D2D Interview: Taylor Knox

When you think of the great power surfers of the world, the guys who ride with precision and dynamism, you think of Taylor Knox. He's one of the purest, old school technicians of all time; the guy who others surfers cite as their number one influence when you ask them who their favorite surfer is. Not necessarily one for fancy tricks or the latest modern maneuvers, Taylor is renowned for his style and strength—he'll charge a wave and draw a pure line through the water, carving from rail to rail with precision and power. Not only the world's greatest and most famous breaks, but also huge, massive waves that would scare the daylights out of most folks. In 1998, Taylor was photographed riding a gigantic fifty-two foot wave at Todos Santos along the coast of Baja—a ride that would quickly go down as one of the most significant paddle-in waves ever ridden. Not only is he incredibly adept, skilled, and influential, he's also fearless. In 2011, at the age of forty, Taylor was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame. In the world of surfing, the man is a legend.

While Taylor definitely has a taste for tequila, his real passion is beer. In 2010, while surfing in Puerto Rico, Knox was approached about becoming a spokesperson for a tequila brand, but found the idea didn't really mesh with his surfing lifestyle. Beer, on the other hand, seemed like far less of a stretch. You surf, you come in from the water, you have a beer. Why not be part of a brewery instead? That's when Taylor, and a group of other action sports stars, banded together to spearhead Saint Archer Brewery in San Diego—a craft operation whose beer we now proudly feature here at K&L. Knowing of his affinity for booze, I decided to reach out to our friends at the brewery and ask Taylor his thoughts on drinking. He was more than happy to comply.

In this edition of Drinking to Drink, we talk about Taylor's favorite surf spots, what to drink at each of those places, and the importance of moderation in both imbibing and life itself. 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.

David: How did you get involved with Saint Archer Brewery? Have you always had a thing for beer?

Taylor: I think it all goes back to when I was younger. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico where cold beer is the thing. It’s also the dream of California, you know? You go surf, you come in, you have a fire on the beach, and you have a beer. Drinking has always been a part of surfing—obviously not abusing alcohol, but the enjoyment of it goes hand in hand. Growing up, my father was always very strict with me. He always told me, “You’re not drinking anything until you can legally drink.” So I didn’t really start drinking very much until I was in my late twenties. That’s when I began to understand the difference between good beer and the cheaper stuff you usually get when you’re younger; when you’re just happy to have whatever’s around.

David: What was the revelation for you?

Taylor: Understanding how the ingredients make a difference and who’s making it, of course, was part of the process. When I started to get into it, and the craft beer movement started to explode in California, that’s when Josh Landon—who was my agent at the time—approached me. I had previously been approached to be part of a tequila company, and so he said, “Let me think about this for a minute. A tequila company, eh?” So we thought: there are definitely a lot of surfers who like tequila—myself included—but you don’t necessarily get out of the water after surfing and start chugging tequila. It’s just not something you do, or that I do, at least. On most days when I’m done surfing I have a beer, so we thought: why don’t we start a beer brand based on our lifestyle and the people that we know in the industry? And that’s how it all got started.

David: Would you say that beer is an easier fit for the surfing lifestyle than other beverages?

Taylor: For sure. One or two beers after a long day of surfing is commonplace, especially when you’re travelling. Let’s say you’re in the tropics or down in Mexico where it’s warm: you’re definitely looking for a cold beer more than anything. I’m not looking for a warm drink, that’s for sure (laughs).

David: Plus beer is universal, and it seems that every country has their own version of it. No matter where you are there’s probably a beer close by.

Taylor: Right, it’s just an easier thing to find. You’re not going to drink a shot of tequila after a long day in the water when you can have a nice, cold Tecate or Negro Modelo—which is my favorite Mexican beer.

David: Sports and beer definitely go hand-in-hand. I went and played golf for the first time in a very long time recently and I was reaching for a cold can of Modelo myself. I was not reaching for a warm glass of tequila.

Taylor: (laughs) You and I feel the same there. Plus, you can’t drink much tequila without getting totally wasted. A lot of time you want to have a few drinks, but you don’t want to be totally shitfaced at the end of the day.

David: In 1990, when you were nineteen years old, you entered the World Amateur Championship surf competition in Japan. Was this your first major exposure to the wider world of surfing?

Taylor: Yeah, it was the biggest amateur event that there was in the world. It sets the stage for you as an amateur. It’s kind of the last thing you do and then you’re ready. It’s like in college football: you go to the bowl game and then you turn pro. That’s the biggest bowl game in amateur surfing. If you do well you can go from an OK contract to making double that.

David: And you finished fourth in that contest, which was a big deal.

Taylor: It was a really big deal because Kelly (Slater) was in it and, as you know, Kelly’s the best surfer of all time. I ended up beating him in the semis to make the final—God, that was so long ago! I was definitely an underdog and I don’t think many people were counting on me making the final. It was pretty cool, being able to beat him in that semifinal. I ended up getting called for interference at the end, which was a bummer because I would’ve placed second had that not happened. But, whatever! (laughs)

David: Were all eyes on you after that happened? Did the brands start calling? Did the sponsors start rolling in?

Taylor: It definitely elevated me. The sponsor I had at the time had made me an offer before that contest, and afterward it was twice as much. I was making $1200 a month, which in my world was fantastic because I was making nothing before that (laughs).

David: And you were doing the thing that you love.

Taylor: Right, it’s funny looking back—I was thinking, “Man, what am I going to do with all this money?”

David: That event obviously put you on the map, but you ended up surfing at a world class level for the next twenty years. You never looked back. You retired in 2013, right?

Taylor: Yes, but I’m still going strong. I get paid to be an ambassador now.

David: What do you attribute your longevity to?

Taylor: I attribute it to staying fit, staying in shape, and doing the form of meditation that I started about thirteen years ago. That’s probably what helped me out the most. I was always known to be a guy who trained hard when I was young, and that obviously helped—I still train all the time to this day. I put out training DVDs even—that was awesome. But later I learned that the body follows the mind, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never really paid attention to that side of things.” Once I started doing this form of meditation—called Kelee meditation—it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my life. It wasn’t just about surfing anymore. I had some relationship troubles early on, just normal guy stuff, and was dealing with some personal issues, so the meditation just helped me to stay grounded, to stay within myself. It also taught me how to look in the mirror, to focus on what I wanted to change in my life without doing something drastic like becoming a vegan, or wearing a red robe and shaving my head (laughs). I had the misperception that that’s what meditation and yoga were all about.

David: It’s funny that you bring this up because writing this blog has had a similar effect on me. It’s forced me to analyze what I’m saying and why I say it, which has in turn forced me to analyze my behavior. I don’t ever assume that others have gone down a similar path, nor do I want to sound preachy, but it’s great to hear what you have to say about self-realization because, despite the fact that booze is the ultimate guise here, it’s a big part of what these interviews are about for me. How does your enjoyment of alcohol fit into the balance between training and meditation?

Taylor: Moderation is the key to everything. I used to train too much. I don’t want to drink too much. When I come home now I don’t want six light beers, I want one tall double IPA. I’m fine with that, and I’m not guzzling it; I’m sipping it. Life got so much better when I took some of the excess off. Excess means excess in anything. I can’t surf eight hours a day, every day, like I did when I was a kid. My body gets sore after that much. I can do it for a few days if the waves are good, of course, but when I was younger it was all day, every day with no stretching. It’s all about enjoying life at this point; more isn’t necessarily always better.

David: That definitely sums up the way many people feel about alcohol as they get older.

Taylor: Right, that’s why I got into the craft scene. I’d rather have one really good beer than three shitty beers. I’ll happily pay extra money for that one nice beer.

David: That’s been the revelation for many drinkers over the last five to seven years: a lot more people realized they’d rather have one good cocktail than two shitty ones. Rather than five shots of shitty Bourbon, they wanted one nice glass to savor. Because of that mindset, the industry has been able to grow and nurture a new community of small producers who can cater to that desire.

Taylor: It’s crazy. It’s like everything has gone up in quality. In San Diego, craft beer is just the thing now. The people I’m seeing aren’t walking out of the store with lower-level stuff. I see them walking out carrying good craft beer, which is cool.

David: I went to college in San Diego in the late nineties and the only place I ever saw Stone was on the commuter train along the coast going north to LA. Now it’s everywhere.

Taylor: Right, now it’s like a giant multi-million dollar company!

David: How has working with Saint Archer affected your appreciation for beer?

Taylor: It’s been super fun. With wine you have sommeliers, right? So hanging out with our brewers has been such an educational process in a similar way. I had no idea that different types of hops are harder to get than others, and that there are premiums on them. You’ve gotta be on a list just to get some of them. It’s a lot like getting certain grapes for winemaking, right?

David: Or like getting a Cannibus Club card (laughs). All the different strains!

Taylor: Right! The one thing I do have going for me is my palate; I can taste the differences between all these strains and relate them to what our brewers are saying about the beer.

David: And that has increased your appreciation for drinking?

Taylor: Yes, and also learning about what these guys go through. What they do for different mixtures and how the fermentation time affects flavor—all that stuff. Every time I go down there I’m asking all these questions: Why are you doing this, and why are you doing that? So much thought goes into it. It’s so technical. The beer world with all the different malts and then the ciders—it’s a lot to work with! I still have a lot to learn.

David: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever had a beer while surfing?

Taylor: I think one of the coolest places to have a cold beer is at Teahupoʻo. You have to get out there with a boat and it’s a real heavy wave. Do you know where I’m talking about?

David: No, I don’t actually. Fill me in.

Taylor: So on the tour they have a contest in Tahiti and it’s called Teahupoʻo or “end of the road”. It’s probably the heaviest wave on the tour and you can only get out there via boat. Where the boats park themselves, it’s so close to the wave—within like thirty feet of it—that you can actually get spit of the barrel and jump right on to the boat. It’s so unique. I’d say that’s probably one of the best spots—to be on a boat surfing all day with the captain, who’s got a cooler full of cold beer right when you come in. Then you go into the hut, ride back to shore, and watch the sun go down. It’s pretty amazing.

David: Is that one of the spots they visit in The Endless Summer 2? It’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie, but I remember a scene with them surfing right near a boat.

Taylor: Oh, you’re talking about Tavarua in Fiji. That would actually be my second favorite place. It’s just an incredible spot to have a beer; plus you’re out in the tropics, so you’re already hot. It’s boiling outside, you’re overheating, and you get that barrel on your last wave that takes you right up to the boat where you grab a beer. What a perfect day.

David: Who’s someone memorable that you got to have a drink with while doing all this?

Taylor: For me, it’s the local people wherever I’m at. In Tahiti, I have some good friends who are from the area. Getting to share these experiences with them is what I enjoy. Even though I can’t speak the language, there’s still the universal language of a smile, a sunset, and a good beer.

-David Driscoll


Sharing is Caring

What a lovely weekend here in Northern California! I'm resting in Modesto, sitting in the backyard with my parents, drinking Bloody Mary cocktails with the new St. George chile vodka. It's such a deliciously potent spirit. Seeing that I had time for a brief respite, I thought I'd bring some treats from the Bay over to the Central Valley.

It was about time to use the black truffles I'd smuggled back in from Paris as well, so my parents and I whipped up a lovely pasta dish. Sharing is caring, and my parents have little to no experience with truffles, so it was quite an experience. When talking about their most-prized bottles of whisky, a lot of customers tell me,  "I don't waste the good stuff on my guests. I save the good stuff for me," because they don't want to share sacred bottles of booze with people who won't appreciate them. I get that, but I think I'm the exact opposite type of person. I'd rather eat truffles with people who have never had them before, just like I'd rather drink Port Ellen with someone who had no idea what it was. All the pretense goes right out the window that way. It's just pure wonder.

-David Driscoll


Worth It/Not Worth It

One thing you quickly learn in the liquor retail business is that not only do different people have different tastes and preferences for flavor, they also have different thresholds and opinions concerning value. One customer may not want to spend more than $30 on a bottle of whiskey, while another may not want to spend less than $100. If you're not able to effectively communicate value (or whether a whisky is "worth the money") along various price points and levels of quality, then you're not going to be much help to your clientele. You need to be able to see things from various points of view, and if you don't have the requisite experience to do so, then really you're just talking out of your ass. One customer may want detailed tasting notes and to compare pricing with other competitors. Another might care more about the uniqueness of the product, or the exclusivity rather than the price. As one of my customers told me yesterday: "In the end, this is all going to be filtered out by my kidneys and end up in the toilet. I'm literally pissing my money away, so you might as well give me an experience."

There are two words that always need to be included when you use the terms worth it/not worth it: to me. For example, you can tell me that the Whistle Pig "Boss Hog" isn't worth $174.99 to you (and I might even agree with you), but I've got hundreds of other customers who would say otherwise. Why are they willing to pay that much for a 13 year old rye whiskey? Because they think it tastes good and they think the price matches the qualitative level. In my opinion, being an effective retailer doesn't mean you tell people what's good and what isn't (that's for people trying to sell themselves, rather than a bottle of whisky). To me (key words), it's about trying to understand what people want and then giving it to them. To do that, however, you need experience.

When I was in Paris a few weeks ago, I had just finished up lunch with my wife at Pret a Manger at the end of Champs Elysée, when we stumbled upon this placard. When I say we had "just finished up lunch", I mean we had stopped eating literally two minutes before walking across the street and noticing the Maison de la Truffe.

"Oh shit," I said to my wife. "I've never really had truffles before and I want to."

"We can come back tomorrow, right?" she said.

"No, there's no time. We either do it now, or we don't do it,"

"But we just ate."

"Can you eat again?"

"Look who you're talking to."

So we went in and had a second lunch, mere minutes after finishing our first one. I wanted the experience of ordering a $75 bowl of risotto. Why? Because I wanted to know what freshly-shaved black truffles tasted like. If you don't know, then you can't effectively tell customers which wines would pair best with a truffle menu, now can you?

Was it worth it? Totally, because now I know, and as I once learned from G.I. Joe in front of the TV every Saturday morning, "knowing is half the battle" in the retail gig. The other half is translating that knowledge into a recommendation that your customer will ultimately enjoy.

-David Driscoll


Fun New (North) American Whiskies

The next iteration of Diageo's Orphan Barrel series has arrived. I haven't tasted it yet, but it's in stock and ready to rock! David OG I believe will get tasting notes in shortly, as he did get the chance to give it a whirl.

Orphan Barrel Forged Oak 15 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $69.99- The new offering from Diageo's Orphan Barrel operation is a 15 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey distilled at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. It features a very low rye content in the mashbill and is already selling out across the country. These Orphan Barrels are the reminisce of long defunct brands of bourbon or blended whiskey, that have found new life in this special series. Sip on this and wonder where this whiskey might have gone otherwise. I think we're all glad it ended up here. Limit 2 bottles per customer.

We’ve also got two new arrivals from Jim Beam: a new 100 proof Bonded version of the standard recipe, and a beefed up 45% rye whiskey. Both are outstanding values.

Jim Beam Bonded 100 Proof Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $18.99The beast is awakening! Finally, Kentucky’s largest Bourbon distillery is using its size and scale to create a fantastic, value-oriented, high-quality whiskey that anyone can enjoy. For less than $20, this is my new go-to for mixing cocktails and making rocks drinks. It’s Beam flavor through and through—creamy corn, sweet vanilla, and that spicy, grainy finish—just turned up to 100 proof. It’s a no-brainer for the money.

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style 90 Proof Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey $18.99The new 90 proof rye formula is definitely going to make a splash in what is still a rather desolate rye market. The spice is turned up a notch and the pepperiness of the grain really comes through, while maintaining richness. For a few dollars less than Bulleit, it should cause many a discerning drinker to ponder switching over. A must for Manhattans.

Wiser's 18 Year Old Canadian Whiskey $54.99 - While I feel the Lot 40 continues to be a great crossover or gateway whisky for American whiskey fans looking to explore something new, the Wiser's 18 year is Canadian through and through—and that's a good thing. People who change their personality to fit what others want them to be are uninteresting and boring. That being said, I would be disappointed if 200 years of whisky tradition were changed and altered to capitalize on the current cask strength American whiskey fad. The Wiser's 18 is full of pencil shavings and rye spice on the nose. It begins with soft oak on the palate, and quickly moves into a peppery, spicy, rye-dominated flurry of flavor that finishes with accents of baking spice and lots of tingly, tangy goodness. If you're looking for a replacement to that 18 year old Stitzel-Weller Bourbon you drained two years ago, then look elsewhere. If you're looking to try one of Canada's legendary 18 year old whiskies for the same price as a 10 year old Springbank, then this is definitely up your alley. It's as good as anything I've had from Canada thus far, which I'll admit isn't much, but it has me very excited for what else may be lying in wait.

-David Driscoll


Come Taste With MBD Master of Malt: Iain McCallum

I've been really impressed with both Beam and Suntory since they joined forces to take on the world's biggest booze brands. The Beam Bourbon portfolio has really started moving in the right direction and now I've learned that the Morisson Bowmore whiskies are also getting the rub. I had the chance to taste through some of the new Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch whiskies this morning and I was quite taken aback. When they told me that former blender and current Master of Malt Iain McCallum was coming into town later this month, I said, "We should let everyone taste how good these whiskies are with Iain as a guide." So we put together this little event for you.

Same set up as our tasting with Bruichladdich last week, but with more whisky! Same price too!

Morrison-Bowmore Tasting w/Iain McCallum Event @ Donato, Tuesday March 24th, 2015 - 7-9pm $10 - Come and taste an extensive lineup of single malt whiskies from Bowmore, Glen Garioch, and Auchentoshan distilleries along side former MBD blender and current global brand ambassador Iain McCallum. This will be a sit down event with light food. There are no paper tickets for this event, your name will simply be on a guest list. Only 60 spots available.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

-David Driscoll