however much i may pride myself on the total lack of practical information presented on this blog, the wild successes of our Scotch Club beg to be shared with the wider public. so, while i don’t presume that you all are incapable of coming up with a similar or likely superior system on your own, we have found that this works very much for our purposes, and sometimes it is but a matter of offering a loose template in order to get the ball rolling.
the impetus behind the formation of Scotch Club was several of us loving and being very curious about scotch, but of course being too poor to indulge this interest to the extent desired. for the purpose of trying new scotches, most bars carry a predictable and quite delimited selection, and although whisky-centric bars exist (Montreal’s L’Île Noire and Whisky Café, for example), the mark-up is staggering and inevitable, and usually you end up surrounded by businessmen and the types of guys who feel sufficiently invested in masculinity to wear a button-up and blazer, but insufficiently devoted to good taste to feel compelled to tuck their goddamn shirt in. and since none of us were dating people with rich dads (the traditional source of decent scotch), alternative solutions needed to be found. so, Scotch Club? (if you ever feel like you’re pining for a hobby, i suggest taking a kind of alcohol and attaching to it the word “club,” and seeing what kind of social infrastructure springs up around it)
none of us really knew what we were talking about, but our hearts were in the right place, and we thirsted for the company of like-minded ignoramuses with whom to share such loose and impassioned jabber. what eventually came together was a group of five who semi-regularly assembled to collectively buy, taste, and compare new bottles. i think that having a small core group is of the essence. four or five is ideal because it allows everyone to gather around a table and converse easily as a group. six is permissible, but even at this number i find there is a tendency to splinter off into smaller conversations, which is fine if that’s what you’re into, but the coherence of the club depends in part on everyone sharing their insights with the group as a whole, to say nothing of the scheduling issues that can arise when trying to coordinate more people. a core group of four or five also allows you to have occasional guests, about whom i will explain more below.
each meeting the core group selects two bottles of whatever price we feel comfortable paying and purchases them collectively. at the meeting we try a round of each bottle neat, followed by a round of each with water, for comparison. while water definitely opens up some scotches in a wonderful way, my default is to always take them neat, and i have yet to be so struck by the addition of water that i have managed to remember that a given scotch is better that way.¹ i don’t know whether to chalk this up to my own difficulties systematizing information, or simply the problems inherent in acquiring new info while drinking hard liquor. either way. next we do a round of each of the two bottles that were tried at the previous meeting, in order to provide a rolling comparison, and to give us a chance to taste the same bottles twice within a relatively short time span. this is followed by a “drinker’s choice” round, where everyone gets to have another drink of whichever of the four they most preferred.
in this way, in one night one has the opportunity to taste four scotches, paying in something around 30-36$ total,² with the added advantage that afterwards we still own what remains of the bottles. after being tasted at two consecutive meetings, a bottle goes into the “Scotch Bank;” less a physical space than a morally protected zone of temporary undrinkability. obviously collective ownership of booze presents its own Fighting Hellfish-like challenges (it is a great testament to the esteem in which i hold the Club, its rules and membership that the 16 bottles of single-malt that rest beneath my bedside table remain unmolested). one option is to treat the Scotch Bank as a resource to which the club may return at any point, like, say, when times are tough and the wolf is at the door but you still want to get the club together for some meeting and drinking. another might be to host the Sweetest Party Ever, where you run a bar to sell off all the remains of your bottles at something close to cost, extending to others the chance to taste whiskies they might otherwise never have had the opportunity, thus fulfilling the educational and public service mandates that you may or may not have built into your scotch club from the get-go. the possibilities are endless, really.³
because this is one thing that you will likely discover – as soon as people hear you have a scotch club, they’ll be clamoring all over you to get in on it, because of course no one wants to organize a scotch club, but everyone wants to reap its benefits. how we’ve dealt with this is by each meeting inviting one guest (occasionally two, although we’ve found that even seven people is really pushing it), usually someone who has expressed prolonged and avid interest in the club, but is not a founding member. the guest does not buy in on the bottles as does a core member, but instead pays by the drink. on the face of it, this might sounds a touch cold, but when people come into it knowing they’re going to pay something in the vicinity of 20 bucks for seven drinks (that in a bar would likely cost them 80-100$), i haven’t found the atmosphere of collective good cheer to be compromised, and the settling of accounts may be accomplished with alacrity.
so that’s basically the gist of it. Scotch Club is the fuckin’ best.
¹ ice both numbs the tongue, rendering it insensitive to the subtler flavours, and produces a steadily more watered down drink, interfering with one’s ability to get any clear picture of how the thing actually tastes and whether or not it naturally opens up over time. i don’t recommend it.
² this depends of course on how expensive are the bottles we have chosen on a given night. a good way to economize in this area is to look into the prices for bottles in neighbouring provinces/states. the rules governing pricing and import of alcohol in Québec appear to be totally arbitrary and not a little malicious, and we have found that whenever one of us, or a helpful associate, is traveling either into Ontario or especially into the United States, getting them to pick up a bottle or two for us can be an excellent way to both save money and get our hands on scotches that are otherwise unavailable in Québec. if you happen to know someone passing through the Heathrow airport, all the better. the duty-free World of Whiskies is straight up bananas.
³ note: the possibilities are not actually endless, and pretty much all of them end up with you being drunk.