Whisky Clubbing - Part 1
How To Start (and run) a Whisky Club
A Whisky Club. Sounds like a cool idea, the kind of club you really enjoy being a part of. After all, drinking whisky alone is like the sound of one hand clapping. But where do you start? How do you find a whisky club in your area, or better still, how do you create and run a whisky club from scratch yourself?
A whisky club is no different to any other club or society. A group of people getting together who share a common interest, and who live conveniently close to each other. It is no different to a bridge, Scrabble, poker or quilting club (apart from the obvious over-18 age restriction). Unlike some other clubs, however, a whisky club can have as little as two members.
My first whisky club, going back far too many years, consisted of my neighbour and I getting together to share a dram or two on a Friday afternoon after work. Sometimes it would be at his place, other times at mine. Of course we didn’t call it a Club then, we were simply enjoying good whisky and even better company. Over time we casually invited someone else we knew that liked whisky to join us. Then another, and another. Now there are over a dozen of us in the club, and we take turns to host the group.
With the growing number of whisky enthusiasts right around Australia, one might think that starting a whisky club in your area would be quite simple. That’s not necessarily the case, and apart from the basic idea, many people might not have a picture of what the club would look like once established. Here are a few ideas, suggestions and tips to help you take those first steps in getting a whisky club going, and more importantly, keeping it going, whilst enjoying the whiskies and the company of those in the club.
- The Vision
Think about why you want to start a club, what kind of people you would like to see as members, how often you want to meet, how many members would be an optimum number and where you would meet. These are more important than the whiskies themselves, that comes at a later time in the planning. I was once invited to a whisky club that had its own constitution, framed for all to see (no, the club founder was not a lawyer). I’m not suggesting that one needs to be that formal, but at least have an idea in your head as to what you would like the club to look like.
- Recruit Members
Nowadays, social media makes it a lot easier to get the word out there. In all likelihood there will be either individuals living nearby who have been thinking of doing something similar, or an existing club keen to recruit new members. Use the numerous whisky enthusiast groups to make your intentions known, sit back and watch the response.
- Get the Ball Rolling
Although you might have an ideal number of members in mind for your club, don’t feel constrained by that number. Be bold, and consider the club to be a going concern with as little as two of you. It will grow, that’s for sure. As long as you and the potential members have had a chance to ‘sniff each other’, find out a bit of background information, and are comfortable enough to give it go, you have a club. Don’t be too concerned if some people attend a few gatherings and decide it’s not for them, that’s just natural. Don’t take it too personally. One factor that shouldn’t be a major consideration is the relative level of whisky knowledge or experience. It is healthy to have a mix of people in the club. Don’t feel intimidated and unworthy if you think that you know far less than others, part of the benefits of such a club is to learn and expand your horizons. Similarly, don’t reject someone if you feel that they aren’t up to the level of most of the others in the club. Experience and knowledge are of little use unless shared, and all will ultimately benefit.
Once the initial group has been established, agree on a method of communication. This might be a Whatsapp group chat, a Facebook group or group chat or a SMS group. Just keep it simple, agree on one person who is the main administrator, and set some basic ground rules (for example, no cat memes..). Most whisky clubs have a name. If you do decide on a club name, keep it clean, fun and descriptive.
- Develop a Structure
Whilst I am not a big fan of over-complicating a whisky club, it is meant to be fun after all, there does need to be a basic structure. This could include:
- How often does the club meet? This could be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or on an ad-hoc basis.
- Where does the club meet? Some clubs meet at the same person’s home all the time, others rotate between members, and some even rent a room at a local hotel or pub. Remember you don’t want any club members to be drinking and driving, so consider public transport, Uber/Ola, etc or designated drivers or a shuttle service as part of the venue decision making.
- How long is each meeting? This is purely up to you, and could be from a couple of hours to a whole afternoon or evening.
- How many whiskies are there at each meeting? Again, this is a completely random number. I have been to whisky club meetings where only one whisky was tasted. Granted, it was a super expensive rare whisky, but there was only one. The number of whiskies available are generally guided by Responsible Service of Alcohol guidelines, as the safety of the club members takes precedence. This brings us to the next consideration…
- What size of serves do we do? This might be determined by the number of whiskies, but I would caution against free pours. Measured pourers or tot measures, be it 10ml, 15ml or 30ml, are quite readily available, and helps members monitor their consumption. With a few bottles open, all being poured freely, it is hard to know how much is being consumed over time.
- What food is served? Having food available at a whisky club meeting might seem pretty obvious, but it has to be planned, budgeted for and be assigned to someone or to a team. The host person could be responsible for providing the nibbles, it could be on a roster basis or you could just outsource to Uber Eats. As long as there is food!
- Who pays for what? Nobody really likes to discuss money, but for a whisky club it is best done at the outset. Agree on a budget for each get-together, assign treasurer duties to one person, and define a method and time of payment by each member. Some clubs have a fixed monthly contribution, whether you attend all meetings or not, others work out the actual costs of whisky and food for that meeting. Yes, remember to include the cost of food.
- What about tasting notes? Some whisky clubs have a very structured, formal way of tasting and drinking their whiskies, others don’t bother with this at all. It is purely up to you, and there is no right or wrong way to manage a club meeting. I am not a great fan of having structured tasting notes and scoring as part of a whisky club get-together, as I feel this often (not always) can detract from the pure enjoyment of tasting and drinking whisky.
- The Whisky!
OK, now we have the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk about what whiskies you have at club meetings, who decides and where do you get them from. Think back to why you wanted a whisky club in the first place. There are so many permutations and options out there, I have listed only a few by way of example:
- The host decides. Whoever is hosting a club meeting gets to decide on the whisky lineup, within the guidelines of the club budget and number of bottles
- Bring a bottle. Everyone brings a bottle of their choice to share with the club. This option might sound easy, but be aware of the potential for conflict if someone feels that there is an unfairness in the value of what they have brought compared to others.
- Agree on a theme. There are endless themes one could choose, from all Australian whiskies, all peated, all sherry cask matured, all cask strength, and so on, and so on. It is simple to set up a Facebook poll in a group, so everyone can vote.
- Choose a unicorn bottle. Most whisky lovers have at least one bottle they would love to try, but can’t afford to buy that bottle, or can’t find it readily available in a local bar. By splitting the cost of a bottle amongst club members, it could make it worthwhile.
- Pick a brand. Everyone has a favourite distillery or brand that they favour above all others. Selecting a few bottles that fit within the club budget from a brand can be a lot of fun, both for those brand evangelists, and those who may not have ever tasted one of their whiskies.
- Find a facilitator. Each club meeting will need one person to guide everyone through the whiskies, give a bit of an explanation and manage proceedings. This could be the same person every time, or the host of that meeting, or a guest whisky ‘expert’.
- What Else Will You Need?
Some of the ‘tools of the trade’ have been touched on earlier, but here are a few basics to consider for each club meeting. Apart from the whiskies, of course, you will need whisky glasses, tot measures or pourers, possibly pipettes to measure water for the whiskies, food, and either water glasses and jugs of water or bottled water. It cannot be stressed enough how much water one should drink when consuming whisky.
When it comes to whisky glasses, some clubs have a common pool of glasses, and everyone chips in to cover the initial cost. Others have a basic system whereby everyone brings their own glasses to the meetings.
Luckily for you The Whisky List has a talent pool at your disposal to help you set up and manage your whisky club. The website is a great resource to help source bottles for the club and manage the budget, but they can also help with suggesting themes and providing a ‘Starter Kit’ of glassware, pourers, pipettes, etc. Don’t be shy to reach out if you need any assistance.
Whisky clubs are a great way to meet fellow whisky enthusiasts, make new friends and share great whiskies. They are living, evolving beasts, and the structure, format membership will change and develop over time. Just take that first leap of faith, you won’t regret it.