As part of my 10-4-10 series, I interviewed Darren and George from the (Massachusetts) North Shore Whisky Club. These great guys and I spent an evening together having dinner and sampling some, what else, whiskies.
For anyone interested in starting a whisky club, Darren and George offer some mighty fine concrete suggestions. The questions focus not only on the club but their individual preferences. They are definitely worth following as their club expands and matures.
- What was the spark that led you to form the NSWC?
While searching online for whisky tasting events in April of 2013, we found a whisky pairing dinner at the MIT Endicott House in Dedham MA. New to the wide world of whisky, we had a desire to learn more and this event appeared to be a good fit. We brought a few friends and really enjoyed the event. After the event, we did some online research on whisky clubs and found no clubs in the local area and decided we should start one!
- Do you have a specific goal for the club during 2016 and/or beyond?
We would like to host more whisky tastings on a regular basis. We partner with brand ambassadors and schedule tasting events with our club members while also extending the invitation to local residents. We really enjoy introducing the spirit to new enthusiasts. We have hosted private home tastings and hope to do more in the future. We have volunteered our services with a local fundraising group as a silent auction item giving us the opportunity to hone our own style of presentation and “pay forward” what we have learned. Our long-term goal is to put together our own larger scale whisky tasting for charity in a unique setting in the future.
- Do you have any recommendations for others interested in starting a club?
They should definitely create an online social media presence. This has opened many doors for us. Creating your own e-mail account will help to coordinate communication with various segments of the whisky world. Keep things simple and flexible in regards to meetings – we all lead busy lives and getting together can be difficult. We highly recommend networking at any tasting events (brand ambassadors, retail store managers, marketing staff, master distillers and especially like-minded enthusiasts). I am impressed with how approachable people are in the industry.
- Do you have a favorite whisky story or experience related to the club?
We attend an annual whisky tasting cruise in Boston and became friends with the organizer of the event. Each year, he was the host of a special table set up with rare bottlings. We were sampling from his table when he suddenly needed to leave the table and assist others on the ship and asked some of our club members if we could play the host, take over the table and pour the whiskies. Next thing you know, we are answering questions about the whisky and offering up toasts. What a great time that was!
More personal questions
- Do you have a whisky mentor? If yes, what is the role of this person?
I guess you could say Ralfy (of YouTube fame) is a mentor of ours even though we have never met him! He is a great resource for beginners and experts alike and communicates with a unique style.
I agree with Darren that Ralfy Mitchell (ralfy.com) would be the closest thing to our mentor mostly because of his wide range of knowledge and we discovered him when we were so very hungry to learn more.
- Do you have a whisky collection or future plans to have one? If yes, what type (Country, region, brand, age, etc.) of whisky do you collect or want to collect?
I have a very small collection. You can say I am on the drinking side of the ‘drink vs collect’ argument. My approach to collecting on a small scale is identifying the uniqueness of the malt. I have one from a closed distillery, a unique bottle signed by the Master Distiller and some older vintage bottles that I may keep for a while. Independent bottlings probably give you the most options at a reasonable price for a collectible.
In a similar way, my collection is nowhere near the size of some people’s we’ve met along our journey (Linda Peterson comes to mind!) but I’ve strived for diversity among the different styles/expressions of malts. As we all know sometimes, the most difficult question to answer is “what am I feeling like tonight?” Sometimes you want sherry, sometimes you want spice, and sometimes you want smoke. With regard to investment bottles, my current philosophy is my collection is primarily for consumption not investment. Will it stay that way? Time will tell.
LP: Thanks for the mention here, George! Collecting for me is a very (no pun intended) fluid adventure. Some whiskies are simply to irresistible to hold unopened for long.
- Do you follow any specific authors, bloggers, tweeters, etc? Who and why?
We found out how quickly you can connect with like-minded whisky enthusiasts across the world on Twitter! We follow several members of the #whiskyfabric on Twitter and have had the pleasure of meeting many of these folks for a dram. We are big fans of Ralfy (YouTube). WhiskyFun.com, TheWhiskyLassie.blogspot.com, TheWhiskyLady.net and Dramming.com are interesting blogs. We follow distilleries on social media and sign up for their newsletters to stay on top of the latest news/products. We like Whisky Advocate & Whisky Magazine. MaltMadness.com and WhiskyBase.com are also great resources.
- What have you learned about the world of whisky that has surprised you?
It is surprising to me that single malt scotch is still very much a niche spirits product. The endless variety of whisky tasting profiles from all over the world still amazes me. The generosity of the whisky community is always a pleasant surprise!
I’m still completely floored at how social media has made the world so much smaller and allows for the ease of interactions and even friendships to be made with other industry folks and enthusiasts both in the US and internationally. 1,400+ followers on Twitter and a couple of articles written about us? Yeah, I would call that a surprise…
- Can you name a whisky that was a real disappointment when you tasted it? Why?
I was fortunate to attend a unique AncNoc tasting and sampled an old 1975 distilled – 39 year old bottle. I was excited to try it but it fell flat for me – the tannins overpowered the malt a bit. Their 22 year old offering was much better to me.
One of my interests has been trying single malts from places other than Scotland. Most of those experiences have been outstanding like with Stranahans (US), Amrut (India), Knappogue Castle (Irish), or virtually any of the Japanese malts. However, one that I tried about 6 months back was Hudson’s Single Malt, which is also from the US, and I just could not develop a taste for it. I am sure youth had a lot to do with it (the malt’s not mine) but I was sure glad I only bought a 375 ml bottle.
- And finally the must ask question, what are your three favorite whiskies and why?
#1 – Highland Park 18 year old – first dram I tried while in Scotland as a whisky newbie; my desert island choice
#2 – Balblair 1975 – first time I tried this at an event, it was love at first sip.
#3 – Speyburn 25 year old – the first whisky I tried with a ‘zing’ to it and a LONG finish. Highly complex dram
#1 – Balblair 1990 vintage (23 years old) This would be my desert island bottle. Wonderful from start to finish and has such a full-bodied sherry experience.
#2 – Bruichladdich Black Art (23 years old) Shrouded in mystery and the recipe only known by the head distiller (since retired) Jim McEwan the quality is apparent the second you put it to your lips.
#3 – Laphroaig 18 year old – this product, at least for me, is my standard from which all other peated single malts are held. I do hope they get back to making this version in the future.
Special thanks to my North Shore enthusiasts for taking the time to answer my questions thoughtfully and candidly. I truly look forward to enjoying more whisky together. I raise a glass!
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