Liev Schreiber Talks About What Brought Him Into The World Of Irish Whiskey
Fans of the critically-acclaimed Showtime drama Ray Donovan can’t be too surprised to see its former star launch an Irish whiskey. As the titular character of the show, Liev Schreiber played an Irish-American “fixer” who was prone to drinking the aged spirit. He was also fond of a particular toast: Sláinte (pronounced Slahn-cha), which translates to “good health” in Gaelic. It became the name of his new brand, which hit shelves at the end of September.
But the connection between Schreiber and Irish whiskey isn’t one that’s rooted in fiction. As the four-time Emmy-nominated actor tells Forbesit’s been a part of his life for as long as he’s been legally allowed to consume it—perhaps even a little bit longer. And when he decided to get into the business of booze, he landed on something far more meaningful than a mere catchphrase .
Sláinte is a toast that brings people together; a mantra of hope shared amongst friends. Which is what makes it such an appropriate name for what Schreiber describes as a “purpose-led” Irish whiskey. It benefits BlueCheck Ukraine, a charity he founded to help expedite humanitarian aid across the war-torn nation.
The brand debuted with two expressions: Smooth Blend, which retails at $38, and a limited edition 18-Year-Old single malt, being sold at $500 a bottle. A portion of the proceeds from the former—and 100% of the proceeds from the latter—will be donated to Schreiber’s charity.
In putting Sláinte together, Schreiber partnered with drinks industry veteran Richard Davies, who led the actor on his first trip to Ireland earlier in the year. It was clearly an impactful journey for the thespian—one which he recounted with his signature pensiveness. In an exclusive interview he opens up about whiskey, family, and other things we hold dear.
Read on below [edited for length and clarity]…
Talk about the phrase “purpose-led whiskey.”
Liev Schreiber: “My co-founder Richard had attended a benefit that I had done with Bluecheck in DC. He was struck by what we were doing and he wanted to donate a cask of 18-year-old single malt to the cause. I was really moved by the gesture. And when I found out a little bit more about this particular cask I realized that it was an incredibly valuable barrel of booze. Old single malt [from Ireland] is super hard to come by these days. And I thought—as someone who has done a little bit of time in the marketing space— that’s a really good idea for a brand. Because every celebrity and their mother has a hooch now. So maybe I don’t really want to be in this space. But I do want to be in Ukraine. And the idea of a drink that in some ways represents the spirit of its name — a toast to your health, to connection, to bringing people together…At a time when we are so polarized in this country and across the globe. The idea of coming together over a bit of whiskey felt really good to me.”
What happened next?
LS: “The guys and I at Bluecheck decided that the best way to monetize this for Bluecheck to bottle it and to do a kind of limited-edition branding. It came out at $499 a bottle. Between you and I, it’s more valuable than that. It’s just a really valuable bottle of whiskey in my mind. I was having taxi drivers in Dublin ask me questions about where to they could find it because they wanted to get their hands on it.”
Why Irish whiskey?
LS: “I have a deep relationship with Irish whiskey. It’s always been that spirit for me. It has to do with emotional stuff. It’s my go-to when something hurts a lot. And it’s also my go-to when I want to feel close to somebody. I’m [a child of] an acrimonious divorce and I never really knew my father until I was in college. And then my father came to Hampshire College and it was my first time getting to hang out with him as a grownup. He brought a bottle of Irish whiskey and the two of us drank almost that entire bottle throughout the course of the night and had some pretty amazing conversation. Yeah, it has always been that drink for me. So the marketing piece of it felt sincere and right. And the fact that it could do some good in the space felt really right.”
So it doesn’t actually have anything to do with Ray Donovan?
LS: “That was a hard part for me, at first, that [Davies] wanted to call it Sláinte…Because the connotation of that with the role that I played. I don’t like that it evokes Ray Donovan, for me, because I hope it’s something realer than that. But at the same time I don’t hide from it. That show—at it’s best—was a show about family. Through all the fighting and the horror and the shit that goes down…They come together and toast each other and that always moved me. So I don’t mind it. But it’s a little wonky.”
Tell us more about your trip to the Emerald Isle. Was it for product development?
LS: “Yes, I visited Dublin [earlier this year] to meet the whiskey people. Because this stuff is really hard to source. I visited Great Northern Distillery [which produces the main expression, in county Dundalk]. I watched a bunch of casks getting opened and I watched some blending. We spent time at the pubs, sipping a bunch of whiskey—probably too much whiskey. On top of that, since I had never been to Ireland I had never had a Guinness [at its source] and that was pretty fucking fantastic.”
You think it tastes different than Guinness here in the States?
LS: “It’s so different there. I had never thought of stout as thirst-quenching. But it’s insanely thirst-quenching and creamy at the same time. It just flies down your throat.”
Did you learn a lot about whiskey production on the trip?
LS: For sure. I’ve always been very particular in that I only drink certain things. But working with the blender at Great Northern, I can now appreciate things I didn’t appreciate before. I detect orchard fruits versus vanilla, versus oak—[attuning your palate] to all these things, it makes it more fun to drink. I appreciated this sort of stuff with wine, but never really appreciated it with whiskey until then. And the casks have such a huge impact on the flavor. Especially with sherry butts. Nobody is drinking sherry but everybody wants sherried whiskey!
That’s why every fan of whiskey has to do their part and drink lots of sherry.
LS: “I appreciate you, man. It’s people like you who keeping the whiskey world going.”
Did you have a hand in shaping the Smooth Blend?
LS: “I had no say in the flavor profile aside from commenting on what I like. And understanding—based upon our [target] demographic—we wanted a whiskey that was easy to drink and that was going to be at a certain pricepoint. And that it’s mellow. You want something you can sip and not worry about it costing you an arm and a leg. While I wasn’t t in the room when it was being blended, I do know the formula.”
Will the brand continue to benefit Bluecheck even after these limited releases sell out?
LS: “That’s certainly my intention. And we’ve had extensive conversation about that. The plan for the brand is that it will always find a place to be purposeful; to bring people together around a toast and a drink, but also to bring people together around a cause or an idea. For me, right now it’s Ukraine. That’s an urgent one. And if anyone wants to help out we would completely appreciate that and they could go to Bluecheck.in. It’s going to be a long, cold winter [in Ukraine]. So now, more than ever, we need to support the civilian population.”