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Last year, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia aired its 15th season, becoming the longest-running live-action sitcom in U.S. TV history. When it debuted on August 5th, 2005 George W. Bush had barely begun his second term in office. Star Wars: Episode III was still in theaters. And the only celebrity in the world of spirits was Sammy Hagar.
Now, of course, that field is chockablock with all sorts of noted personalities from sports stars with scotch brands to celebrated songstresses with cream liqueurs. And today, the stars of It’s Always Sunny will finally join the fray with a limited online release of Four Walls Whiskey. The drop includes two bottlings: an $89 “bartender-friendly” blend of Irish Whiskey and Pennsylvania Rye; and a thousand-dollar cask strength single malt matured for 15 years to commemorate the show’s record-breaking run.
The latter comes packaged in a mirrored, engraved box that includes the signatures of co-stars (and executive producers) Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day. Only 755 bottles will be available in total and all proceeds from the collection will be directed to hospitality industry relief across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“We were shooting Season 15 when bars were shutting down all across America,” McElhenney recalls. “So we decided to create something as a tribute to the bar and kick it off by giving back.”
But this isn’t merely some charity case. It’s damn good whiskey, fit for an aficionado of the category. Which wouldn’t come as a surprise to listeners of the Always Sunny podcast, hosted by the trio, where Howerton regularly professes his love of “better brown” liquid (he’s a massive Michter’s and WhistlePig rye fanboy). The only shock with this particular celebrity spirit is that it took so long to materialize. After all, It’s Always Sunny is—very technically—a show about an Irish bar.
“It makes more sense for us to be doing this than almost any other quote-unquote celebrity that’s been putting out a liquor,” Howerton tells Rolling Stone. “It couldn’t get any more on-brand than what we’re doing.”
As the resident whiskey expert of “the gang,” he took it upon himself to make sure Four Walls didn’t shit the bed. He has also assumed the mantle of spokesperson for the would-be brand, reminding fans that if they’re not lucky enough to score a bottle today they can at least hope to sample some of it when the Always Sunny podcast tapes live on the road later this year. Below he spills some secrets about the show—and the whiskey—to Rolling Stone.
Talk about your love of whiskey and where that came from.
I like a beer every now and then, a glass of wine; but whiskey has always been the thing that I gravitate back to. I grew up in Alabama and I think I drank a little too much bourbon when I was in high school, so something about bourbon triggered a little bit of a gag reflex for a little while. In my early 20s somebody was nice enough to buy me a really good whiskey and I was like, ‘Oh, whiskey doesn’t always have to make me sick!’ I realized I did enjoy it when it was a higher quality one. Ever since then I became the guy at the bar that would order an Irish Whiskey with a beer. I have so many great memories of just sipping on it—it’s always been a pleasant experience for me. And [more recently] my other favorite category of whiskey has become rye.”
What was your inspiration when putting this project together?
It made sense for us to do an Irish Whiskey and an Irish-American Whiskey. But my biggest fear was that we were going to make something that I didn’t like. I’m not one of those people who can describe all of the different flavor notes in whiskey, but I have developed a taste for it to where I know what I prefer. I’m very particular: if it’s too sweet or syrupy, I don’t like it. And there are a lot of whiskeys out there that I don’t particularly like that people love. But I just felt very passionately that this needed to be something that I really loved, personally. Of the three of us—Rob, he loves a Manhattan every night, a good mixed drink—but I drink it straight or on the rocks. So we did a lot of taste-testing and I am extremely excited about this. I wholeheartedly stand behind both of these whiskies. Everybody has different tastes, but I think they’re fantastic.”
Were Charlie and Rob willing to defer to you during that blending process?
Yes—to a degree. I wanted them to taste it and like it as well. They both like whiskey but they haven’t been as enthusiastic whiskey drinkers as I have through the years.
When did the idea for a tie-in booze first start to form? And what took so long?
We had been toying with the idea for a while. We’ve been talking about it for years. For a while there we were thinking, ‘Everybody is putting out fancy tequilas, we should just put out a cheap beer.’ We went down that road for a little while. But it just keep going back around to Irish Whiskey.
It’s been about a year since we got serious about it. And it was very fortuitous that when we finally did it was at a time when we were able to source a 15 year Irish Whiskey. So we could do it, at least partly, as a celebration of our record-breaking season. It all made sense. Then we did the four episodes [last season] that were in Ireland, and it made it even more timely.”
Were you able to visit any distilleries while you were filming there?
No. We actually did not make it to Ireland. Because Covid was hitting Ireland relatively hard right before we were supposed to go. So we had to figure out a way to film all of that stuff here [in California]. We had a crew over there that shot a bunch of B-roll and stuff for us to green-screen in. But that whole episode where we’re bringing the corpse up the mountain that was not Ireland. I saw an article in an Irish newspaper wondering where in the country we had shot it. It was all filmed in Monterrey Bay. Even to me [watching it] it really feels like we’re in Ireland. And we got really lucky with the weather because it happened to be misty and foggy while we were there.
And all this time I thought you had written that arc just as an excuse to go vacation in Ireland.
That was why we wanted to do it. We wanted to do something different. It was extremely disappointing when we got word that it was just going to be messy; if someone got Covid and we got stuck there and I’ve left my wife and kids at home without me…
The Always Sunny podcast has become a smashing success. Did you ever envision yourself as a professional podcaster?
We all have the same fear—although Charlie and I have talked about more than Rob—I never set out to be a quote-unquote personality. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being a personality. I get very uncomfortable with the term ‘celebrity.’ I’m not sure why; if that’s just my upbringing or a fear of people seeing me as someone who thinks of themself as a celebrity—which is just kind of fucking lame. The fear was always there that if we did a podcast we’d become podcast personalities in some way. And once we started doing it we realized that it’s really fun and people are enjoying it.
We really do try and follow one simple rule, the three of us: if we’re having fun, let’s keep doing it. If we’re having fun and other people are thinking it’s fun then we’ll continue to do it. And that’s why we keep doing Sunny. That’s why we’re dipping our toes into this whiskey thing, because it’s something that’s exciting in concept. But I just want it to be fun.
The three of you are riffing so much in the podcast. Is there any fear that you could potentially be cannibalizing material for upcoming seasons of the show?
Oh no, no. We’re already completely and totally out of ideas. We got nothing. As a matter of fact, if you want to send me a followup email with any ideas of yours I will happily bring those into the writers room this year.
So it seems fairly certain we’ll be seeing more seasons of Sunny. What about a more lasting run for Four Walls as opposed to just this one-time release?
I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about this…Yes. Absolutely. In some ways this will be a little bit of a proof-of-concept. The reason we’re doing this is it’s something that I’m very passionate about. I’m excited to put something out there and to do something for bars and bartenders since they’ve done so much for me in the past—and us being a bar show.
There’s a limited amount of the 15-year, so once that’s gone it’s gone. But the Irish-American—the blend with the rye—that’s something that could potentially be sustainable and something that we could continue to source and bottle and put out into the world in not limited edition form. We’re going to do this first and see how it feels. If there’s demand, why not?”
Because Four Walls feels more on-brand for you than, say, Dwayne Johnson’s tequila?
I always wonder when I’m looking at The Rock’s instagram and he’s opening a bottle of Teremana: ‘Is that guy really working out for three hours a day and then every night getting hammered on his own tequila?’ Does that seem on-brand to you? Hmm…Hey listen, I love The Rock, I have nothing bad to say about the man.
Now that you’re out there as a whiskey enthusiast—and whiskey maker—you’re going to have people coming out of the woodwork to offer you great bottles.
I would love that, that would be wonderful. Although now they’re all my competition. Well, not yet because ours is limited edition. But they may soon be our competition. I’ve got a bottle of Hibiki at home that was given to me as a gift by Paula Pell [my co-star] from A.P. Bio. She knew I was a big whiskey drinker and she gave me a bottle of that. It’s fantastic.
You’ve mentioned your love of Michter’s, WhistlePig and now Hibiki — any other competitors that are on frequent rotation in your home bar?
Naaah. I think I’ve talked enough about those other stupid brands of whiskey!