Every great home should have a well-appointed bar. But only the most special properties have their own spirit — captured within a bottle — at that bar. Such is the story of The Hilhaven Lodge, the 1927-built Beverly Hills estate of director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand) that also serves as the moniker for his whiskey label launched last year in Los Angeles and Miami.
Neat or in a classic Old Fashioned, Ratner’s favorite, The Hilhaven Lodge is timeless but relevant, distinct without being overbearing and posh without being pretentious — all the same qualities it shares with its namesake.
The blended whiskey — produced by international beverage brand Diageo — features bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey from three different decades and notes of caramel, clove and vanilla. February marked its Sin City debut at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Wynn Las Vegas’ Sinatra and luminaries from the beverage industry, and Mr. Wynn himself, were in attendance to fete the brand that was years in the making.
We were fortunate to catch up with Ratner and whiskey educator Doug Kragel at the event, and they shared charismatic tales of the estate and the libation that has come to symbolize it.
Why is now the right time for this?
Ratner: The idea came up nine years ago. I saw Mad Men and I always loved Sinatra. Everything from the ’50s and ’60s is cyclical and it’s going to come back. Whiskey is what Sinatra drank. It’s what all the coolest guys I ever met drank. [But I didn’t] want to be a personality that has [his] own brand. My house Hilhaven was a place that was, for generations, for decades, celebrating Hollywood, and I said, “The house deserves its own spirit,” and what people drank here from the ’20s on was whiskey. That was my pitch. [Diageo] didn’t go for it the first time. They said whiskey’s not really selling and then something happened — Japanese whisky took off. A few years later, they called me up and said, “Are you psychic because how did you know?” And I was like, “No, I make movies. I’m involved in pop culture, and I just know what’s cool.”
Kragel: Personally, I consider it a second renaissance for whiskey and [there are] a couple of [reasons.] It’s popular culture. Things that were classic are also now really relevant again. And the mixology culture has been referencing back to a lot of cocktails that are whiskey based.
Ratner: The Old Fashioned was the most popular drink in 2016.
Are there any correlations you can make to filmmaking and whiskey making?
Ratner: It’s storytelling. Filmmaking is storytelling. There’s a story behind this. I’m a storyteller. Whether it’s in a photograph, in a movie, in a short film, in a music video, in a commercial.
Why is The Hilhaven Lodge a blend of three different types of whiskies from three different decades?
Ratner: The bottle is a living, breathing embodiment of what the house is. These panels [holding the bottle] are like the windows in the house. The wood is the wood roof. The colors are the foliage around the property, which are auburn and gold. And the oak, everything [is represented]. You walk around the property, and you smell it. We spent weeks and weeks just smelling the scents and looking at the woods and the textures. It was so authentic to what the house was. It’s something that I am very proud of, and it’s great because people come over to my house, and they get to drink the house spirit.
Do you have a particular story that you’ve heard, that you don’t know if it’s true or not, from the old days?
Ratner:[I have owned it] 15 years. Most of the people I know of in Hollywood have been there in the ’70s and ’80s. I took it in the ’90s. Warren Beatty came to see me, and he said, “I’ve been to this house … in [the 1950s].” I said, “Whose house was this” and he says, “Richard Quine, who was [dating] Kim Novak. I came to see the director. I walked through the front lawn, and this bay window was there. Kim Novak and Eartha Kitt were in the window dancing a sexy dance.” Ingrid Bergman had an affair with [Roberto] Rossellini in the guesthouse. That’s where Isabella Rossellini was conceived. [Former owner] Allan Carr had a disco in the basement. I just restored the disco.
I consider myself only the owner of this house from my generation. One hundred years from now, someone else is going to be living there. The house has a feeling that you can’t duplicate.