Go to nearly any whiskey distillery in Texas and you’re likely to find a house bourbon. Bourbon is a distinctly American spirit defined by its recipe, which must include at least 51 percent corn, and by its aging process, which requires new oak barrels.
Over the last decade, the spirit has experienced a rapid rise in popularity thanks to millennial tastes, accounting for $3.6 billion in sales in 2018, according to the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council. And as more palates have turned to favor it, naturally people have come together over a dram and shared appreciation.
Here are two neat, bourbon-focused groups to check out in Texas.
Dallas Bourbon Club
The Dallas Bourbon Club has three primary focuses, says treasurer John Norton: To celebrate and cultivate an appreciation of bourbon, provide a networking opportunity for local business types, and give back to charities in the Lone Star State.
The club was founded in 2013, but only began hosting educational and social events in 2017 when Norton and his friend Brian Lowe, now president, helped get it off the ground. In the years since, the Dallas Bourbon Club has grown to about 100 members and in June, it attained 501c3 nonprofit status.
"We wanted to have a purpose beyond our common love for bourbon whiskey, and giving back to the Dallas community was the obvious answer," Norton says.
As the group has evolved, so too have the perks.
“An increasing part of the club now are these single barrel picks,” he says, such as the soon-to-be released batch of Blanton’s Bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery, a coveted spirit among whiskey drinkers.
About 100 bottles will be available at the Lakewood Medallion Discount Liquor store, each featuring the Dallas Bourbon Club name and logo, Norton says. This summer, drinkers can buy it in packages of two - a 750 mL bottle with a 375 mL bottle - for $150, and proceeds benefit the UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Dallas Bourbon Club members get first pick of the Blanton's inventory, Norton is quick to note.
Last August, the club struck a similar deal with Maker’s Mark and then turned the wooden barrel over to Dallas’ Celestial Beerworks to age a beer. The brewery’s Meteor Maker, a Maker’s Mark Private Select barrel-aged imperial stout brewed with vanilla, lactose and coffee, debuted at a taproom release on May 24.
Other events throughout the year include tastings and a crawfish boil this summer at Lake Carrollton.
Want to join?
The Dallas Bourbon Club requires $150 in annual membership dues, but before you pay, you need to fill out an application on the website and attend one local event. The process is largely a formality, Norton says, to ensure those who register plan to stay actively engaged with the club. dallasbourbonclub.com.
Bourbon Women Association
When Samantha Olvera took the job as distiller at Garrison Brothers Distillery, she became the first woman in Texas at the helm of a bourbon still. So it only makes sense that she would help found the state’s chapter of the Bourbon Women Association.
Founded in 2011, the national organization is dedicated to debunking myths about women and whiskey, and empowering those who are in the industry and interested in the spirit. In April, Texas became the seventh chapter nationwide.
Olvera and her colleague Hope Parkerson worked for years to expand the association to the Lone Star State in hopes of creating a community where women could connect with one another in an otherwise male-dominated industry and celebrate their historical ties to bourbon. Clearly, there was a demand for this type of group, they say.
“Within a week and a half, we had over 80 [women] signed up,” Olvera says.
“Texas is one of the top five bourbon markets and craft distilling is exploding there - so we’ve seen a keen interest from consumers in expanding their knowledge of the product, which is what the Bourbon Women Association is all about,” says Bourbon Women Association founder Peggy Noe Stevens. “Bourbon Women isn’t a drinking club - we’re a movement.”
Parkerson has seen more women come around to dark liquor in recent years and is eager to share the things she’s learned working at Garrison Brothers with like-minded drinkers.
“Seriously, one of my favorite things is to teach women how to drink bourbon and that it's not scary,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, I have beer and wine in my fridge, too. But I think women are shaking off that stigma of, that's all I can drink because I'll have too much or I'll be out of control... you don’t have to stick to wine because that’s safe.”
Because Olvera and Parkerson are based in Central Texas, the Bourbon Women Association’s first event was a tasting in Austin featuring three Texas bourbons. They are planning other events such as dinners, pairings and “distiller for a day” seminars, and hope to hit every major Texas city in the coming months, Dallas included.
Want to join?
The Bourbon Women Association requires $50 in annual membership dues for individuals. The group also offers corporate partnership for $250-$1,000. Members also get a discount to the association’s annual SIPosium conference in August. Olvera and Parkerson suggest following the club on social media or emailing them at email@example.com to keep up to date with events. bourbonwomen.org.