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Large and in charge: Gene Simmons still wants to party every day

Rock and roll icon Gene Simmons--controversial but popular septuagenarian--creates a splash, and a new vodka in partnership with Alberta brewer.

Rock icon Gene Simmons is an unlikely spokesperson for 'family values', but it's what the aging rocker says convinced him to partner with Alberta-based Minhas Brewery for his latest venture: MoneyBag Vodka.

"I never thought I'd be in the liquor business, but meeting the Minhas family made me get serious about it," said Simmons on the Edmonton stop promoting the release of the luxury spirit, which is contained in a moneybag-shaped glass vessel designed by the rock star.

Simmons says business is about people and sweat equity, and he knew he found something special when he met the Alberta brother-and-sister team of Manjit and Ravinder Minhas. He's not wrong: the pair has made theirs the 10th largest brewery in North America, thanks largely to the popularity of discount lagers (Mountain Crest, Boxer) and other brands in the fold. Moneybag Vodka is a marquee product for the company, boasting ten-times distilled and gold-filtered characteristics.

"Gene was looking for a family-run business to work with, and we're thrilled to partner with him. There's luck, timing and the stars aligning that made this happen. His creativity comes in the name and bottle design--the genius and expertise inside the bottle is all us," said Manjit--the face of Minhas Brewery and Distillery--known to Canadians as a dragon on the CBC reality show, Dragons' Den. 

"Celebrities often endorse an existing product, but Gene was in from the ground up," said Ravinder, adding Simmons has "the right vision, grind and hustle to match ours. We've looked at a lot of celebrity partnerships and said 'no' to 98 per cent of them. Gene is the face of the product--representing us well is most important."

Simmons calls himself an employee whose job is to ensure the product and marketing are top quality--hence, the high-profile brand launch in Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon, which came with meet-and-greet autograph sessions befitting a rock legend. "I aspire to greatness, whether it's in the music business or designing a beautiful vessel for this vodka."

"Taste for yourself," he continued. "It doesn't matter that I don't drink. People who own football teams don't have to play the sport to know the quality of their product."

If the Minhas family are after an attention-grabbing partnership, they've found it in Simmons. The often-controversial 73-year-old has bragged about being a womanizer, and made polarizing and highly-publicized comments on social media about anti-vaxxers and a politician or two. 

But the long-time KISS bassist (known for his incredibly long tongue, onstage antics and eccentric costume and makeup), is also a family man--partner of Canadian personality Shannon Tweed for nearly 40 years (and married since 2011). With their two now adult children, Nick and Sophie, the whole family appeared in the popular reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels from 2006-2012.

What viewers saw then, and is still evident a decade later, is an opinionated, assertive man, but also a regular guy--a big kid, in fact, who is a savvy businessman that also likes to play. From lucrative agreements licensing KISS merchandise, to co-founding the Rock & Brews restaurant chain and putting his name on sodas, comic books and more, Simmons is a man living life to the full.

"I remember KISS playing one of our first dates in Edmonton in the early 1970s, at the university," said the Israeli-born, American musician who is also known by his stage persona, The Demon. "I probably wear more makeup and high heels than your mom ever did, but it's still just as fun to get onstage; give new bands a helping hand."

"I don't focus on age--that's defeating myself," Simmons added. "KISS' success was a zeitgeist--the right thing at the right place and right time. But almost 50 years later, I'm glad to have the physical ability and sharpness to keep playing. And I still have the energy and interest in creating something special--like this vodka. I don't worry about the minutiae--I go out and devour life."