For us it started on a Tuesday night, eating $1 tacos and $3 beers at a local pub. Three thirty-something men sitting around talking about how we could get the guys together on a more regular basis. Innocently enough, we came up with the idea of a scotch club (I believe the line “like a book club but with no books and more scotch”, was used). The original idea was to get 5 or 6 guys together, pitch in $40 each and buy a nice bottle of scotch or two that we couldn’t normally afford.
Fast-forward 4 months and we have 23 members, a growing ‘guest list’, 5 bottle tastings (with budgets of over $800), 400 followers on Twitter, 2100 followers on Instagram and this here website/blog. Talk about things getting out of hand!
But it doesn’t have to be this crazy. To start your own scotch club, you really just need a few good friends with an interest in scotch and whiskey. From there, it’s up to you how far you want to go…
Here are some simple steps and advice to help you get your own scotch/whiskey club started…
Step 1) Good Friends
This is probably the hardest step…seriously! What is a good drink without good company? I really don’t know how motivated we would be to get together every 5-6 weeks if we weren’t such good friends. These friends don’t have to LOVE scotch. As long as there is a general appreciation for whiskey and a desire to grow that appreciation and overall knowledge base, they’ll be fine.
The number of people you need to start your club is really quite minimal. If you have 4 friends and you each pitch in $40, that’s 1 bottle of $160 scotch or 2 $80 bottles. Either way, it’s going to be a great night! In our club, we have had 3 official tastings with anywhere from 10-20 people.
Once you have your core group of 3-4 people, the club will grow fast from there (if you want it to). For whatever reason, there is something about saying, “I’m in a scotch club” that just intrigues people. Within a few weeks you’ll have people begging to be in your club (secret handshake optional).
Step 2) Plan your first tasting
You’ve already done all the hard work. Now the fun starts. Find a date that works for the majority of your members. We hold our tastings on weekends for a few reasons. First of all, who wants to go to work after drinking whiskey all night? Secondly, we have a few out of town members that can’t attend tastings during the week.
Step 3) How to select your bottles
How you go about this step is completely up to you but I can tell you what we are doing as a club. Our first tasting was “A Tour of Scotland”. We basically selected scotches from the different regions. After that we have started working our way through the regions. So far we have done Speyside and Highlands. After we get through the major scotch regions, these are some of the future tastings we have planned:
- A World Single Malt Tour
- Distillery Nights (Pick a distillery and sample some of their range)
- Cask Night (Pick scotches from different cask types)
- Blind Tastings
- One idea was a blind tasting of scotches in different price ranges where people would have to try and order the scotches from lowest to highest price.
- Whiskey Night (A selection of different styles of whisky)
- Bourbon Night
- 18 Year-Old Night (A selection of same-aged scotches from different distilleries)
The possibilities are really endless but be creative and make it fun.
Step 4) Prepare for the tasting
For me, part of being in a scotch club is learning more about scotch. You’ll find you start appreciating the dram more the more you learn about it. Knowing how it was made, its history, the distillery’s history, the regional characteristics, etc. will all make you appreciate each sip just a little bit more.
For this reason, I highly recommend putting some time into making tasting sheets for each of the bottles purchased. What you put on those sheets is up to you but I like to include:
- Distillery Information
- Region Information
- Scotch Information (Age, ABV, coloring added info, chill filtration info, year distilled, year bottled, cask maturation location, cask type(s), distillation method)
We also try to include a little bit of scotch education at our tastings. At our first event we watched a few youtube videos on scotch tasting. I highly recommend this for your first get together because it gives a very brief intro into proper scotch tasting techniques. At our last tasting we focused on cask maturation and cask varieties. If you are going to be in a scotch club, people are going to start asking you questions on all things scotch…might as well be prepared.
Lastly, we have designed our own review sheets. This includes the scotch name with a spot for ranking as well as additional comments. You can order your review sheets in the same order of your tasting with the first scotch on top and so on. We usually go in order of lowest to highest alcohol content.
Step 5) Things to bring
I now have a list of ‘Things to Bring’ for scotch nights. There’s just too much to remember, otherwise. Here is what I have on my list:
- Scotch/Whiskey (Probably won’t forget this)
- Tasting Glasses (Glencairn glasses highly recommended)
- Beers/Alcohol (for after the actual tasting)
- Distilled Water (Scottish spring water is ideal)
- Spoons & Cups (an easy way to add water to scotch, when needed)
- Tasting & Info Sheets
- Cash (to pay whoever bought the scotch)
- Snacks (we usually end up ordering pizza)
- Dark Chocolate (goes well with scotch)
- Unsalted Crackers (palate cleanser)
Step 6) The tasting
This is the best part of being in a scotch club, obviously. You can make the actual tasting as formal or relaxed as you want. Our club is still evolving but I would put us somewhere in the middle on the relaxed-formal scale. Mind you, we do have a very strict dress code…everyone has to wear a sport coat to tastings, preferably a tweed sport coat with leather elbow patches. This is a classy club, after all, and scotch is a classy drink!
Here is how we run our events…
- We open up the meeting with our club theme song: Willie Nelson’s ‘Whisky River’.
- President’s Message: The club president gives a quick update on the club, any new or guest members and a brief description of the tasting.
- Read any educational info or play any YouTube videos.
- Pour the first scotch and let it breath (we pour 1oz drams).
- Read the scotch info sheet (often in a thick Scottish accent).
- Sip, drink, discuss, review the dram, and fill out ratings sheets.
- Do not rush this part…add water if necessary, try with chocolate, cleanse your palate with an unsalted cracker and try again…you have all night!
- Proceed through your lineup of scotches and if you’re lucky there’s some left over to go back and have a 2nd
- The rest of the night is up to you!
- After the event, we tally up the ratings and create a list of the favorite scotches, in order. We eventually plan to have a tasting night where the top scotches from our tastings go head to head.
Starting a scotch club is as easy as that (I hope that sounded easy). You obviously don’t have to take it to the ridiculous extremes our club has. The most basic scotch club still has the same end result…drinking whisky with friends! If you get to the point where our club is heading, here are some other long-term ideas we are currently considering:
- Edmonton Scotch Club Patches (to be sewn on our tweed coats)
- Personalized Glencairn Glasses
- Customized Club Sport Coats (why not??)
- Charity Tasting Event (currently in early stages of planning)
One final thing to mention; our club recently became members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The SMWS is the ‘world’s foremost whisky club and leading authority on single cask, single malt whisky’. There are 26,000 members in 16 countries worldwide that get access to the world’s largest selection of single cask, single malt whiskies…from a range of over 130 whisky distilleries’.
The annual membership fee is $110 ($220 for the 1st year which includes your SMWS Welcome Kit), which is peanuts considering what this gives your club access to. For more information, check out their website: SMWS.COM.
Good luck in starting your own scotch/whiskey club. Maybe our clubs can meet up down the line for a road trip tasting in Scotland!!
Until next time…
Edmonton Scotch Club
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