“Hey, Nate, want to go to this amazing pizzeria I just tried? Best pizza in LA.”
“Sure!” When it comes to anything culinary, I rarely need to be asked twice.
“I have to warn you, the wait list is insane. But there’s this great bar up the street we can go to while we wait. I know you’re into whisky, and it has the best whisky you’ve ever had.”
This night was sounding better and better!
And so I joined my good friend Ron Wilson for my first sojourn to legendary Eagle Rock restaurant Casa Bianca (exact verbiage may be paraphrased; twenty years dull the words no matter how strong the recollection of the experience). Just as he said, the cash-only pizza stalwart had a shockingly long wait list. I would soon learn that this was always the case unless you arrived just as the joint opened…
With plenty of time to spare, we walked one block up Colorado to a bar called The Chalet and Ron ordered me my first Lagavulin 16, The Chalet’s normal pour a glorious double dram for less than one one would pay for a single of the cheap stuff at most places. The price to quantity and quality ratio probably being why The Chalet is no longer, RIP.
Peat, oh, heavenly peat.
I had never had anything like it before. At the time I liked whisky, but this was something else, miles above anything else I had ever tasted. I was in liquid love. (For those keeping score, the same goes for the pizza I would have a couple double drams later.)
Oh, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Of course, my whisky journey as a whole began somewhat earlier, Lagavulin at the now sadly defunct Chalet only being the transformative moment. No, my story began a few short years earlier, when a friend, Fiona O’Connor, invited Greg Swartz, Brad Kenyon, and myself to join her in Paris for Y2K. (If those last two names sound familiar, they should. Greg is the director of the whisky documentary The Water of Life, and Brad both the film’s cinematographer and a producer; as for me, I’m one of its co-producers.)
We bookended our time in Paris with several days in Ireland (Fiona lived in Dublin at the time). It was on The Emerald Isle that I, in amongst copious amounts of Guinness, first became enamored with the golden elixir we all love, in the form of Jameson’s and Paddy’s, the latter not yet available stateside.
Once that delightful vacation was sadly over–and despite concerns to the contrary, the world having not entered a digital devolution–I continued my personal whisky evolution, branching into scotch, starting with the usual suspects due to their availability at the bars I was then frequenting: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Macallan. I’ll never forget attending an afterparty at San Diego Comic-Con and testing just how “open” the supposed open bar actually was; the bartender served me Macallan 25 but balked at the 30.
And then came that fateful night with Ron at The Chalet and Lagavulin 16. Everything changed for me, whisky-wise. A casual drinker dove so much deeper into his explorations, becoming first a hobbyist, later a collector.
And eventually, thanks to Greg, I realized every person’s dream of merging work with play, combining my film-making career with this beloved hobby via The Water of Life: A Whisky Film. As if I didn’t already love my career enough!
To this day I am a peat head, but that is by no means the limit of my palate. I love everything from the light, grassy notes of the Lowlands to the more floral, heathery notes of the Highlands. Sherry bombs to unique wine cask finishes. Distillery bottlings and single-cask Independent Bottlings. Scottish to Irish to bourbon to rye to American Single Malt and everything in between. But when I can’t find something new to try when out and about, my go-to of go-tos is still a heavily peated whisky, only these days it is no longer Lagavulin, but Port Charlotte 10…which, if you have seen the film, should not surprise you at all.