Bob Howell, co-founder of Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society, launched the group with a fairly straightforward mission: to share whisky knowledge with local whisky fans. “We are basically looking to try to educate the public and spread as much knowledge as we can,” Howell says. As they’ve discovered, whisky lovers are wildly diverse. “We have men and women, all races, creeds, young and old. Whisky is an inclusive beverage that tends to bring people together,” he says.
Howell credits friends in the whisky business with spurring him to kick-start Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society. “It seemed like a fun idea,” he says. He’s also an assistant producer of the Sips, Suds & Smokes radio show, where he discusses whisky, among other things. “I’ve met a lot of folks in the business, as well as members of other whisky clubs as a result of that position,” Howell says.
Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society’s members hail from around the state, and gather for events throughout South Florida. “We mostly get members by word-of-mouth, and by referrals from other members and people in the spirits industry,” Howell says. He and a handful of co-founders organize free monthly tasting events at local bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, as well as private-barrel selections.
Members don’t pay dues, but must purchase a Society Glencairn glass to participate in the free tastings, which typically feature representatives from three or four different brands pouring whisky. Rather than narrowly focused themed tastings, Fort Lauderdale aims to satisfy their diverse membership while also expanding palates. “Some folks drink scotch, some drink bourbon, some drink Irish,” Howell says. “So we always try to have a variety, so everyone has something they like, and some [other whiskies] that may be a little out of their comfort zone, to encourage them to branch out.”
The relationship with the whisky producers is symbiotic. “By partnering with the different whisky brands, and having them come and pour for us, we avoid having to raise funds to purchase bottles,” Howell says. “It’s good for the brands, as it allows them to get their products in front of an audience that is passionate about whisky, with only the cost of the product. It’s good for the bar or restaurant, as we typically do it on a Wednesday, and that brings people in on a typically slow night. And it’s good for the members, as they get to try different whiskies and receive an education for free.”
Fort Lauderdale Whiskey Society at a Glance
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Year founded: 2015
Number of members: More than 1,500
Membership: Open to the public