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January 7, 2024

Our Favorite Celebrity Whiskey Is Surprisingly Affordable—and the First Made With Heaven Hill

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Chart-topping singer Michael Bublé travels the world to perform hits like “Feeling Good” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.” But despite global stardom, Bublé has never left his Canadian roots behind. So it’s no surprise that when he thought about launching a whiskey brand, he named it for two rivers that converge near his home, Fraser & Thompson, where he spent time with his grandfather growing up.

Released through a joint partnership with Quebec-based Cirka Distilleries, which Bublé co-owns, and Kentucky-Based Heaven Hill, Fraser & Thompson blends Canadian whisky and Kentucky bourbon to create what Bublé calls North American whiskey.

Men’s Journal spoke with the five-time Grammy winner from his house in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he lives a stone’s throw from his old middle school with his wife, Argentine actress, model, and singer Luisana Lopilato, and their four kids. He calls his whiskey brand a “family business,” and that’s not just marketing speak—his wife is on the board.

With sweet fig and blood orange on the nose and a subtle finish of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of spice, it’s no wonder Fraser & Thompson landed on our list of best Canadian whiskies. It’s a fitting bottle for a man as approachable as he, who brings fans on stage to sing with him.

Men’s Journal aims to feature only the best products and services. We update when possible, but deals expire and prices can change. If you buy something via one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Related: 50 Best Whiskeys in the World

Men’s Journal: You and I first met about fifteen years ago. I was your bartender at the Chateau Marmont, back when your old roommate, Nels, was a waiter there.

Get outta here! That’s crazy. I was single back then, and I have to tell you, that part of my life was a really cool transition for me. I was just this Canadian kid surrounded by movie stars. And there was this Filipino waiter, Romulo, who I would sing with.

Romulo was a legend—the Singing Waiter. When he died, he was buried in his Chateau Marmont uniform.

He and I instantly connected. I got to know some of his family because, at that time, I wasn’t as big in America, but I was big in the Philippines. It was crazy. So, I knew a few words of Tagalog, and I would make fun of some guy sitting at the table next to us or little things like that, and he loved it. That was 16 years ago now. I’ve met zillions of people since then, but I still remember Romy’s name after all these years.

The hotel staff all liked you because you didn’t put on any airs, and it seems like it’s the same way with Fraser & Thompson. The way you’ve marketed it is funny, a little self-deprecating, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Is that all coming from you?

It’s me. I would call this a family business. I don’t know how else to say it. This started with my wife and I on my birthday. My manager, Bruce [Allen] said, “I got this guy here, Paul Cirka from Montreal, and he wants you to try his booze. He loves this shit, he’s passionate about the stuff, but I don’t think it’s a big enough company to have you as an ambassador.” And that’s how it started––on my birthday sitting right outside my place here.

And where do you live?

I never left home. If I opened my door, I could show you the elementary school that I went to, literally right across the street.

Wow. So how did that first tasting go?

Cirka brought whiskey, a little vodka, some spiced rum—he had all this different stuff. Well, it was good. No joke. That night, I said to Bruce, “They’re not ready for me to work alongside them as a brand ambassador.” But I looked at my wife and said, “What would you think about us buying a part of the company, if they were interested, and doing this as a family?” We’d been looking for something that we both like that we could both dive into as partners that would be creatively fun for us. Then I talked to my best friend Ron Toigo––I own a major junior hockey team with him, and every business I’m ever in, I go in with him––and I was like, “Hey, it’s probably not gonna do shit. But you know what, it’d be fun.” And that’s how it started.

What was the process from that night to actually partnering with the distillery and starting your own whiskey brand?

We ended up talking to Paul Cirka to become partners in the company, and my wife joined the board. Then Bruce called a friend of mine in Vegas named Larry Ruvo, who’s a big distributor, to get some pointers. Then, I happened to be down with Lorne Michaels, who was producing a show I was doing on the Saturday Night Live stage. Lorne says, “Would you go down and meet this guy, Shelly Stein, who’s the head of [beverage distributor] Southern Glazer’s?”

Bruce and I went to his apartment, Shelly and his wife ordered Chinese food. I had no idea what I was getting into, this was so new to me. But I started to understand that this guy was part of major partnerships with Jamie Fox and others, and we hit it off. He was like, “You know what, I think there could be something here. But listen, we need another partnership with your company Cirka, because with what I want to do, we need more supply, and the distillery in Montreal is not going to be able to do what we need.”

If that’s what led to Heaven Hill becoming involved, what was the process of actually creating the blend of “North American Whiskey,” using liquid from Cirka Distilleries and Heaven Hill?

When it all comes down to it, I was so lucky that my partner Paul [Cirka] was this beautiful, smart, passionate whiskey nerd. Did I get to taste stuff? Did I have my opinion and my wife’s opinion shared? Oh yeah. But was I sitting there mixing things from an oaken barrel? No. it was me putting my trust into this family around me, and into Paul.

Trusting people from Quebec in matters of the palate is a good idea.

And it was interesting, too, because I was so in over my head. All of a sudden, this little boutique thing that I was working on with my wife and my buddies started to get bigger and more ambitious.

All of a sudden, there was this conversation that we think Heaven Hill may have interest in creating this blend with us. It’d be [Heaven Hill’s first partnership] in over 100 years. I didn’t know that. I wanted to be a part of it. So, I went down to Heaven Hill in Kentucky. I wanted to meet the family, and I got to see the first bottle come off the line. I didn’t want this to be a thing where the guy just puts his name on the damn thing and says, “Here’s the story that we’ve made up.”

Related: Best Canadian Whiskies to Drink, Collect, and Gift

How did you get from that first bottle to the final product?

That first bottle went around the table, and everyone tasting it loved it so much that when it came back around to me, it was empty. As each new iteration came, it was a new generation of flavors. When I finally got to taste the finished product, I was sitting in a trailer with a guy from Rolling Stone. I was so nervous, because I thought, “Oh my god, if I don’t genuinely like this, it’s gonna be a struggle.”

We spent three years [making the whiskey]. At one point, we stopped everything. We stopped the marketing, the production … We stopped it all because Larry Ruvo had a couple of friends of his that are connoisseurs and big buyers try it. They said, “Meh, we’re not sure.” So we stopped everything, flew everyone to Las Vegas, and had a blind taste test. We blind tasted about 12 different top brands, some up to two grand a bottle. The same friends that originally said “meh” gave our whiskey second place.

So, my point is, they kept telling me the number one thing is the juice. We had to make sure the juice was good. Number two, we had to get people to try it. You can have the greatest marketing plan in the world, but they have to try it. And number three, slow and steady wins the race. They knew I was ambitious. They knew I wanted to see it on every shelf, in commercials, all out there. But we didn’t want to send people to the stores before it’s even in the stores. So, it’s been a real lesson in patience and trust.

“For me, this was a really cool way to pay tribute to a guy that I love,” Michael Bublé says of his grandfather, who inspired Fraser & Thompson whiskey.

Courtesy of Fraser & Thompson

As for the name of your whiskey, you’ve said you spent time with your grandfather growing up at the convergence of the Fraser and Thompson rivers near your home. How does your grandfather fit into the brand?

We kept trying to come up with a name that would mean something. My grandfather and his wine cellar were a big part of my life. He would make his famous wine, and we’d take it to a suite at hockey games with [professional hockey players] Gordie Howe and Pat Flynn, guys that are heroes of mine. My grandfather also used to make grappa and serve it with cherries—you know, a good Italian grandpa. For me, this was a really cool way to pay tribute to a guy that I love.

Again, it’s a family business. And now my poor wife is stuck on a board. I think if she could re-spell it, she’d spell it B-O-R-E-D. But it’s fun for us. Some of the marketing you haven’t seen yet features us together. She’ll be the brand ambassador in South America and places where she’s well known. So it’s cool to have something like that where we can both be part of it, we both like the product, and we both like the people we work with.

What has been the biggest surprise for you, through the whole process of bringing a new spirits brand to market?

Easily, it would be the logistics of getting it done at this level. I knew what flavor profiles were, I saw the making of the whiskey, especially being as close to Paul as I was. It was interesting because the way he spoke about whiskey, the way he spoke about the textures, the flavors, all of it, is the same way that I speak that way about music. I speak that way about a song that I’ve just done, and I’m so excited to tell you how this melody and this rhythm somehow wrap perfectly around lyrical content, and how the notes blend. I will talk and talk and I can just see people’s eyes glazing over. Because at some point, the people listening just want to hear the song––just shut up, we just want to hear the song.

And so that part I understood. It was all of the logistics that I didn’t. If you look at the team I have around me now, from our CEO, Marshall Watson, to all these other people who have had these massive careers in other brands of spirits, when they called me and said, “Well, we have a problem. We’re not going to get glass.” I thought, what do you mean you’re not going to get glass? “Glass is hard to get right now. It’s incredibly expensive.” But I understood that it would take time for distribution because I sell records. Back in the day when we sold CDs, it was slow and arduous.

Sounds like you’ve learned a lot through all of this, but that some things do connect, between making music and making whiskey.

I’ve joked about this before, but I was so naive that when I first talked to Paul Cirka, I asked him how big his brewery was. I was just like, I really like drinking whiskey, and I just want to go into business with my family and friends, and if we make money, that’s a huge bonus. You know what’s weird? No joke, I still feel that way. I’m lucky. I did good. I made good money. My family is taken care of. That’s a nice feeling. And I don’t need a Lamborghini. I’m not that guy. Another however much doesn’t change my life. For me, if there’s anything that I’m hungry for, it’s the ability to be a brand ambassador, and to help grow my brand. To fight again for a few more years of survival in a crazy business where the public can throw you out quickly. I love that, and when I’m in, I’m in. Like right now, I’m a brand ambassador for Rolex. It’s been 17 years, and I love it.

You’ve been selective with your partnerships, like Rolex, and of course the Bubly water Bublé water connection.

For Bubly, we thought we were gonna do one commercial for the Super Bowl—it’s been six years now. As a matter of fact, I did a bunch of interviews because they put out a new flavor called Merry Berry Bublé, and in every mall they built these massive installations for Merry Berry Bublé. I also just did a big thing for Asda, the big UK supermarket. My point is that once I’m in, and once I’m part of your brand, I’m in. It’s a joy. If I like the product, and I respect the people, it’s genuine for me.

Related: 29 Best Nonalcoholic Beers That Taste Like the Real Thing

You’ve been described as the last member of the Rat Pack. Where do you fit into that lineage? Or where do you diverge from it?

It’s not my choice, but I know that I do fit into that lineage. I understand that I continue the legacy of those heroes of mine, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the guys that gets to keep those legacies alive. There’s a shirt that I see everywhere, and it says Darin, Martin, Sinatra, Bublé. The first time I saw it, I jumped back.

There’s also definitely a part of that trope with whiskey, but when I started talking about what I wanted this to be, and how I wanted it to match who I was and what my real brand was, it was busting the tropes of whiskey. We did not want to be sitting in a leather chair with a cigar, telling people that this is serious whiskey that CEOs and VIPs drink. Now, we were serious about making the whiskey, and the flavor of the whiskey, but the whole idea was to reverse engineer a whiskey for people that didn’t want to drink whiskey or didn’t always like whiskey. I wanted my wife to be able to pour glass and say, “Wow, I like it, it’s really smooth. I like that it’s a little sweet.” And she fell in love with it.

For her, it was funny, any kind of spirit like that would be too strong for her to drink straight, I would take a little brown sugar, a little bitters, and make her an old fashioned with it. She went nuts for it. That’s her drink now. I understand that there are people like Paul Cirka who could spend hours talking about the barrels, the profiles, the million notes that go into creating a top end $1,000 bottle of whiskey. But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re making whiskey that’s accessible to people. And for me, thankfully, I had great partners that agreed with me. The price point was one of the most important parts for me. For 35 bucks, people are gonna try it, and they’re gonna like it. I think we’re as good or better as anything else sitting at that price point. That’s part of my brand—being accessible, having fun, and not taking it all so seriously.

Thanks, Michael. It’s great to hear the inside story of Fraser & Thompson, and it’s nice to reconnect after all these years.

I’m just tripped out that we knew each other that many years ago. I think back to that time and I loved it. I had fun. But I was also scared. There was so much of the unknown that was coming at me. I knew I had potential, but it was still all just kind of starting and bubbling up. I loved that time—but I’m happier now.

Fraser & Thompson North American Whiskey

Courtesy of Fraser & Thompson


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