The Club de Whisky Saguenay (or CWS) is based in Chicoutimi, in Quebec Canada. I came across it as part of the La Centrale Scotch Whisky group online. They were happy to share their story through the Inside the Cask blog.
Why did you decide to start a whisky club? How did the Club de Whisky Saguenay start?
The origin story of the CWS through its 3x co-founders:
- Jimmy Gaudreault: Jimmy is a retired wine advisor and manager at The Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). Many years ago, he decided to open a wine tasting restaurant/bar with many small bites to discover the world. The name of it: Bacchus. To accommodate his customers, Jimmy decide to host “wine tasting nights” with a great success. Also, a huge fan of whisky, he was asking himself if a whisky tasting night would work. Jimmy knows a lot of people and started talking about it. People like to talk to people!
- Samuel Lemieux: a long time rum lover, Samuel’s brother in law introduced him to bourbon in 2013. He discovered that the whisky world is quite varied in terms of flavour and complexity. For his birthday party on September 28th, 2014, Samuel asked all his friends to bring no wrapped gift. Instead, a game of poker and a bunch of different whisky bottles. The third CWS founder, Marc Bolduc is a great friend and he was a part of this perfect evening! The following weeks Samuel said to his girlfriend: “This is too much fun to stop it there. People loved it. We should group together and have more tastings.”
- Marc Bolduc: always with this evening in mind, Marc and his wife were looking for a nice restaurant with good wine and good food. They discovered the Bacchus. Marc was quite happy to see the wall of whiskies and tasted many of them. This is when Jimmy presented himself and started to discuss with Marc. Jimmy invited Marc to come to his first trial of a whisky hosting. Marc asked if he could invite a friend, and you know who that was by now…and the rest is history!
How did you publicise the CWS (to find members)? What is the benefit for the members?
From tasting evenings to a Whisky Club by Samuel Lemieux
“The first tasting night was sometime back in October 2014. We got to know each other and started to discover a lot of good whiskies. Jimmy invited us to “join the family” and since everything worked well, he decided to host such a night each month. Marc and I were happy to be part of it and joined it also. This worked well for few months after which Jimmy’s friend who was in charge of the group activities had to quit. Being an extrovert, in summer 2015 Jimmy asked me to participate and oversee the activities of the whisky tasting group. I proposed to include Marc in the deal and we took it over from Autumn 2015.
By the end of the year, we said to Jimmy: “people want more, they want to plan it ahead, and there is this real family feeling. Jimmy we should create a Whisky club!”
On February 18th 2016, we hosted an event and offered CWS membership for the first time. Although CWS stands for Club de Whisky Saguenay, we are known simply as the “Club”, we like “Whisky” and we live in “Saguenay”. For more people to know about us, we opened a Facebook page and asked our members to talk about it. There is still some older generations that prefer to exchange by phone or mail but most of all, everything goes through our Facebook page. We are now around 534 members on the Facebook page where you will find many pictures!
If we skip the COVID thing, usually to be a member offers you the priority at each hosting! We host an event on the 2nd Tuesday of each month except July-August (summer holidays) and December (family, Christmas, New year …). When you are a member you pay at the beginning of each year for a membership card that allows you to participate in 7 out of the 9 events for free. Someone out there good in maths will understand that paying for this card is equivalent to a 17% discount.
Additionally, as a member you can also join the two other hosting events (if you want) at the same 17% discount. Plus gain access to all of our promotional clothing, bar ware at no cost and receive a beautiful notebook with key information such as a glossary, distilleries list and map as well as other key information.
A few years after being founded, we agreed to participate in the “La Centrale Scotch Whisky” group which includes all clubs in the Quebec province. I know Eric Godmaire quite well.
What kind of people have joined the CWS?
Members are so diverse! Bank managers, Engineers, Construction workers, Nurses, Grocery packers… the members range from 18 (Quebec legal age of drinking) up to 70+! Mostly men but we are working hard to recruit more women. They have a different way of perceiving things. We love to have them with us.
What kind of events have you organised?
Evenings are SO different!
We usually try to spread the tasting, meaning that we start with an opener and slowly increase in terms of taste and strength. Sometimes we also do a vertical tasting of one single distillery.
We know that we are a small club but each time we receive promo material or sample to taste, our members LOVE IT. Sometimes it is simple as a beautiful pen. Everything related to whisky the members like it.
We are based 500 km north of Montreal. For a representative to come and offer some product is always difficult…
What other projects has the whisky club worked on/ developed?
What we can do? A LOT!
- Our whisky club offers training to bars/restaurants so they know more about whisky to better serve the customer
- We participate at the annual Wine festival in Saguenay offering whisky
- We had the discussion to age beer in whisky casks then whisky in this cask. It is on pause at the moment
- Since COVID, our club is still working hard! We are hosting events on the web. Our club buys bottles, we split them into small samples, we take care of distribution and then host. Everything COVID proof!
Looking back, what have been the highlights of your experience with the whisky club since its launch?
What are my highlights? Digging all information today, I found out that only once have we tried the same bottle.
Simple maths = 5 bottles per night x 9 hostings per year X 6 years = 270!
So by being a member we have tasted at least 269 different bottles of whisky and probably more….”