Six Pro Tips to Start a Tasting Club at Home

A Black Bourbon Society event in Chicago / Photo by Coopernicus Photos

The benefits of tasting clubs are numerous, whether they’re hosted in person or online. They can provide an economical way to sample a wide range of bottles. They can also become educational forums, or ways to network and socialize with like-minded people.

“Clubs are a way to focus your interest,” says Julia Ritz Toffoli, founder of Women Who Whiskey. “It’s nice to have a community that understands the things that you like, and you can get together to do that thing with.”

Whether your preferred pour is wine, whiskey, rauchbier or rum, there’s probably a tasting club for it. And if there isn’t, here’s how to get one started, according to pros.

1. Join an Existing Club

A Women Who Whiskey Event
A Women Who Whiskey Event / Photo by Daphne Youree for Whiskey Advocate

“When I got started, I was just seeing what other whiskey groups do and how they operate,” says Charles Grabitzky, founder of the Saratoga Whiskey Club in upstate New York. “Some are really big, some are only 10–12 people. There’s so much out there, and you can pick and choose what resonates with you.”

He suggests performing an online search for your city or town, combined with your preferred pour and “club.” Hashtags on Instagram (#naturalwineclub, #bourbonsociety) also can help point the way.

2. Connect with Others

A Black Bourbon Society tasting event
A Black Bourbon Society tasting event / Photo courtesy of Black Bourbon Society and Maker’s Mark

For those who look to widen their social circle, there are plenty of ways to connect with people who share your interest.

“Social media has made it easier to find like people,” says Toffoli. For those who prefer to stay offline, she suggests to post a notice at a local bar that has a bulletin board.

In addition, a website or Facebook group can be a helpful communication tool, says Grabitzky. “It’s a place to share information like upcoming event dates, photos from past events, bottle scores, articles of interest or a note if a local store has something special.”

3. Select a Venue

A Saratoga Whiskey Club event
A Saratoga Whiskey Club event / Photo by Shawn Lachapelle

Especially for small, informal groups, a bar or restaurant can be ideal to host a tasting. Schedule during off-peak hours if you’d like a bartender, sommelier or other expert to provide guidance.

“Tell a bar you want to bring in a group of four or five people, and maybe make it a regular event,” says Grabitzky.

Events hosted at home can feel more casual and approachable. It can also help keep costs down if guests chip in on bottles or bring their own.

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Toffoli remembers a lively blind tasting of whiskeys hosted at a friend’s home.

“Everyone brought a bottle with the label covered, or decanted into an unmarked bottle,” she says. “Everyone would taste, and ask the person who brought it 20 questions. ‘Is it from Canada?’ ‘Is it made from corn?’ It was a way to challenge expectations about what you think a whiskey should taste like and should be.”

4. Don’t do it Alone

Samara B. Davis, founder of Black Bourbon Society
Samara B. Davis, founder and CEO of Black Bourbon Society / Photo by Coopernicus Photos

Most people who run tasting clubs do it in their spare time, so it helps to have others contribute.

“Don’t try to do it by yourself,” says “Trader Jay” Cocorullo, cofounder of the Florida Rum Society. “You’ll naturally find a group of individuals who want to be on the journey together, people who want to help. Let them. You need to have a core group of people helping to get organized, to come up with ideas, to bounce ideas off of.”

Do what feels right for you and your group

There’s no “right” way to taste. The beauty of your own tasting club is to decide what, where, with whom and how you’re tasting.

A Florida Rum Society event
A Florida Rum Society event / Photo by Nina Cocorullo

Samara B. Davis, founder and CEO of Black Bourbon Society, found typical whiskey events “stodgy and boring.” She produces events like “Cocktail Conversations,” lively roundtables with Black entrepreneurs and business leaders interspersed with whiskey tastings.

“As the night progresses, the conversation gets more raw and honest,” she says. “People walk away feeling fulfilled and inspired. They’ve made new networking connections, and friends as well. It takes it to a new level of engagement and connection.”

5. Consider Bringing in Experts

Jay Cocorullo at Boat Drinks
“Trader Jay” Cocorullo at Boat Drinks / Photo by Travis Miller

Often, tasting clubs will reach out to winemakers, brewers or spirits producers to talk about what they do. During the pandemic, many producers have been eager to connect with consumers via Zoom or other online forums.

“In the rum world, any companies or individuals associated with companies I have reached out to have been generous with their time and thoughts,” says Cocorullo. “Reach out to them and have that conversation about what you want to do.”

6. Have fun

The lineup at the Saratoga Whiskey Club
The lineup at the Saratoga Whiskey Club / Photo by Shawn Lachapelle

If you’re not enjoying yourself, consider finding another group.

“No one should make you feel bad about what you like,” says Toffoli. “Any club you’re a part of should feel like a fun, safe space where you can explore what’s interesting to you.”

Published on November 8, 2021
Topics: Drinks