It’s From the Barrel, Dad
We speak to Brent Hocking on the eve of his new whiskey launch: Virginia Black
Brent Hocking: the Sultan of Spirits, the Czar of the bar and the don of DeLeón, the supreme tequila brand that P. Diddy just scooped up for some major scratch. His pad is rad, especially for The ‘Bu: jet black, set back from a jewel of a pool and a green lawn that looks more than worth the water wasted on it. It’s clear the guy’s got enough bread to burn a wet mule. Hocking sees me eyeballing the goods. “Dig the digs, eh?” His voice is as gravelly as a 007 villain’s, and he looks tough enough to swap punches with a steam shovel. “I like to do things differently, so I literally built a black house in the middle of Malibu. Next thing you know everyone thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
He walks to the bar, grabs two tumbler glasses, a cube of ice clinking into each. “You want a drink?” He smiles. “Of course you do.” Hocking pours two glasses of Virginia Black, his new juice, in partnership w/ musical superstar Drake, and slings one my way. I’m here to get it straight from Hocking himself, looking for the low-down on why he’s stepping into the whiskey game. “I was on a quest as a guy who loves spirits but who found a lot of the whiskey to be really hard to drink,” he says, reclining in his chair. “All these squares make it such an affair—high proofs, hyper-masculine commercials, all this exclusivity and seriousness. I just said, you know what, I’m going to make a whiskey that I want to drink, and that people can have fun with even if they’re beginners in the whiskey world, and that’s exactly what I did with Virginia Black.”
Hocking hops up like someone who just remembered that they left the stove on. He heads over to a gorgeous turntable housed in red cherry wood and sends his fingers walking through his wall of vinyl, looking for something to match the mood. Bingo. He pulls Ron Ayers’ Ubiquity out of its sleeve, blows it off, spins it, and drops the needle, filling the house with funk.
“I’m not a musician,” he says cooly, “but I think I arguably have one of the largest musical vaults in my mind.” He sits back down on the couch, snapping his fingers to the beat. “This is it, man—this is what I’m trying to distill. All my old albums from when I was living in Compton in the 70’s, I have them up on the walls in the fill room as memories of the things we used to do and the feeling of that time. Those are things that I wanted to evoke with Virginia Black.”
We step out back for a bite of air. I comment on the gorgeous bottle, wondering where it got its groove. It’s clear that there’s something in Virginia Black that caters to a crew outside of whiskey’s usual WASP-y club—some Afro-American mojo and a bit of feminine sensuality.
“We’re trying to open the whiskey market up a bit, beyond just white men. We want to include everybody. The elements of VB that are influenced by African American culture come from things that were cool when I was growing up in Compton. It’s about that sensibility with street cred, like in Soul Train—he might be wearing gold flairs but if you get too far out of line he’ll kick your ass.” He laughs. “As for marketing a whiskey towards women, it hadn’t really been done before. Back in the day only the whores got to drink the whiskey with the men, while the so-called “respectable” women missed out. So the character of Virginia Black became this woman who knows what she wants.”
It’s time for me to beat it before I get too buzzed. I’ve got the PCH to cruise, back to my own more modest digs closer to the city, in the heat and light of it, which I don’t mind. But there’s one more question I’ve got to cover—Drake’s involvement can’t really be ignored. This time Hocking didn’t have to flip his business for a rapper to put some skin in the game.
“We met through some mutual friends, and he liked what I did with DeLeón. We connected on some of our shared interests—basketball, music, things like that, and we were drinking and hanging out and he saw my vision for where I was going next in alcohol with VB, and he was all in. His dad’s from the ‘70s, and Drake’s the kind of guy that sees what’s coming next, so he really thought that we would be ahead of our time making a move on whiskey when people would expect vodka or champagne.”
We’ve gabbed enough, and now it’s time for me to hit the bricks. We say our goodbyes and he shuts the door behind me. It’s beautiful out—bright stars, the smell of the sea, the distant audio slush of ocean waves. I suck it up before heading back to reality, and then I point my car towards home and burn rubber back to the Big Orange.
Written by Matthew Bedard
Photographer: Ian Morrison for Opus Reps.
Stylist: Soaree Cohen.
Models: Algo Brehane for Photogenics And Maxine Woodring for Vision Los Angeles.
Hair: Bertrand W. for Opus Beautyusing Number 4 Hair Care.
Makeup: Miho Suzuki for Opus Beauty using Tom Ford Beauty.
Manicure: Reina Santos for Nailing Hollywood using Nars.
Photographed at DLuxx, Los Angeles.