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How Jay-Z inspired this Real Housewife’s new bourbon

By Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business

For fans of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” Bluestone Manor was more than home — it was essentially a bonus cast member.

Dorinda Medley owns the lush 11,000-square-foot estate in western Massachusetts, which was the scene of several prolific fights and dinner parties during her six seasons on the hit Bravo show. True fans know that her catchphrase, “I made it nice!,” was coined during an argument in the kitchen of the 120-year-old home.

“Over the years, the one thing we found was that not only was I a character, but Bluestone Manor became its own character and people just gravitated toward that place,” Medley told CNN Business.

In August 2020, she was put on “pause” from the program, as she describes it, meaning she wasn’t asked back for another season but wasn’t permanently fired from the franchise. That’s when she recognized a branding opportunity to give fans a piece of the Berkshires house.

“What would I see at my bar at Bluestone Manor?” she said, adding that she wanted to create something that “you don’t just look at and say ‘Oh my God, there’s another Housewife brand.’ What lives beyond the Housewives? What goes with my lifestyle and who I am?”

The answer is bourbon — and she can partially credit another multi-hyphenate for the idea.

“I went to an incredible Jay-Z party before Covid, and I was sitting downstairs [at the club] and all the women were drinking dark liquor,” Medley said. “I was thinking there was something incredibly powerful about it…we think of [dark liquor] as a male thing, but it’s a huge growing market for women.”

Medley scoped out a distillery in nearby Hudson Valley that could help formulate the idea and found the Spirits Lab, a woman-owned company.

“This was exciting for us because Dorinda was incredibly involved in every aspect of it,” Phoenix Kelly-Rappa, the distillery’s managing partner, told CNN Business. “We wanted everything to be personal to Dorinda.”

The pair settled on smells, flavors and ingredients that evoke the cozy nature of Bluestone Manor. Those notes include crème brûlée, caramel and butterscotch aged for five years creating an “exceptionally smooth whiskey with a unique depth of character,” according to the website.

Medley notes the bourbon’s sturdy bottle, which resembles a decanter, “evokes Baccarat and color.” Both are signatures in Bluestone Manor, which is decked out with crystal collectibles and a variety of deep colors in the house’s curtains, walls and furniture.

Despite the appearance of high-end luxury, the 750-ml bottle bourbon is priced at a reasonable $45. “We wanted to be an affordable luxury. It’s a small batch and very high-end bourbon, but at the same time we wanted it to be affordable for Dorinda’s fans,” Kelly-Rappa said.

Since its launch late last year, the bourbon has gradually expanded in availability. In addition to being sold online, the pair has recently signed a distribution deal with Total Wine and More, the country’s largest alcohol retailer, for a nationwide release. Medley is about to embark on a tour across several US states to promote the liquor.

Bluestone Manor Bourbon arrives in the middle of a boom for the spirit in general: Sales of super premium American-made whiskey brands have soared 139% in the past five years, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade organization that represents spirits makers.

“The premiumization trend in the American whiskey category accelerated during the pandemic as consumers curtailed spending on vacations and dining out and spent more to elevate their cocktail experiences at home,” Lisa Hawkins, the organization’s senior vice president of public affairs, told CNN Business.

Hawkins adds celebrities are attracted to attaching themselves to spirits because it “makes smart business sense.” She added that they “want to align themselves with high-end products that symbolize quality, style and sophistication — and that fits perfectly with super-premium spirits.”

Medley agrees.

“Luxury is in the mind, not in the dollar sign,” Medley said. “Keeping it under $50 means it’s accessible to people and it allows people to feel like they have a little part of Bluestone Manor and a little bit of luxury.”

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