Blockbuster Film & Whiskey Unite At
By Steven Joseph
Tucked away amidst the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills sits Hilhaven Lodge, an adult playground since 1927.
Built by Hoover Dam architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, the lodge eventually passed into the hands of a string of celebrity owners and renters from the burgeoning Hollywood cinema industry beginning with Ingrid Bergman during World War II, and which included Kim Novak and Richard Quine, and eventually Allan Carr. In 1999, the house changed owners again when it was purchased by director Brett Ratner. “As soon as it came on the market I knew I had to have it,” Ratner recalled. “Everyone I’ve ever met in Hollywood has partied in this house. Everyone wants to hang out there.”
Recently, Ratner partnered with renowned spirits company Diageo to release The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey, a spirit which embodies the lifestyle represented by the house. “It’s an iconic house, it should have its own spirit,” said Ratner. The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey was first conceived 9 years ago, when the show Mad Men was at its peak. Ratner said, “Everything from the ’50s and ’60s was coming back. And everyone that I know that’s cool drinks whiskey. They drank whiskey on the show. Sinatra drank whiskey. I loved the spirits business and I wanted to get involved.”
But the idea of pairing a spirit with the rich history of his home didn’t happen right away. “I saw what (long-time friend, and one of his many party guests) Sean (“Diddy” Combs) did with Cîroc, and I thought, They’re never going to give me my own brand. So I was hoping to just get involved with an established spirit like (Haig) Pinch.” Ratner then saw the explosion of Patrón as a sign that traditional male spirits could be universally marketed, as well. “When I was growing up, women didn’t drink tequila because it had a worm in it and burned your throat. Patrón changed all that.” So Ratner met with the Diageo representatives and pitched a whiskey that was so smooth, “it didn’t need a mixer, it didn’t need an ice cube, you could just sip it.”
Up for the challenge, Diageo responded by creating an entirely new category. The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey is a blend of Tennessee Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, and Bourbon, each from a distinct time period. “It’s three decades of liquids. It’s from the ’80s, the ’90s, and the millennium,” explained Ratner. The end result was an 80 proof liquor,” said Brett. The whiskeys are mingled and bottled at Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, Kentucky. Speaking of the bottle, everything about it is an homage to its namesake.
“When I first moved into the house, there was stuff there dating all the way back to the ’20s,” Ratner elaborated. “I found this old whiskey decanter that was made of leather and wood, and the bar itself is made of copper and brick. That’s why the bottle is topped with a wood cork,” Ratner explained. The bottle is representative to the iconic bay windows that adorn the house. And the labels on the bottle are positioned so that the negative space creates the letter ‘H.’ “It’s very high-end. The bottle is a living, breathing thing.”
The Nose Of Whiskey
Throughout the conception process, Ratner was amazed by the attention to detail that was paid to every facet of the whiskey’s creation, even down to the smells. “So much of the decision-making with whiskey is done through the nose,” he said. ”They captured the scents from the garden, from the wood, from the bar. We have a liquid that’s authentic to the house.”
Recently, The Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey won Double Gold at the World Spirit Awards. “It’s the only competition that’s a blind taste test, it’s not a popularity contest,” boasted Ratner. Ratner may be proud of the whiskey, but he is always quick to deflect attention away from himself. “This isn’t Brett Ratner’s whiskey. This is Hilhaven Lodge’s whiskey,” explained Brett. “The house has 90 years of history, I’m just the owner for my generation.” Indeed, the pairing of the legendary house with the iconic director seems to be a perfect match. “At the heart of it, I’m a story-teller. That’s the only thing I really know how to do. Having the whiskey is the spirit of the house. It’s the story that the house is telling.”