Great Whisky Club: Bellingham Bourbon Society

A weekly family dinner sparked the Bellingham Bourbon Society's founding.

Great Whisky Club: Bellingham Bourbon Society

Julia Higgins, , , ,

If not for a weekly family dinner with the in-laws, the Bellingham Bourbon Society (BBS) might never have formed. The Bellingham, Washington-based whiskey club was born from that very tradition—every week, co-founder Devin Wolf would sit down for Sunday supper with his wife's family, and soon enough, a dram was added to the evening's proceedings. “[Those whiskey tastings] quickly became part of our family dinner routine, and the idea [for a club] blossomed from there,” says Wolf. “My in-laws and I found a common interest in whiskey, and the BBS came about from our talks on Sunday nights.”

Wolf and the society's other co-founders—his three brothers-in-law and father-in-law—were regularly meeting to taste whiskey as early as 2013, but BBS's first formal tasting took place in 2017 and the club began meeting monthly the following year. That format still exists today, with 25 members meeting on the second Tuesday of every month for a tasting. There's a tight cap on membership by design. By allowing just 25 people into the club, one bottle provides a one-ounce pour for every member. Limiting the numbers has led to a mounting waitlist, as existing members rarely drop out.

The BBS first and foremost empowers its members to embrace everything whiskey has to offer, so the focus goes far beyond what's in the glass. “The society is a place where whiskey drinkers can congregate to learn and experience elements of the whiskey world they wouldn't otherwise have access to,” Wolf says. That starts with the tastings themselves. A committee chosen from within the group develops the blueprint for each meeting—determining the theme, specifying whether the tasting will be blind, and deciding if a guest speaker will be invited, among other details. The December 2021 tasting—christened “All Hail to the Chief”—focused on Jefferson's, with three whiskeys: Presidential Select 17, Aged at Sea Cask Strength, and Reserve.

Beyond the tastings, BBS members visit distilleries, having toured Doc Swinson's last year and plan to visit Woodinville this year; do barrel picks (their first was a 7 year old rye from Nashville Barrel Company, and more recent selections include Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and 1792 Full Proof); and host events at restaurants and bars. All of these experiences, along with a personalized Glencairn glass, are afforded to each member by way of a $375 annual membership.

While BBS is focused on looking inward to meet the needs of its members, Wolf's next mission is to extend knowledge outward, to the public. “We have an educational goal for ourselves, but also for the public,” says Wolf. “We've somewhat failed in creating education for the general public, but don't count us out yet.” He points to bottle donations the BBS has made to local charities as one of the ways the group is connecting with its home base, but stresses that eventually he'd like them to have much stronger relationships with distilleries, bars, and local stores, too.

For now, learning about whiskey together is bringing plenty of joy. The club tastes around 40 bottles per year, including members' personal favorites, and shares interesting whisky news and information. “Every member wants to contribute and help [fellow members] in their whiskey journey,” says Wolf. “It's all about sharing.”

Club Insider: Bellingham Bourbon Society

Location: Bellinghman, Washington
Year founded: 2017
Number of members: 25
Membership: $375
Website: Instagram

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