It isn’t brain surgery.
That’s what people like to say when they want to define a certain task as being simple to perform. Not just simple to perform, mind you, but simple to perform expertly. You don’t want your neurosurgeon patting himself on the back because he did a slightly better than average job fixing what’s wrong with your medulla oblongata. You want that doc getting an award for the work he did on you. After all…it is, in fact, brain surgery.
What isn’t brain surgery is hosting a new bourbon group. However, if you’ve never led a bourbon group before (or even BEEN to one before) then getting it right can feel a little more intimidating than it really is. I made notes on several different ideas for that first Bourbon Fellowship going back and forth on what would be an appropriate way to launch this group. In the process, I developed a few “Do’s and Don’ts” that may come in handy for your own bourbon group:
- Do…offer pours of interesting bourbon in traditional whiskey glassware.
- Don’t…open a bottle of Benchmark telling guests to “take a swig and pass it around”.
- Do…ask your friends to share their thoughts on the bourbon they taste.
- Don’t…scream at them they are WRONG! (a la John McGloughlin) and then subject them to lengthy personal tasting notes.
- Do…provide light snacks such as pretzels, crackers, cheese, etc.
- Don’t…dump leftover Halloween candy on the table and say “Trick or Treat, suckers”.
Fortunately, on that first night I think we were closer to the “Do” end of the Do-Don’t Spectrum. I decided I wanted each Fellowship to have a few distinctions. One was to have a theme. Something more memorable than just filling a table with as many different bottles as possible every time you meet. In future blog posts I’ll go into more detail on some of the themes, but some examples are a specific brand (Knob Creek, Blanton’s, Booker’s) or a different style (rye, bottled in bond, barrel proof) or…well you get the idea. The theme for Meeting One was Ten Year Whiskey. The lineup consisted of Michter’s, Rebel Yell, Henry McKenna, Eagle Rare and Whistle Pig Rye. Most people wouldn’t turn down a pour of any of those, so it seemed like a safe and successful way to start and everyone seemed to like it (they’ve kept coming back, at least).
I also thought having a specific playlist as background music during the evening would be another distinction for the group. That first night the soundtrack was live versions of Eric Clapton songs. Why Eric Clapton? Probably because I had just been listening to a lot of Clapton at that time. Why live? Why not? It’s in the way that you use it, anyway.
The final and most important question was: who to invite?
The short answer is “Friends you didn’t mind drinking some of your best bourbon”. Also, guys that you wouldn’t mind if they stayed After Midnight. It didn’t really concern me how “into bourbon” someone was. In the first e-mail invitation I sent out I actually said: “I want to start hosting, on a semi-regular basis, a bourbon fellowship. Where a few guys come over, slow down for an hour or two and sip some bourbon (or rye or rum or Kool Aid or whatever you prefer).” Nobody had any Kool-Aid, but I don’t think everyone drank bourbon that night. I think my oldest son (who is of legal drinking age and yes I am old) just drank a Dr. Pepper and joined in the conversation. He’s come a long way in his bourbon journey since then, by the way.
We’ve got eleven of us in The Bourbon Fellowship now. The rules for membership were simple:
1. No Knuckleheads.
2. Membership is limited to how many people I can fit in my basement.
While we are currently at capacity, we try to have a guest in from time to time if a “regular” can’t make it. A couple of the guys are very knowledgeable about bourbon, a couple are relative novices and the rest of us are somewhere in between. We are all, however, learning more and more as we go. Nobody has ever said you have to be an expert about bourbon in order to enjoy bourbon. After all…bourbon, in fact, is not brain surgery.
This week, we are having the First Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge. It will be a blind tasting of eight different bottled-in-bond bourbons. Next week, I’ll let you know how it went and we’ll have some reviews of the Final Four by a few of the guys in the group.Kevin