Inspiration can be fickle and fleeting. Some artists travel the world chasing it and some don’t have to go quite as far. For his latest project, Hollywood producer-director Brett Ratner stayed home. His Los Angeles mansion, The Hilhaven Lodge, was the inspiration for his latest project, a new American whiskey.
His classic L.A. home has hosted the town’s biggest bashes since the roaring ’20s, and as a tribute to its legacy, Ratner decided his home deserved its very own house spirit. “I said, ‘There has to be a whiskey for this house,’ ” Ratner told Men’s Journal at a sit-down in New York’s Carlyle Hotel.
This passion project began 10 years ago when Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour franchise and has produced films and television ranging from Horrible Bosses to The Revenant, called in another ‘big wig’ about his idea. During a meeting with Diageo, one of the liquor industry’s biggest names, Ratner got a hard pass. According to Ratner, Diageo told him, “It’s not about whiskey — right now it’s all about vodka.” Two years later Ratner was on the other end of the call back from Diageo. “They said ‘are you psychic?’ And I said, no, why? And they go, ‘whiskey’s taking off.’ “
“Diageo took my pitch and said let’s create a living, breathing embodiment of what that house is — and put it in this bottle.”
According to Douglas Kragel, who works with Diageo’s American whiskeys, The Hilhaven Lodge was a fount of inspiration, “specifically from the generational piece of the icons that have lived in this home,” Kragel said. “We wanted, specifically, to find a straight Indiana rye, a straight Tennessee whiskey, and a straight Kentucky bourbon. Those three categories within America, and then find that perfect balance and blend, specifically allowing each category to bring its own unique mark under the whiskey. Kind of like the people who lived in the home.”
The deliciously balanced result is composed of a rye, at least 26 years old, a minimum 15-year-old Tennessee whiskey, and a six-year bourbon. So you get the flavors, “but also those levels of what oak influence is doing at different time periods,” Kragel said. “I think this bottle and this liquid is going to change consumer’s minds about blended whiskey from an American standpoint.”
“When I went to Stitzel-Weller (a Diageo distillery in Louisville), I was completely blown away by how they put this together,” Ratner said. From his standpoint, there was no rush, the eight-year process was about getting it right. “They could have half-assed it, two years they could have had a bottle ready to go with a liquid in it,” he said. “Diageo did it the way it should be done.”
Ratner hopes this whiskey, like the movies he directs, finds a wide fan base. “Those movies tend to be more audience-pleasing and mainstream. Why? Because my taste is more commercial. That’s just an expression of me — it’s just like, Hilhaven, that’s me in a bottle.”