I'm not the kind of guy who historically says, no. One of the most impactful things I ever read was an interview with Sir Richard Branson. When asked why at that stage in his life and with his amassed fortune he continued doing things that most of us would classify as crazy, he simply replied, “Because life is more interesting when you say, yes, than when you say, no.
Indeed. I took that to heart and my outlook changed forever.
So, when the group of my fraternity brothers who gather somewhere for a few days every year decided to make Austin this year's destination, I was an immediate “yes” vote. It was just a happy coincidence that the dates we chose months ago wound up following on the heels of the Texas Automotive Writers Association's (TAWA) annual Texas Truck Rodeo headquartered just outside of Austin. I belong to this group and participate in the rodeo that climaxes with picking the Truck of Texas.
Actually, I would have said, yes, without the influence of the Branson interview, but I like to impart a little positive life philosophy whenever I can.
|Wow. The Whiskey Vault is like being in a candy store.|
Jumping on board this Austin trip wasn't the real test of my always-say-yes mind set. Nope. The real test was saying, yes, to the trip to Austin's Whiskey Vault. I have to justify to myself a $25 expenditure on an afternoon matinee at the movies with popcorn. When pondering ponying up $150 for a 90-minute experience in the Whiskey Vault with its thousand whiskeys, I required some self convincing. Once committed, however, I was like a reformed smoker or a newly minted husband: My goal was to get as many others on board as possible. After a bit of button-holing, coaxing and coercion, a group of five (out of a possible nine) were paid up. We had a 2 p.m. time slot on Thursday reserved with trainer/taste leader/guide Andrew.
I arrived in Austin on a sunny, warm (85 degrees) Sunday. It was the driest, warmest day of this trip. By Monday morning the rain was falling in buckets and the temp had dropped to 40 degrees. What followed was a week of the most relentless rain I've ever experienced. Lake Travis is at a historic high level and flash-flood warnings were a daily occurrence. While still at the rodeo, our bus back to the hotel from dinner came upon a water event where two feet of water, according to the water-level indicator on the side of the road, blocked our path, requiring the bus to reverse back up a narrow two lane for about half a mile before being able to back into a driveway and turn around.
The subtitle to this Austin week would have to be Rain, Rain, and, for the Love of God, More Rain.
|Our trainer Andrew leading us into Nirvana.|
When Thursday finally arrived, we slogged our way to the Wizard Academy: home of the Whiskey Vault. Wizard Academy bills itself as a summer camp for adults. There are mini schools on all manner of topics to help people achieve their goals. One school features three- and four-day curriculums for getting credentialed as a whiskey sommelier. But there are lots of other courses available. Students stay on the property, which is amazing.
The guys with us who weren't participating in the tasting volunteered as our designated drivers. Following the directions on the GPS-based nav unit in the Nissan NV3500 12-passenger van Nissan provided for my Austin adventure, we headed out of Austin. Apparently I somehow overlooked the e-mail providing instruction for finding our destination. I had no clue that the Whiskey Vault was simply a very big closet crammed with booze in what is a multi-story tower housing the Wizard Academy. There were no “Whiskey Vault” signs. After wandering around for a bit, we came upon one of the academy's employees who escorted us to an outside waiting area near the vault. We were supposed to be at the academy welcome center somewhere else on the property.
Eventually our trainer Andrew found us. Leading us into the bowels of the tower, he began regaling us with stories about the the founder and the property. Yeah, swell, but where's the booze?
Walking up to a large bookcase in an alcove just off the main classroom, Andrew pulled out a book from the top shelf, triggering a switch allowing a section of the bookcase to open into a secret entrance to the Whiskey Vault. We had finally arrived.
This is the same small room where the Whiskey Vault YouTube show is shot. Having watched a few of these outrageously funny videos, I began misting up. I was home!
I had spoken to Andrew on the phone a couple of weeks earlier and knew we were in for a real experience, but had no idea just how much fun it would be. Andrew made it clear right from the get-go that there were few rules in the vault. Based on smaller pours, we could exceed the 8 tastes we each paid $150 for. A couple of the guys were more interested in Scotch (Yeah, I know. Phillistines.) than Bourbon. Andrew bounced back and forth between the the groups egging us on with samples of another and then another rare spirit. Our 90 minutes drifted into 150 minutes.
What a rush! It may have been the best $150 I ever spent. Our event finished up with a detailed tour of the tower during which we continued sipping on the spirit of our choice.
I must admit, I can't find much else to recommend Austin. Our afternoon revolving around Congress and 6th Street was an eye opener. San Francisco's homeless, panhandler issues are only marginally worse than Austin's. Austin's sidewalks have yet to be decorated with human poop, but that day is not far off. We couldn't take more than a dozen steps before being accosted by some homeless person looking for a handout or wanting to tell us a story as a preamble to asking for money. Every vacant-building doorway has a bum sleeping in it. Every underpass is a homeless camp.
Here's the thing: I will return to Austin. Carmakers love holding vehicle unveilings for the media in Austin. I will be back, but the only thing that will get me back to Austin on my own dime is another visit to the Whiskey Vault. Best time ever!