In the late 1990s while I worked at the Filson Historical Society, Several of my co-workers and I would go to D’Maries, Louisville’s first dedicated Bourbon bar on a weekly basis. We called ourselves “BARDS” – Bourbon And Rye Drinkers Society. This group died out as several of the Bourbon drinkers found other jobs and moved on, but I would revive the name later for a new group. When Jason Brauner and John Morrison opened Bourbons Bistro in 2005 we quickly entered into talks about creating a Bourbon Society. In January of 2006 we did just that.
Jason had registered the name “The Bourbon Society” when he registered “Bourbons Bistro” so we had a name for the group. Jason wanted it to be “THE Bourbon Society” as in the one everyone wanted to be a member of because it was the first and best Bourbon Society. The first meeting took place on a January evening at Bourbons Bistro with about 15 or so interested members. We held elections and Dave Pape was elected the first president. I had railroaded him by nominating him before anyone else could make a nomination so he was elected. I was elected vice president, Brenda Piercefield was secretary, John Morrison was treasurer and Gayle Hack was historian. We elected not to charge dues until after 6 months, starting on July 1. It was decided that the Society would make charitable donations, have monthly meetings with speakers and purchase barrels from the distillers.
It took a few years for the group to gel and grow, but it did grow. I was president for the second and third years and we averaged about 30 active members in that time. We held monthly meeting, had social events such as summer picnics and a November event called “Scorpiofest” because about a half dozen members were all born in late October and early November. We had speakers and purchased barrels. The Bourbon Society was the first group Four Roses allowed to purchase a single barrel. The group has grown to where the average meeting will be about 100 people and maybe twice that as paid members.
The Bourbon Society not only grew but inspired other groups, first in Owensboro and then Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati forming their own groups on our model. Since then Lexington and Paducah have joined the ranks of Bourbon Societies and Indianapolis has formed the Indiana Whiskey Appreciation Group (IWAG). Other states have also formed whiskey clubs, some more exclusive than others. I tried to join the Boston Bourbon Society group on Facebook before I made a trip to that city, but never even received a reply from this closed group. It is a shame as I wanted to hook up with some Boston Bourbon enthusiasts to find the best bars for a drink and talk Bourbon with them. If you look on Facebook there are active groups in several cities and states such as Sacramento, Houston, Atlanta, Arizona, and Nebraska. There is even a British Bourbon Society with members from all over the United Kingdom.
Big Bourbon Societies are fun but in 2014 I found I was missing the small intimate gatherings of Bourbon enthusiasts where everyone knew each other and enjoyed good Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. I decided to revive BARDS. I decided it would be a group with only 12 members because there are twelve months in the year. Each month a different member would host the meeting and supply the food, the Bourbon and a program. There were no dues or minutes or officers at all. It was a pure social gathering with an educational focus. The host would be in charge of the date, time and subject. They could have the meeting at their house and cook for the group or they could choose a restaurant and pay for the meal for the members. Guest are allowed but the host is not responsible for the guest’s meal and the member who invited that guest needs to check with the host as to how they should handle the cost if any, for their guest.
The typical BARDS meeting will last about three hours. There will be a time of gathering and socializing. There is a meal and a program but it is up to the host as to which takes place first. The program will feature a Bourbon or Rye or even Tennessee whiskey as well as the speaker. We have had programs on Tennessee whiskey, older versus younger Bourbons, blind tastings, guest speakers (Stacey Yates invited Jimmy Russell and his wife to her meeting) and even Scotch and Irish whiskeys as subjects of discussion. After the program every member is invited to say a few words on the presentation and then guests are invited to comment as well.
BARDS is a great way for a dozen Bourbon and Rye enthusiast to get together once a month and drink some whiskey, I would like to hear that other BARDS groups were formed following this pattern for the meetings. Be warned in that once the group is formed members are limited to 12, so be expecting other people wanting to join as soon as a member drops out. After the first few months we have had only one member leave the group, but I know of several people who would like to join.
Bourbon Societies and clubs are a growing trend. As Bourbon and rye get more popular these groups grow in membership. They are a good indicator on how well the industry is growing and the fact that they are public organizations free from the distilleries show that it is a healthy growth.
Photos Courtesy of The Bourbon Society