Dallas Bourbon Club
Club Rules. Robin Dunbar, the anthropologist, calculated that the optimum size of any community is 150 people. That’s the maximum number of meaningful relationships that any one human can cope with. Best friends are different, of course, we can only handle five of them. But for a wider circle we top out at 150. The rule holds good for companies and working units too.
So, it might just be co-incidental that the Dallas Bourbon Club, the source of fine beverages and philanthropy in North Texas, has exactly 140 members – just under the magic figure. ‘We’re not a Facebook club,’ says Daniel from the Club. ‘We want everyone to know each other. We don’t want more than one or two degrees of separation between our people. It means we’re all motivated and engaged.’ There’s a bit thirst for bourbon in Texas. Daniel reckons that Texas is in the top two states for sales of bourbon, though he concedes that; ‘ maybe Kentucky has the edge when it comes to sales per head of population.’
Nevertheless, there are a lot more than 140 people who would like to get their hands on interesting whiskies. How does AAA manage the demand? ‘Having limited membership has many advantages but I’d be lying to say it didn’t create pressures. We don’t like to turn people away, but if each barrel that we have yields a maximum of 200 bottles we need to be sure that all members can have at least one bottle if they want. ‘We have a list of 1900 people who you’d like to join. And these people are very important to us – they are Friends of the Club. When we sell a barrel members have one day only to make their move on bottles. After that we make it available to the Friends. Many people on the waitlist are enthusiastic purchasers. Some buy more then the members. It means we have a good idea of the sort of energetic people who we’d like to have as new members when vacancies come up. ‘And you have to actively renew. We want members who are active, who want to have a relationship with the Club and other members.’
The result of having committed members is a Club that benefits the community as well as its members. The point of the Club is partly to satisfy members passion for the native spirt, but also to raise lots of cold hard cash for charity. ‘Last year we raised $119,000. The year before, $65,000. The year before that $30,000.’ The totals are impressive and the details of how the money is raised is fascinating. AAA is very articulate with numbers, by the way. He’s a Certified Public Accountant, which helps.
‘We rely on the great relationship we have with sponsors. We raised $10,000 for a local hospital from one barrel from Buffalo Trace. A barrel of EH Taylor raised $30,000 for the North Texas food bank, right at the height of the pandemic. A barrel of Stag Junior raised $55,000 for Café Momentum, a restaurant which offers jobs, education and a future for young people who have been in the juvenile criminal justice system. ‘Our members are generous. They donate on top of the price of a bottle to help the cause. We supplement that with raffles and auctions – all of which supercharge the monies raised.’
Generous, and welcoming too. One of the roles that the Club has, is as a point of contact for bourbon enthusiasts who find themselves in Dallas. It’s the sort of warm, fun club that you’d like to be a member of. ‘In normal times we have an event every quarter, a Happy Hour of tasting and networking. In the summer we have a barbeque. It is Texas. Some members stay up all night cooking up their own special brisket recipe. Then we have 100-120 people round, members and their families and we judge which two have the best BBQ brisket. ‘Then there is our Holiday Party, where we do some major fundraising. Last time we raised $25,000 on that one night. ‘In the pandemic, of course, we’ve had to adapt like everyone else. We’d meet up digitally every other week. We’d go round the virtual room, share what we’d been up to and talk about what we had in our glasses.
‘Then the distilleries realised that this was a great way to do tasting economically and efficiently. They’d send us out tasting kits and we’d meet up with the brand ambassadors who’d take us through the tasting. ‘It’s also meant that we’ve developed our social media activity, which in turn has meant that we reach out to more supporters, Friends and charities. It’s important that we are an active part of the Dallas community, but now we have a growing national profile which is great as the city has so many visitors.’
It sounds like the pandemic is as much fun as the old days – when we thought lateral flow tests might be a service that plumbers would invoice for. But as a bourbon enthusiast, AAA seems like just the person to ask for advice on the best examples of the sector. His response is not to head for the eye-wateringly expensive end of the spectrum. ‘I’d say the current best value is all within the Buffalo Trace offer. And the range is so wide that you can experience the breadth of what bourbon can show and stay within the brand. I’d start with a bottle of EH Taylor, small batch – 100% proof, four-year-old pure bourbon. And then maybe a Russell’s Reserve. It’s a real find. Award winning, 13-year-old, which is unusual in a bourbon, and selling at $45.99 – $55.99 – great value. The only problem is tracking it down. A Dallas retailer we work a lot with sold out a table of 60 bottles in four hours.’
AAA isn’t narrow in his tastes; he has a soft spot for rye as well. ‘September is rye month. We have offered members a Roswell Union Rise, for example. And recently we had a Sagamore Spirits Rye, a six -ear-old, pair of barrels found somewhere in the back of the warehouse. We got some cases signed by Jordan Spieth, the GPA golfer, and the result was $13,000 raised for charity.’
Texas is the home of hospitality, and The Dallas Bourbon Club reflect that tradition in their engagement with their community and their open welcome to travelling enthusiasts. Maybe 140 is the precise optimum number for friends after all.
If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy the one on Ole Smokey