February 27, 2023 – We all know that whisky is best when it’s shared with friends, and whisky clubs are becoming more and more popular…but how do you form a whisky club? We’re going to stay away from the huge clubs with hundreds of members, and focus instead on smaller clubs…like the Texas Whiskey Association and Tasting Society in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

Martin Fielder founded the group, which has around 25 members that meet in his home once a month to learn more about whisky.

“I thought, there’s no way in the world I’m ever going to drink all this whiskey by myself. So I need to find some whiskey friends and not many of my friends were into whiskey so much, and so I thought, well, why don’t I just introduce them to it and why don’t I start my own club. There’s not a club in my community, so I figured that I would be the one to start on that journey,” he said.

Most of Fielder’s members are whisky novices, so he focuses on education during the club’s tastings.

“We’ll have a topic, so we’ll do scotch or bourbon, rye, something like that, and I’ll provide some bottles and we’ll go through tasting them and then I’ll talk about some various themes. You know, if it’s Scotch, I’ll go over the various regions with what’s a Speyside, what’s the Highlands and and kind of the general ideas behind that and the history of the whisky and whisky making in Scotland,” Fielder said. The club ends its meetings with a “whiskey battle,” a blind one-on-one tastings in which the winner moves on toward an eventual champion at the end of the year.

The Dead Liver Society in Massachusetts came about via social media. Elias Aoude is one of the founders, and credits Reddit with bringing the club together.

“There’s various whiskey subreddits, so let’s say one for scotch, one for bourbon, one for world whiskey, so on and so forth. Probably seven or eight years ago, people started founding a smaller subreddits for folks within their communities, kind of like regional whiskey subreddits. One of those was the New England Whiskey Subreddit. And at one point we decided that some of us should try and meet up and do a bottle share and just hang out and actually get to know each other. You know, put faces, you know, put names to faces, so on and so forth. And so we had our first meet up. There was just three of us the first time, but we did it again and again. And each time, more people showed up and we ended up with, you know, probably like 12 to 15 people that at one point were showing up every single time.

Alin Wagner’s Redhead Whisky Club in New Jersey has two chapters, with a combined total of 190 members. Her clubs came about as a result of the pandemic.

“I had a little bit more free time and I found myself going to different liquor stores and picking up food and going to friends, you know, to hang out at home,” she said. “And then I realized that I have a lot of friends that like whiskey, and it’s an expensive business  if you want to try different things that you want to share. So I thought, you know, why not open a chat group together and we can all share, pitch in. So I thought it would be 7-10 people and I opened a group on WhatsApp, and started adding friends and you know, people were adding their friends as members and instead of 7 to 10 people, we were all of a sudden 50.”

Wagenr started reaching out to brands and brand ambassadors to lead tastings for her club, which has chapters in Bergen County and Hoboken that meet every six to eight weeks. Members pay a fee for each tasting that covers the cost of the bottles and the venue, while Wagner organizes the tastings and leads the meetings.

It’s not hard to create a whisky club…all three of our club founders suggest starting small, with perhaps a few friends around the dinner table.

“Grab some some friends, some people that you know, and kind of start it that way and get your feet wet. You know, I don’t know that I would just put out an open invitation on Facebook and have 100 people show up to your front door,” Fielder said.

If you grow beyond what the dinner table or living room can hold, you’re going to have to find a place to hold meetings…here’s where it can become tricky.

Depending on where you are, liquor licensing laws may not allow you to bring your own bottles to share at a club meeting, and that puts you at the mercy of what the bar or restaurant has on hand. It’s a problem Elias Aoude’s club is going through right now. The club started out meeting at a restaurant with a “bring your own bottle” license that allowed club members to bring bottles and order food at the restaurant, but eventually, the restaurant switched to a regular liquor license.

“So we can’t even use that as a meeting spot anymore. So now for the Dead Liver Society, we’re trying to figure out how do we move forward, because we do want to keep meeting, but we need a new meeting spot,” he said.

But even with growing pains, there are benefits to being part of a whisky club. Alin Wagner says it changed her life…

“Whiskey is a one of a kind glue that brings people together in a way that nothing else does. It has a story, about the distilleries, the process, what it means, everything around it, the terroir, the geography, the politics, the gossip, all of that. It has the social aspect of sitting with other people and connecting and it has, obviously the sensual aspect of smelling and tasting and feeling the whiskey. So that’s what I’ve learned. And as soon as I started bringing in different experts and different ambassadors, I just got into this world more and more. I’ve just completed my bourbon professional certificate and I’m going to get the Scotch one because there’s so much to explore. It’s never ending. It’s never ending. We always have different people talk about the same thing and it’s never boring. It’s always different. There’s no other thing like that to me.”