what it's worth, subtle: The whisky was born from the idea of Thompson as a "lone voice kicking against the machine of corporate and political America," according to BrewDog — plus, the man loved whisky. He famously enjoyed bourbon and Scotch in equal parts, typically going for Wild Turkey and Chivas, respectively. This whisky looks to walk that line in flavor profile.

According to BrewDog, it’s not an official tribute. A spokesperson for the company told us, in no uncertain terms, “There’s no relation between Uncle Duke’s and Hunter S. Thompson," which is something of a walk-back from what co-founder James Watt told Munchies in a recent interview:

“Yeah, [Hunter S. Thompson’s] a bit of a hero to myself and Martin,” said Watt. “His kind of rebellious, counter-to-everything-that’s-going-on attitude and his whole positioning is what we took inspiration from, for the packaging and the design.

“And the name too. Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing, right?” asked reporter Jelisa Castrodale, to which Watt responded, “Yes, well spotted.”

The BrewDog team wrote on their blog that they're not sure whether Thompson’s alter ego would have been okay with the tribute, official or not. “Maybe Duke would have approved of this blog, maybe he wouldn’t. Either way he would have approved of this virgin oak-aged single-grain sippin’ whisky reaching out to the 21st century.”

Duke-approved or not, this isn't the first time BrewDog used another big name for their campaign. Early last year, founders James Watt and Martin Dickie found themselves under threat of legal action over another tribute/inspiration product: their Elvis Juice IPA. Apparently the Presley estate is litigious about the name. In response to that, both BrewDog founders legally changed their names to Elvis. Now it’s just a fun, tasty IPA that happens to share its name with its creators.

With Thompson’s name also poised to make a big impact on the cannabis world with some of the man's favorite pot strains potentially coming to market, it’s possible the BrewDog guys could be in for a fight if things get ugly — or they'll just ride a marketing wave and some Google searches.

At the end of the day, BrewDog has a solid track record. We're certainly looking forward to trying this bottle, even if the marketing ends up leaving a slightly bitter taste — and not the kind you find in their damn good Hardcore IPA.