We enjoyed whiskey and thought it might be fun to start a whiskey tasting club in our neighborhood. We did our research on how to create a place where we could taste new spirits, share some of our favorites and build camaraderie around brown spirits.
We began our neighborhood’s Whiskey Tasting Club in September 2013. At our first meeting we had ten interested neighbors show up, and we talked about and voted on how we would set our new club up all while tasting a very large variety that included Scotch, Rye, Bourbon, Irish Whisky and a Canadian Whisky. Now, two years later we are still going strong with 32 members!
All of this came about long before Murray’s Fools was even a twinkle in our eye, and now it is so much sweeter to see the club really flourish as we are in the process of launching our own spirit business! It is a dream of ours that our spirits will be part of a tasting by the group in 2016.
I won’t say it was all smooth sailing to get a club like this to keep its momentum. We did have a few dips in interest, but we managed to rekindle the fire. Here’s how we did it with FOUR easy adjustments:
4 Helpful Hints to Keep Your Whiskey Club Momentum Going:
1. Structure: Create clear guidelines of what the group is for, what is expected from each member financially and as a host. We have a written set of guidelines that we shared with members via our Private Facebook page:
Who the group is for? All of our tastings are held at our member's private homes, and therefore it was determined that the group was specifically for neighborhood residents only. That doesn’t mean guests are not welcomed, it is required, however, that the person bringing a guest let the host know when they RSVP.
What is financially expected of each member? In the beginning we set membership at $100/year, and we rotated around the neighborhood for hosting. We found that paying membership fees didn’t really work, and that setting a $100 maximum/3 different bottle minimum hosting budget, and relying on regular attendees to host at least once a year works well for everyone, and this has encouraged new members to join (and host)!
When to host? We do our best to host regularly scheduled meetings. We’ve found hosting on a weekday towards the end of the work week (i.e. Wed/Thurs) at 7pm worked well for most people. Keeping a routine schedule helps members remember and plan.
What to share? Our club members post all kinds of information regularly on our page. Everything from whiskey cocktail recipes, other local tasting events, jokes, our own tasting event photos to club information is shared in our online Facebook community.
Invitations and RSVPs: Provide an area that everyone in the club has access to for sending invitations and collecting RSVPs. Since all of our members are on our Facebook page, we use the event invitation application on there. One of the administrators posts the event at the beginning of the month, inviting the entire group membership.
3. Club Documentation: Learn what’s important for the group to have knowledge of and keep the information and documents regularly updated through your established communication channel. The three most important documents for our group are:
- Whiskey Tasting Club Rules/Guidelines.
- A list of all the past hosts and what whiskeys and spirits have been previously tasted.
- An updated ‘who’s hosting’ list for the current year. At each monthly tasting, we bring a sign-up sheet to remind those who have already committed and to offer open dates to those who would like to host.
4. Fun and Flexibility
Enjoy yourselves! Don’t let your members fret over having the ‘right’ food or best tasting. Everyone hosts differently, and that’s what makes it interesting and fun! It is all about trying new things and sharing the experience.
Be flexible: It doesn’t always have to be about the whiskey. We’ve had cocktail events where members experience the brown spirit in the form of three different vintage cocktails. We’ve also had members who have traveled and brought back favorite spirits of different countries which weren’t necessarily brown spirits. We’re also planning new adventures in 2016, e.g. a ‘Progressive Drink and Dine’ where we will stop at select members’ homes for a drink and an appetizer or two; a potential bottling party at a local distillery, as well as visits from local distillery owners.
Whiskey: (Rye, Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Canadian etc.) Our group likes to have at least three different bottles to sample at each tasting, whether it’s a theme or an eclectic variety it doesn’t really matter.
Tasting Glasses: Small 5.5/6 oz. glasses work well.
Water: Have a pitcher of water handy for those who like to add a small splash to their drink or for cleansing in between tastings.
Tasting notes: These are always fun either oral or written. We’re all there for the tasting AND the learning. Our hosts spend time researching which bottles to select, and then share the information they’ve learned about the distillery, tasting notes and any other notes of interest.
Food : Some purists say eating food at a tasting is unrefined, but we like to ensure our guests have something to eat while they’re imbibing. There doesn’t need to be a lot of food, and it doesn’t need to be gourmet. However, those interested in whiskey tasting generally do have some pretty complex tastes.Here are some suggestions that can be simply prepared and should please everyone:
- Cheese: Serve a variety of cheeses, for example a peaty scotch will want a stronger cheese, such as a strong blue, Roquefort or Stilton. The sweeter scotches would go well with a softer cheese such as a Brie or Boursault.
- Fruit: Tangy or tart fruits such as apples, pears and peaches are good. We’ve found citrus is maybe a little too strong and can mask flavors.
- Chocolate: We’ve had some pretty amazing treats at our tastings. However, plain dark chocolate is perfect too.
- Meats: Smoked fish (e.g. salmon or trout) or pate (e.g. duck, chicken or mushroom).
If you have any other questions about how we’ve started our club or how our members host a tasting, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my very best to answer your query!