Small batch, single barrel, barrel proof: Those are just a few of the countless approaches to crafting whiskey, and every month in Fort Lauderdale, a society of aficionados comes together to try a new one.
Fueled by their passion for the spirit, real estate attorney Bob Howell and a group of friends decided to create the Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society in 2015. It started off as a simple Facebook page. But over the last four years, the organization has grown to host regular dinners, tastings, and education sessions throughout the city. Samples are often poured by brand leaders who educate attendees on the origins and craft behind their particular take on whiskey.
"Making whiskey not a science, it's an art," says Howell. "The world of mixology is booming and our goal is to help whiskey lovers become familiar with new releases, trends, and changes in the industry."
Today, the society's Facebook page lists more than 1,200 members. There's nothing exclusive about it — people of all walks of life are welcome and no membership fees are charged. To join in the monthly meetings, attendees are only required to purchase a glass of whiskey before engaging in the tastings. On average, 30 to 80 people attend each monthly meeting.
A therapeutic and rehabilitative therapist in Weston, 29-year-old Vincent Mantuo says he enjoys meeting with other enthusiasts to whiff, taste, and imbibe new whiskeys, as well as to learn about their alchemy. "There are definitely complex depths to each," he says. "A whiskey's taste can be completely different from its smell and it's interesting to learn why."
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Aside from the opportunity to sample different brands and mingle between pourings, the chance to taste a dram of rare whiskey is also a highlight of the gatherings, says Eileen White. Members, she explains, sometimes bring in unusual bottles they discover overseas to share at the meetings. A 50-year-old office manager at a law firm, White joined the Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society with her boyfriend in 2015 after the couple learned about it at a local liquor store tasting. She says she was only an occasional whiskey drinker back then, but her liking for the distillate has evolved to such a point that she traveled to Louisville last year to attend the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair.
White says she thinks that the society's membership will continue to snowball and include an even more diverse group of people.
"It has been Interesting to watch the club's progression," she says. "[It] seems like as whiskey's popularity has grown, so has women's interest in it. When I first joined the group, it was predominantly made of men. Now more women are joining every day, which is great."
Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society. The group's next meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 12, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Stache Drinking Den + Coffee Bar, 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit facebook.com/groups/ftlauderdalewhiskeysociety.