The East Texas Bourbon Society was born of good intentions. The group’s origins reach back to Bourbon and Bowties, an event started in 2013 to raise money for the Longview World of Wonders children’s museum. “We have raised over $750,000 through our little bourbon event so far, and hope to break $1,000,000 this year,” says Cole Tomberlain, president of the society’s Longview chapter. On the heels of such success, Tomberlain went on to found the group along with president Andrew Griffith. “We love to discuss the history, the lore, the distilling process,” he explains.
East Texas Bourbon Society builds upon the philanthropy of its roots. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that, in addition to bourbon, focuses on raising money for local youth organizations such as Education By Design Longview and the statewide Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. Each chapter meets several times a month in its respective town in various locations, including a cigar lounge (Nacogdoches), a liquor store (Longview), and brewery (Tyler). Members range in age from 24 to 78 and come from all walks of life—personal trainers, tailors, doctors, lawyers, insurance agents, landmen, food consultants, winery owners, restaurateurs, and hoteliers—united in their appreciation of bourbon.
For a typical tasting, the society’s officers create flights of five to eight whiskies for members’ feedback. “Obviously bourbon is a majority of flights since we are a bourbon society, but we feel that you can’t truly appreciate one spirit without learning about all of the others,” Tomberlain says.
In addition to regular tastings, the club’s officers pursue creative programs and competitions to keep things lively for its members. The society hosted a Texas Bourbon Shootout in February 2019, in which eleven local distilleries battled to lay claim to producing the state’s best bourbon, with Balmorhea by Garrison Brothers Distillery taking top honors. “We do barrel picks, Christmas parties, distillery tours, and various other events,” Tomberlain adds—including a foot race challenge with the East Texas Brewers Guild.
For Tomberlain, perhaps the best part about running a chapter is building relationships with local distilleries. “Any time we are close to them or they are coming through town, we get together to catch up,” Tomberlain says. “We are in a constant state of learning, and love it.”
East Texas Bourbon Society at a Glance
Locations: Longview, Tyler, and Nacogdoches, Texas
Year founded: 2018
Number of members: 77 active among three chapters
Membership: Member referral required