If there is one thing to know about the Dallas Bourbon Club, it is that there are about 140 members and more than 3,000 on the waiting list. If you need to know one more thing about the Dallas Bourbon Club, it is that the club had just three members in 2017.
So how did a fledgling bourbon club go from little more than a few guys drinking in a garage to the 2022 American Spirits Council of Tasters Whiskey Club of the Year and one of the most difficult clubs to get into the city? The story of the DBC encapsulates so much of what moves mountains in Dallas: charity, relationships, and a good party.
DBC president and Verdant Commercial Capital chief commercial officer Brian Lowe was at Dallas bar Parliament with his brother in 2017 when he thought out loud, “I wish there was some way to combine networking, people that appreciate whiskey and bourbon, and given back to the community.”
He did what most would do in that situation and Googled it. He found a landing page for Dallas Bourbon Club that needed some work, and he sent the email address an inquiry about how to join. The founder, John Bentley, had established the club in 2013 but hadn’t done to grow it and was looking for the right person to take it and run with it.
The two hit it off, and Brian was off and running. He made the organization a nonprofit and began building some structure into the club, with leadership positions, events, and fundraisers. Growth was relatively organic in the early days, with members asking their friends if they wanted to join.
But during the pandemic, things began to take off along with alcohol sales, which exploded with the world in isolation. A Columbia University study found that liquor store sales increased 20 percent from March to September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Bourbon was no different.
But for the business leaders in the DBC, bourbon is about more than an escape. “Bourbon is more than just a drink to ease the stress of the day,” says Melissa Wilson, a group manager at Toyota North America and DBC member. “It’s an experience, a story, a feeling.”
The organization remained intentionally small so that every member has a chance to purchase a bottle from one of the bourbon barrels the club brings back from its visits to distilleries around the country. Called picks, these barrels are chosen after the group tastes the bourbon at the distillery. “The experience is unmatched,” says Dr. Umesh Oza, a radiologist, and member. “At some point in your life, memories with your family and friends are more important.”
The group’s charitable giving (see sidebar) has earned it preferential treatment at many of the biggest names in bourbon, with the group bringing back barrels of Blanton’s and Colonel E.H. Taylor from recent trips.
“The distilleries are acutely aware. They rolled out the red carpet for DBC because of the charity and the lives that it is impacting,” says member Pete Delkus, who is also the weatherman at WFAA. “These distilleries want to be a part of that.”
The Dallas Bourbon Club has its fair share of C-suiters and business leaders, but getting in is about more than just a large bank account and a prestigious title. “Helping someone get another job through a DBC member and referring a DBC member’s business to family and friends has been super beneficial. Several business deals have been completed because members met one another in the Dallas Bourbon Club.”
Will is the managing editor for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He’s written about healthcare…