Armadale vodka top of the shots in New York

MENTION Armadale and most Scots would automatically think of a pretty ordinary West Lothian town.

But New York’s trendy clubbers know the town shares its name with one of the coolest drinks brands around.

It’s so hip that three New York rap musicians who have bought the rights to Armadale vodka.

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Precious few people in Scotland have actually heard of the drink, but the export-only brand is set to become the next must-have accessory in the Big Apple after chart-topping rappers Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke bought the rights from distillers William Grant and Sons in a multi-million dollar deal.

The astute rappers have already branched out with their own range of trendy clothes and even movie production through their label Roc-A-Fella.

Now they are hoping to do for the 80-proof brand of "hand-crafted triple distilled vodka" what predecessors such as Run DMC - famous for their song Walk This Way - did for sales of Adidas trainers in the 1980s. And if they do, the real Armadale is ready to reap the benefits too.

In recent years the idea of product placement of chic, expensive alcohol labels has gathered real pace among American hip hop music. Sales of Hennessy cognac went up overnight when the late rapper Tupac Shakur mentioned it in a hit.

Snoop Doggy Dogg did the same for Tanqueray gin with his 1994 hit Gin and Juice.

The most high profile success has been for Courvoisier brandy, whose worldwide sales went up more than ten per cent after Busta Rhymes penned Pass the Courvoisier.

Jay-Z has already mentioned Armadale in his song All I Need from his last album, The Blueprint.

But up until now rappers have contented themselves with a few free cases of the drink they are plugging rather than buying out the entire label.

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Burke said Roc-A-Fella decided to venture into the business because, in songs, they often mentioned other brands, but were not getting compensation. "You always hear about us talking about the [vodka] in the song so, like with the clothing and the music industry, we were like: ‘Why are we still making money for everyone else?’

"We just acquired the company and said: ‘Let’s do it ourselves’."

He added: "People aren’t buying [our products] just for the name right now - they are buying it because it’s quality."

Damon Dash said: "Just like we do with all of our businesses, we wanted to present a vodka that represented the best and we feel Armadale is of elite quality."

To begin with, the rappers hope to distribute the Scottish-made liquor in three markets - Miami, New York and Los Angeles - and expand as business grows. But Burke added: "This is not just for hip-hop.

"Of course that might be our initial sales, because of our demographic - the two million people we have a tight hold on. It's going to reach way more than that. That’s why it’s Armadale and not Roc-A-Vodka or some crazy shit like that."

David Gray, owner of Bar Kohl, Scotland’s biggest vodka bar on George IV Bridge, said: "We have over 250 vodkas in 54 flavours, but I have to say Armadale Vodka is a new one on me. We also have a lot of house music played here in the bar and Jay-Z is very popular.

"He’s probably the biggest name in commercial rap artists right now."

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Armadale councillor Jim Sibbald, who also owns the town’s Highlander Hotel, said: "I’ve never even heard of Armadale Vodka but these lads must like it a fair bit if they have decided to buy the label.

"Who knows, if they do as well with it as they hope they will then we may get some rap fans coming over to try a proper night out in Armadale.

"They’d certainly get one or two things to fill their songs if they spent an evening on Main Street. I’ll have to get hold of some just to make sure it tastes good. After all, the name of Armadale is at stake here."

No-one was available from the distillers for comment. It is believed Grant’s named the vodka after Armadale because of the town’s historical association with the distilling industry.