The internet is a wondrous thing. Twenty years ago it was Bourbon Whiskey discussion forums that slowly added American Rye, Scotch and other whiskeys to their discussion. Then there came Facebook. Discussion forums became less popular because people were getting their information from Facebook friends. Out of this grew Facebook groups to aid people in finding bottles in their area and answer questions. These groups eventually began to include regional clubs.
When The Bourbon Society was formed at Bourbons Bistro in Louisville in 2006 it was one of the first non-industry whiskey clubs. Maker’s Mark had their Ambassadors. Four Roses had their Mellow Moments Club. Other distilleries had similar “clubs” made up of their brand’s fans but, they were in existence simply to promote their designated brands. The Bourbon Society was unique in that it promoted all things Bourbon no matter which distillery made the Bourbon. In the last 12 years that type of club has grown beyond what many distilleries imagined.
There are Bourbon or Whiskey Societies in just about every State in the United States, at least there are Facebook groups from most States. Some States have more than one group. In Kentucky besides The Bourbon Society in Louisville, There are The Owensboro Bourbon Society, The Lexington Bourbon Society, The Paducah Bourbon Society, and recently created Bardstown Bourbon Society and Central Kentucky Bourbon Society. To confuse matters even more there are groups like the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Bourbon Society that covers two States.
The platform of Facebook has played a huge role in the creation of these groups. As a result most of these clubs have pages on Facebook to keep members informed about activities and bottle purchases. I have been asked to join and contribute to twenty of these groups. I am sure if I sought out membership I could join another twenty with only a simple search for Bourbon groups. Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Augusta, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are just a few of the Facebook groups in the United States that have asked me to join. There is also the overseas clubs such as the British Bourbon Society, The Australian Whisky Appreciation Society and The Greek Whisky Association. Specialty niche groups been formed formed such as Bourbon Women, The Whisky Chicks, and The Black Bourbon Society. Then there are the groups such as the different Bartender Guilds and Facebook pages. Don’t forget there are still the distillery groups out there with their webpages and Facebook groups.
The point of all of this is that Bourbon and Whiskey is growing in popularity and more groups are being formed as it grows. Of course one of the reasons it is growing in popularity is that these groups are purchasing more whiskey than the distillers ever thought possible 30 years ago. Groups tell members where to find sought after bottles in their area. Groups are making private barrel selections.
Bourbon and Whiskey Clubs are good for the industry. The industry does not need to invest anything more than a little time to send someone to a group’s meeting and let them get on their private selection list. A little good will goes a long way with these groups. The downside for the consumer is that when a group finds a bottling they really like, the members will purchase them quickly. It makes the phenomenon of brands disappearing from the shelf more common.
Bourbon and Whiskey Clubs are here to stay. They do play a vital role in the growth of the industry but they also contribute to the frustration of consumers trying to find that bottle of Old Ezra or Henry McKenna. They help to educate members about Bourbon and other Whiskeys and they frankly do a lot of marketing for the distillers by increasing the popularity of all whiskey. People ask me when is the Bourbon Bubble going to bust, and I say I don’t know when but the first sign will be the decline of Bourbon and Whiskey Clubs.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller