When Peter Buccilli first met Jay Turner, he didn’t catch his last name, but he knew what type of whisky he liked. The two whisky fans were introduced by Kevin Cooper, Buccilli’s brother-in-law, at a whisky event in 2015 and struck up a friendship as they all tasted together.
“I was partial to bourbon and some Irish stuff, Kevin was into bourbons, and Jay was specific to rye,” Buccilli recalls. “Since I didn’t even know Jay’s last name, he was always ‘Jay Rye’ to me. So he started calling me ‘Peter Bourbon’ that very night.”
The three Michigan residents continued to taste together, attending in-person events at a local liquor store, and inviting friends and colleagues to the point that they were “taking things over,” Buccilli says. They held an in-person tasting at Cooper’s house, but once the pandemic hit, getting together was no longer an option.
With the help of Whisky Advocate’s Tasting Clubs issue (“It’s earmarked, it’s so well worn,” Buccilli says) the guys decided to take it all online. “Peter got really excited and really motivated, so we decided to build a platform for people who wanted to have a virtual whisky tasting,” Cooper says. Thus Bourbon, Rye, & Cooper—An Educational Social Club was born.
Buccilli 3D-printed 13 tasting kits, including six 2-oz. vials with an eye dropper in each. Club dues paid for custom-etched Glencairn glasses as well. The group meets once a month, with a designated host assembling a blind flight with one known whisky and leading a presentation about it, complete with trivia and tasting notes. The whiskies are tasted in succession then revealed one at a time, with a favorite and least favorite picked at the end. A recent tasting led by Cooper examined differences in mashbill using only bottled in bond whiskeys. The host has a budget of $300 to pick the six whiskies, with tasting kits washed and mailed back after each session.
“There has to be a story. It is really important to us that people come away learning something about it as they go,” Buccilli says. “It’s not about just trying expensive whiskies. That was not our goal. We didn’t want $200 bottles just to say, ‘Ah, here’s a chance to try an 18 year old scotch.’ The goal is to learn something about the differences.”
With that in mind, the virtual format has made the tastings more organized and informational. “Even though you’re remote, doing a tasting via Zoom, you get more input from everyone,” Turner says. “I think the format …is much better than in-person.”
“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm from people,” Cooper says. As pandemic restrictions begin to relax, there’s no great rush to move back to in-person tastings, as the group has had such success with the virtual format. “I think people are just better behaved on the video,” Cooper adds. “[They’re] not trying to talk over each other.”
The tastings thus far have proven educational, as the group continues to test their palates. “You really get surprised and the stuff you think you know, you don’t know,” Buccilli says.
For Turner, the tastings have him rethinking his entire stance on whisky. “I’m thinking about changing my last name,” he jokes. “I do still gravitate toward rye, but now I like bourbon as well.”
Club Insider: Bourbon, Rye, & Cooper
Location: Rochester, Michigan
Year founded: 2017
Number of members: 13