The Drummond MacDougall’s Single Malt Society is St. Louis’ main scotch whisky club, based in Missouri USA. They have an imaginary “Club Founder”, a great website and been around since 2009, with over 150 members. Thankfully their founder Kirk Figus was happy to share their story through the Inside the Cask blog.
Why did you decide to start a whisky club? How did the club start?
In early 2009, I was looking for a new hobby, and decided to join a scotch tasting club, having developed a casual interest in single malt scotch. There was just one problem—I couldn’t find a scotch club to join.
Asking myself, “How hard could it be to start my own?” I decided to form a group of like-minded folk to join me in exploring the many wonders of scotch whisky.
My original mission was to set up a club which would allow me to sample many different scotches, without having to purchase all those expensive bottles.
I made a list of all the things I did and didn’t like about other scotch tastings I’d attended, and then tried to think of what sort of new ideas I might incorporate to make our events more entertaining.
Nine months, one website, and lots of research and planning later, Drummond MacDougall’s Single Malt Society was launched, despite my not really knowing all that much about scotch whisky. But somehow we managed to recruit seventeen charter members willing to submit their club fees over the internet, to a stranger, for an organization that didn’t yet exist.
Once underway, the club started to catch on pretty quickly, with current members recruiting a friend or two to join them, and one thing lead to another. By the end of the first year, we had a roster of 48 members.
How did you publicize your club (to find members)? What is the benefit for the members?
I realized that I needed a website to confer some legitimacy to this new venture. As a graphic designer by profession, I was able to create a club logo and website to hopefully convince prospective members that the club was a real thing.
The name was originally The Single Malt Society, but I decided we’d attract more notice with a catchier, more intriguing name, and thus the imaginary ‘Club Founder’ Drummond McDougall was born.
In the beginning, the club rented a small space in the back of a local liquor store, with room for perhaps 30 attendees, crowded elbow to elbow. The manager of the store agreed to send out a message about the new club on the store’s blog, which got the word out to many of their customers.
That blog mention was in turn noticed by a writer for a local food- and drink-focused monthly lifestyle magazine, who featured the club on their website, touting the club as “St. Louis’ premier scotch tasting club” despite our never having yet conducted a meeting.
At that point, I’d almost abandoned the project numerous times due to the lack of response, but that little bit of publicity helped us attract our initial roster of seventeen charter members, enough for me to plunge ahead with the concept.
What kind of people have joined your club?
The whisky club has attracted members of all age groups, both male and female, and the largest membership we’ve had in any single year was 176 members. The roster is comprised of people with varying degrees of experience in single malt scotch whisky, from old hands to literal scotch virgins, and every year we feature “Scotch 101” segments to help the newbies get up to speed.
From the beginning, the mission of the club was to always be fun, informal, and never self-important. This has allowed us to attract new members every year, who might otherwise feel intimidated about joining an established group focused on such a specialized interest.
What kind of events have you organized? Any trips to the distilleries in Scotland?
Every club event has a fun session theme of some sort, around which the bottle lineup revolves. Along with the scotches sampled, members enjoy an original multimedia presentation conducted at a local hotel meeting room, (the club long having outgrown our original home in the liquor store backroom). These presentations include information about the history of the distilleries that created that evening’s bottles, tasting notes, and a variety of fun features relating to whisky.
Meetings feature a specially-curated six-bottle lineup which fits that session’s theme, with selections chosen for how interesting they are, and since the club’s founding in 2009 we’ve sampled over 400 different bottles from over 150 distilleries and brands.
Past themes have included such titles as Tour of Speyside, Island Hop, Macallan Mania, Cask Finish Night, Blend Blast, Names You’ve Never Heard Of, Scotch 101, Battle of the Ages, and World Whisky. We’ve also conducted annual bonus sessions titled Putting on the Ritz (featuring a very upscale lineup), and Peatstock (focused entirely on heavily-peated scotches).
In 2016, the club organized an eight-day trip to Scotland that was entitled The Scotland Jaunt. Seventeen club members enjoyed a tour guide-led, customized itinerary of big cities, small towns, castles, cathedrals, museums, historical landmarks, and—of course—distilleries.
What other projects has the whisky club worked on/ developed?
Using the materials accumulated after years of creating multimedia presentations, we started offering classes to the public with the themes of “Scotch 101” and “Blends 101.” These sessions are designed to be casual, fun and informative, and provide scotch-drinking newcomers with a concise overview of the world of scotch whisky.
These public sessions also served as a recruitment tool to entice new members into joining the club to continue their scotch journeys, some of whom have remained members to this day.
Looking back, what have been the highlights of your experience with the whisky club since its launch?
Running the club, while a lot of work, has been an extremely fun and rewarding experience. I’m happy to share my knowledge and appreciation of scotch whisky with others, and as a graphic designer, creating the presentations serves as a welcome creative outlet.
But, without question, the most gratifying aspect has been the surprising number of close friendships the club has fostered over the past eleven years.
I’ve met hundreds of people, many of whom I socialize with on a regular basis. Many people have told me that they, too, have established lasting friendships with fellow members they met at club activities…two of our members actually met at a club event and ended up getting married!