Everyone out there has someone they admire, no matter how famous or successful they are in life. We all have people we look up to who at some point or another influenced our path and did something to inspire us in an important fashion. When Steph Curry won the NBA MVP award this year, he credited former teammate Jarrett Jack in helping him to become a leader. The most-talented actor of this generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, recently cited Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando as having inspired him to hone his craft. It's for that reason, at the end of each D2D interview, that I ask my participant who they wish they could have a drink with—to see who they admire in turn. When one of my guests asked that question of me during our conversation, I told him "I'd like to grab a beer with Kevin Nash." I've always been a professional wrestling fan, but I didn't realize how big of an impact it had made on my life until I became the spirits buyer at K&L, when I started working in the whisky business and saw an industry in complete flux—transitioning from fancy boxes, old world names, and big market blends towards a straight-forward, no-frills, stripped-down approach. I recognized the pattern immediately. I knew exactly what was going to transpire and where this new movement was headed because I had seen it happen already; during high school, when a guy who used to wrestle as Diesel in the WWE got tired of all the pomp and pageantry, and decided to make what was perceived as a fake sport into something very, very real. An industry revolution followed in his wake, and since then wrestling has never been quite the same. When I wanted to carve out my niche in the liquor industry, I thought to myself: just do what Kevin Nash did in the wrestling business. Be yourself, be confident, never take anything too seriously, and never follow the pack, no matter what everyone else around you is doing. Be honest and be real. It's a lesson in good business that I still hold tightly onto today.
Watching Kevin Nash in his prime between 1996 and 2001 was like watching Neo manipulate the Matrix. He was always one step ahead of the game, and because of that he made everyone else in the ring uncomfortable. I'm not necessarily talking about his wrestling style, as much as I am his attitude. While other wrestlers were screaming, blood vessels throbbing in their foreheads as sweat beaded off their brows, Nash was reserved and sarcastic. He acted like a confident, everyday person; like the cool guy in high school who didn't really care what other people thought about him, and always made you self-conscious as a result. In a world filled with cartoon-like characters and over-the-top theatrics, Kevin Nash was one guy who made you feel cool about watching wrestling. He was so cool that no matter what he did—good or bad—the crowd would get behind him. Everyone in the industry wanted to work with him. Hulk Hogan, for example, completely resurrected his career by aligning himself with Nash and the NWO—the group that Kevin formed upon his arrival in World Championship Wrestling. More importantly, other professionals outside the wrestling industry began to notice his screen presence, and soon enough Nash was appearing in Hollywood films. I remember seeing him in Grandma's Boy, The Punisher, and The Longest Yard, thinking it was nice that Kevin was finally getting his due. But when he landed a major role in Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, I found myself genuinely happy for the man. Here was a guy so far ahead of his time that I'm not sure wrestling fans really understood his impact until over a decade later. He had a unique, no-BS presence that immediately transcended the squared-circle and made you just like the man. He is genuine and open, while remaining self-assured, and in the entertainment business it's a combination rarely seen in such a pure and understated form.
So, when I say that this particular installment of the D2D series is dear to my heart, I don't say that lightly. Getting to meet one of your childhood heroes is particularly unnerving, but I'm happy to say that Kevin Nash is about the nicest person I've ever come across in public. When I met him in Hollywood a few weeks back, he was immediately welcoming and incredibly polite, which is a relief when it comes from a man who stands seven feet tall and could easily destroy you with one of his hands. We both sipped a glass of Singani 63, made some small talk, and ended up exchanging contact info. It turns out that Kevin likes to drink as much as I do, which made for a great conversation earlier this week. The former WWE and WCW World Champion likes red wine, watching True Detective, and drinking with his wife, so we pretty much hit it off immediately. He's every bit as easy-going as he appears on TV.
In this edition of Drinking to Drink, we talk about the physical effects of alcohol on the human body, drinking to come down from the huge adrenaline rush that performing in front of 30,000 screaming fans tends to create, and how Kevin and Stone Cold Steve Austin once holed themselves up in the Waldorf-Astoria and drank a case of Orin Swift wines by themselves. Previous editions of the D2D series can be found by clicking here, or by visiting the archive in the right hand margin of this page.
Now hit the music below, and let the NWO theme play as you read on. It really sets the appropriate tone, in my opinion.
David: So when I ran into you at the Magic Mike XXL party and you were pouring yourself a glass of Singani 63, our friend Steven Soderbergh’s new beverage, was that the first time you had tried it?
Kevin: No, Steven had it on the Magic Mike set in Savannah. We tried it there first.
David: He brought a whole bunch for everyone to drink?
Kevin: For anyone who wanted it. But for most of the process of making the film no one was drinking alcohol.
David: Because you were working out so often?
Kevin: Yeah, just diet-wise because we couldn’t have any empty calories.
David: So you tried the Singani after the filming began winding down?
Kevin: It was after we finished shooting the dance sequences because after that we weren’t ever without our shirts on. So we had maybe a week of shooting left when I tried it.
David: How did Steven approach you with it? Did he give you the hard sell, or did he just kind of let you form your own opinion of it? Because it’s not something most people have heard of.
Kevin: He basically gave me some general information, about how he had even come across it, what it was—that it was a product of a grape only grown at a certain altitude in Bolivia. He didn’t hype it, he just said it was something that he enjoyed. Then he poured me a glass with a couple of rocks in it and I had some.
David: And what was the verdict? Was it odd to you, or did it seem natural? I’m always very interested in the general feedback to stuff like this.
Kevin: I don’t really drink spirits, whatsoever—I’m not a Bourbon guy, or anything—so I mainly drink red wine exclusively. Occasionally I’ll have a beer, but this was one of those things that had a unique flavor. It’s a very sippable drink. It’s not something you can just chug. There are so many flavors within it. It’s very complex, and it was very enjoyable. Especially for my palate, which was pretty much all chicken and yams at that point in my training.
David: As someone who trains as hard as you and doesn’t really drink hard liquor, how did you find Singani affected your body? I know Steven really enjoys it because it leaves him fresh in the morning with few ill effects.
Kevin: That was something he talked with me about the night we first drank it, and—sure enough—the next day I woke up crystal clear.
David: You can see how that really is a selling point for a lot of people; especially those who really watch what they ingest. So you’re primarily a red wine drinker. Have you always been into the reds, or was that something that happened later in life?
Kevin: No, I’ve probably been drinking red wine continuously since about 1978. I drink a lot of Australian wines, like shiraz, which usually has a higher alcohol content. Especially from the McLaren Valley. But for me, I mostly drink reds from Napa and Sonoma.
David: Wow, how serious are you? Do you collect?
Kevin: I wouldn’t say I collect, but I’d say I consume.
David: Do you have a cellar, or do you have a storage area where you keep your backstock?
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve got a pretty good storage area going.
David: When you’re wrestling, and you’re on the road, and your body is getting beaten up every night, do you have to take a break from alcohol during those periods, or is there a balance that you can find to enjoy it responsibly?
Kevin: I’d say alcohol was more of a necessity then than it is for me now. To go out in front of twenty or thirty-thousand people and feel that electricity every night, then drive another two-hundred or so miles to the next town, you’ve eventually gotta get the landing gear down. When you finally get to the hotel you’ve gotta get to sleep because you’re going to have to go back out there again the very next evening. Because alcohol is a depressant it helps to kick the adrenaline out of you a bit, and it gives you a chance to get some rest.
David: So let’s say you’ve just finished up a show, and you’re finally at the hotel: do you then go up to your room, pop a bottle of wine, and have a few glasses before bed?
Kevin: Oh yeah. Even just the other night I did a personal appearance, then I had a two-hundred mile drive back to the hotel. When I got back to my room I sat down, turned on HBO, and opened up a bottle of wine. I ended up going to bed around 4 AM, but—you know—at least I went to bed. Which is why when we spoke earlier and you asked about a good time to call, I said, “1 PM.” (laughs). Because for my entire life I’ve been going to bed at 4 AM. So you figure: eight hours of sleep, it’s noon, then you get up, take a shower, have your coffee, and then it’s one o’ clock, which is when I start my day.
David: So you’re still on the road a lot for the WWE?
Kevin: Yeah, actually the WWE was here yesterday from 11-5 filming some stuff for the network at my house. I’m on a Legends Contract with them and I’ve got a good relationship with a lot of people in the corporation, so I do what I can do to help when they need something. Paul Levesque (Triple H) is one of the higher-ups, he’s one of my closest personal friends, and he’s married to Vince’s daughter, so I obviously I want to be a good friend.
David: That’s great that you’re so laid back about offering help. Your on-screen persona has always given off that same type of vibe. When I met you in person at the party you were incredibly nice and very relaxed. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to think you’re a very easy-going guy, to the extent that your nick name in the WWE was Big Daddy Cool. Would you say that your wrestling personality is really just an extension of who you are in your everyday life?
Kevin: Yeah, I think I’m pretty laid back by nature. I can go zero to sixty pretty quickly if someone agitates me, but it takes a lot to get me there.
David: When you first broke into the business—back when wrestlers were expected to scream and yell their dialogue with full intensity—did you find it difficult to go against your laid-back demeanor?
Kevin: Yeah, when I broke in it was still all about: LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING, BROTHER! (does his best Hulk Hogan impersonation). Screaming, and all that. Whereas I was cutting promos and just talking. I would bring dialogue while everybody else was yelling at full volume. They would tell me: “You need to pick it up,” and I would say, “It’s not in me.” Big guys don’t have to scream. Big guys can just talk and people tend to listen to them.
David: It’s funny what you have to convince people of sometimes. There’s been a huge shift in the alcohol industry over the past five years in the way that brands are marketed and advertised. It went from a very brand name-dominated, gimmicky market with lots of pretty boxes and fancy packaging, to a more details-oriented, stripped-down market that values authenticity and transparency. Telling a real, down-to-earth story has become the new normal, but it wasn’t always that way and we weren’t the first industry in the modern age to experience this type of transition—which is what I try to tell most brands when we talk business. It happened to the professional wrestling business almost fifteen years earlier. In 1996, you and your friend Scott Hall went on live television and invaded WCW, using your real names and acting like your real-life selves—instead of using cheesy personas—and it revolutionized the industry. All of a sudden the fakery was out and realism was in. What did the higher-ups at WCW think about this idea when you were formulating it at the time?
Kevin: It was one of those things where they knew we had had success in the WWE before coming there, but for so many years every person in the wrestling business was pretty much pegged into an occupation. You were supposed to be a crazy dentist, or a fireman—it was always something stupid like that. So I said, “How about we just play two guys who pick up aluminum baseball bats?” How about we just make it real? If Scott Hall and Kevin Nash go out there and cut promos as themselves, then people are absolutely going to think that this is real. It wasn’t over the top, and the people bought it.
David: Were you confident that it was going to work, or did you feel like you were taking a risk?
Kevin: We had slowly, even before we left the WWE, begun toning down our characters. I remember at the Royal Rumble in 1996 before I left, I caused the Undertaker to lose a match with Bret Hart, and as I left I flipped him off. At the time that was taboo. Nobody ever did that, and I did it at a pay-per-view right in his face. Later on, Steve Austin would flip off everyone right before he gave them a Stone Cold Stunner, but that was the first time that someone had acted like you would in real life—you’re driving down the road, someone cuts you off, you give them the finger. I hadn’t told anyone that I was going to do it, and when I came through the curtain everyone said, “What did you just do?” And I said, “I did something real.” There wasn’t a person there that night that didn’t understand where I was coming from. The audience can’t comprehend what it’s like to jump off the top rope and hit someone with a chair, but they understand what it feels like to flip someone off.
David: So when you start making changes like that and you begin to push the envelope, obviously there are going to be people who are uncomfortable with that because it’s never been done before. Within the alcohol industry there’s a new craft beer movement and a new craft whiskey movement wherein producers are taking risks and trying new things, sometimes to the chagrin of those already entrenched in the business. But you know that these movements are beginning to gain steam when you see the big companies with the big names begin to follow suit. That’s when you know your push for change is truly having an effect. In your case, you got the biggest name in professional wrestling to completely change his tune and switch sides in the name of better business, which proved your impact was being felt. You got Hulk Hogan to turn on the fans and become a bad guy for the first time in his career. What did it take to convince him that this was truly the way forward?
Kevin: It didn’t take much to convince him, actually. He was filming a movie at the time and he was watching Nitro on TV. It was maybe five weeks after we got to WCW before Hulk came back. He had been watching from the set and he saw that money train leave the station because Scott and I were getting huge ovations just for showing up. We’d hit the spotlight, the crowd would go crazy, and that would be all we’d do that day. Hulk had been the “take your vitamins and say your prayers” guy for so long that it was time for him change it up and take that leap of faith—which he did. To me, it was one of those things where Scott and I were stars, but Hogan was iconic. So when Hulk made the move, that stamp of validation for Scott and I was huge. It basically said: these guys are doing something so groundbreaking that it’s going to make me turn evil. Scott and I were the first stage, and Hogan was the second stage, but it never would have gone as far as it did without Hulk. There’s just no way.
David: And how did that make you feel—knowing that you had created an entirely new format for professional wrestling? Did that create pressure to move further, or was it just a sense of pride from knowing you had led the way?
Kevin: For me, it was validation that something we had believed in for a long time would actually work; and that the wrestling audience was actually a more sophisticated audience than people had previously given them credit for. You could look in the crowd during that era and watch the demographic change. Nothing against Nascar, but the crowd didn’t look like a Nascar audience anymore. We were seeing NWO shirts on everyone, everywhere we went. I went down to a couple of beach towns during the summer, where the T-shirt shops are just about everywhere, and all of them had NWO shirts. I had never, ever seen wrestling T-shirts in just a generic T-shirt shop before.
David: A lot of people credit the Stone Cold Steve Austin era for bringing wrestling back into the mainstream of pop culture—he was on MTV during that time, and wrestling was super cool again—but I think the people who were there during that period know it really began with you and Scott. That leads into another interesting question with links to the booze industry: what did you think about the evolution of the wrestling fan during that time, with the invention of the internet and the message boards filled with fans who were keen on becoming part of the act?
Kevin: Once the wrestling crowd got hip to what was going on we could start doing the whole catch-phrase thing. We’d throw out the first part and say, “The NWO is…” and then the crowd would yell, “too sweet!” Then, of course, everyone started doing that. Stone Cold would say, “That’s the bottom line…” and the crowd would say, “Because Stone Cold said so.” Or “Gimme a hell yeah!” and the crowd would say “hell yeah!” So whereas in the past the crowd was never a part of the production, the crowd became a huge part of the show and crowd participation became very important. Instead of a smoky backroom type of thing, it made going to a wrestling show kind of like going to a rock concert. When the groupies after the show became Playmates and Penthouse Pets, we knew we had crossed the threshold.
David: The esteem of being a professional wrestler grew during that period. You guys became bigger celebrities. You had a much broader audience that no longer viewed it as a circus act, so to speak.
Kevin: Right, between the two shows for a while—WWE and WCW—we were doing a combined Nielson rating of 11 or 12. There was actually talk that Monday Night Football was considering moving to Thursday because their audience was getting killed by these two wrestling shows. It was a big deal.
David: So during that time—right in the middle of the Monday Night War—who were the guys you would go grab a drink with after the show?
Kevin: It was always Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, usually Hulk, Randy Savage, Eric Bischoff, Lex Luger, and Diamond Dallas Page. That was kind of the crew. We drank a lot of beer back then.
David: Who drank what? Did everyone have the same thing, or did certain people have certain drinks?
Kevin: Hogan kind of had carte blanche, where he could bring beer into the locker room early in the day. Hulk would drink Miller Light in cans, so we always knew there was beer in Hulk’s locker room. We would have a few beers, talk, and just hang out. Sean liked his tequila, but most of us just had beer. When I got out of wrestling and started letting my hair go grey, I switched completely over to wine and watched my waistline drop by two inches (laughs).
David: That was my next question! How hard do you have to exercise to work off all that beer?
Kevin: Ugh….(laughs). We never wanted wine back then because wine is a diuretic. When I got older, however, I could drink two bottles of wine and just eat a steak, then wake up the next morning and still have abs. If I drink beer now I’ll wake up looking like the Iron Sheik! I swear I’m getting a gluten intolerance (laughs).
David: Ha! Speaking of food fads, there are always trends in every business. In my industry, there has been a reemergence of brown spirits. You’ve got single malt and Bourbon coming back strong, strengthened by shows like Mad Men and the classic cocktail revival. At the same time, however, I can see the end of this movement coming as the key facets of the popularity get co-opted and the same tired selling points become hackneyed and stale. Rather than try to create new things, everyone tries to do a different variation of the same thing. After the NWO formed in WCW, we were then treated to the NWO Wolfpack, then the LWO with Eddie Guerrero, then the BWO in ECW, and even your friends with Degeneration X over in the WWE. Everyone wanted to form a strong stable of wrestlers and create their own version of what you had already done, with a cool logo and a top-selling T-shirt. Did that ever start to wear on you?
Kevin: It’s inevitable, you know? You look at the new top of the line Hyundai—they’re trying to mimic as much as they can the look of the S-Class. When you’re the standard bearer of anything, people are going to try and mimic you as much as they can. Everything else is just a ripoff. At least with Degeneration X, it was cool because they had better production quality in the WWE. People always say about movies that there are only seven real stories to be told and it’s just a matter of how you tell them. It’s the same for wrestling. There are only about five different wrestling angles and it’s just a matter of how you present them. The NWO was an angle that seemed like a blueprint for success and we went with it, until—as you said—it got completely watered-down. But, until you create the next thing—which I haven’t seen yet (laughs)—then you just go with it.
David: I haven’t seen the next big thing for wrestling since the NWO faded out. Often times you’re still the most exciting part of the show, when you choose to make an appearance. I was lucky enough to sit up front for Wrestlemania this year, and while watching the Sting vs. HHH match I was super pumped to hear that old NWO music play and watch you make an entrance. Twenty years later, the crowd still goes crazy.
Kevin: To be in the sports entertainment realm, where you’re performing for huge crowds, and to be able to throw up that old NWO hand sign—the wolf, or whatever you want to call it, with the two fingers—that’s as iconic of a symbol for wrestling fans as the lips are to the Rolling Stones and rock n’ roll fans. Now with the WWE network, they play all those old shows and when I do signings now there will be about 300-400 people in line where 35% of them are young kids with NWO shirts. They watch it on the network and it’s like real time to them. Then they get up to the front of the line, and they look at you, with your grey hair, and they say, “Is that him? I think that’s him!” (laughs).
David: Say what you will about the WWE production—which I agree is much better than WCW ever was—but they never came close to anything as good as that NWO music. It’s still the best entrance theme ever.
Kevin: Scott used to always say, “Hit the porno music,” before we walked out.
David: (laughs) So what have you been drinking lately, now that the Magic Mike XXL madness has died down?
Kevin: My goal in life is to find the perfect $20 bottle of wine. That’s my quest. I’m mostly a cab/shiraz guy, but I’ll drink Bordeaux blends every now and again.
David: Would you say you drink a bottle of wine every day?
Kevin: Oh yeah. Every day. Just for health reasons.
David: Absolutely (laughs). Do you drink it with food, or is it more to hang out with after the meal?
Kevin: I usually drink water with my meal, then usually I’ll pop a bottle around nine, let it breath for a half hour, then sit down with a glass and watch TV. Last night, for example, we put on True Detective and finished a bottle of wine off in about two hours, then I watched the news and went to bed. That’s it.
David: That’s my normal day, too. It’s great to hear you say that. It makes me feel so much better about my own consumption.
Kevin: There are a lot of times where my wife and I will go out to eat, we’ll share a bottle of wine, then we’ll pop another one when we get home. My wife will often drink a bottle of wine on her own.
David: Mine, too!
Kevin: I’ll say: “That one’s yours, this one’s mine.” We’ll open them at the same time, she pours out of her bottle, I’ll pour out of mine.
David: Besides your wife, who’s your favorite person to drink with? Maybe a former wrestler you you enjoy drinking with.
Kevin: Stone Cold Steve Austin.
David: Of course. So do you guys drink wine or beer?
David: (laughs) So you guys drink everything?
Kevin: Yes, I’ll actually drink Bourbon with him. We’ve even had espresso martinis. For some reason, Steve and I run the gauntlet. At the Wrestlemania-before-last we were down in New Orleans, staying at the Waldorf-Astoria, and we had these two massive suites right next door to one another—complements of the WWE. On the room service wine list they had the Orin Swift Prisoner, which we began ordering repeatedly. When we ran into the guys later they’d say, “Hey, we haven’t seen either of you all week,” and the joke was that we’d been “held prisoner”. Every single night we’d order more and more. At one point we were each drinking two bottles a night. At 14+ percent, that’s a pretty high alcohol wine. All those Orin Swift wines are pretty high up there—the Abstract, the Saldo, etc.
David: You really know your shit, man! That's impressive. Who’s someone you never got to meet that you might want to drink with?
Kevin: God, I would have loved to drink wine with Andre.
David: Andre the Giant.
Kevin: They said he wouldn’t even go out into the ring until he’d drunk six bottles. Six bottles—every night before he went to the ring.
David: He was French, right? So that's to be expected.
Kevin: They say the normal French man consumes something like 723ml of wine a day, which is almost a bottle. Their diet is fat-based, but for some reason they have good heart health. Well, I’m 300 pounds, they’re on average about 150, so why shouldn’t I be drinking two bottles?
David: It makes perfect sense to me.
Kevin: Some nights I do have a bottle and a half, or even two, but—you know what?—I don’t ever wake up the next morning and say, “Oh man, I drank too much.” Worst case scenario, I’m feeling a little woozy, so I slam a Powerade Zero before bed and then I’m fine.