Do you ever buy a bottle of something, have one dram, and realize you absolutely hate it? It’s happened to me before. Twice.
To be fair, the price was worth taking a flyer on it. $30 for 750ml of 18 year old? Sure, why not.
Here’s the thing — I didn’t buy them because they were interesting. I bought them because they had high age statements and were strangely inexpensive relative to other whiskies aged that long. You get what you pay for. 🙂
I think part of the fun of whisky is the discovery process. I’ve long wanted to try more Japanese whiskies, especially since they’ve been collecting all the awards, but the price of a single bottle is too high to try something I might not like.
What if I spend $90 on a 750ml bottle of Yamazaki 12yo and discover I hate it? That’s a lot to spend to “try it out.”
Here’s where a whisky club might make sense and one that I recently learned about is called Flaviar. Flaviar sends you small samplings and private bottlings from a variety of craft and premium distilleries, giving you the opportunity to try small samples without committing to 750ml of something you don’t want to finish. That’s what they pride themselves in.
Flaviar sent me a box to help me understand what the service would be like – I opted for the Asia and Oceania Whisky package because if I was going to try something, it’ll be stuff that’s hard for me to find. I don’t need small samples of stuff I know. 🙂
Nice cardboard box with the package clearly labelled, and the inside consists of the samples a little introductory card about Flaviar, plus two pamphlets.
The two pamphlets are great – one discusses how to host a tasting (they recommend one pack per three people! might not be enough!) and the other talks about each of the whiskies in the package. The tasting guide explains how you should approach tasting whisky, what aspects of the production process contribute to which flavors, etc.
The guide to the whiskies is really fun. The five samples included in this kit were:
- Kavalan – This is the one I wanted to try, Kavalan is produced in Taiwan; it’s where my parents emigrated from to the United States.
- Milford 10yo – New Zealander done in the Lawland style, another one I’d never heard of and wanted to try.
- Paul John Brilliance – Indian whisky that is made with Indian barley, matured in bourbon barrels and is unpeated… most Indian whiskies are usually molasses based, this one isn’t.
- Lark – Rum Cask Finish – They are located in Tasmania!
- Togouchi Blended – A Japanese blended whisky
Here’s a closeup of the five I received:
Flaviar bills itself as “a club for explorers at heart,” and I think this the only way a whisky club “works.” It needs to be more about discovery and trying new things and less about getting a good deal.
If you look at Caskers Whiskey Explorer club, it starts at $159.99 quarterly and gets you three full-size bottles a quarter (so a bottle a month). Is there a theme? Not that I can tell. You pay $53.33 per bottle, which can get you a fantastic bourbon or a decent scotch. It’s hard to know and with no theme, even harder to justify getting it. I’d rather just buy the bottles myself as I go.
Flaviar isn’t cheap though. If you try to buy their Asia & Oceania Whisky kit a la carte now (it was the kit from October 2015), it’s three samples (Lark Rum Cask, Milford 10yo, and Paul John Brilliance) for $42.
The membership itself is $60 per quarter and you get one package a quarter.
The most recent one (March 2016) is called The Canadian Lot and features McGuinness Old Canada Whisky, WhistlePig Straight Rye 10yo, and Crown Royal XR. Is that worth $60? I can’t find McGuinness anywhere here, WhistlePig is a $75 bottle (so the 45ml is “worth” $4.50), and the crown is an $87 bottle (45ml = $5.22). Strictly on value, it’s not. But as a premium for discovery, that’s up to you to decide…
The tricky part here is that you really need to bring obscure whiskies in each package for it to work. I look at The Canadian Lot and I only see one unfamiliar name – McGuinness. I was far more intrigued by the Asia & Oceania Whisky box – some Australian whiskies, an Indian whiskey, and one from Taiwan I always wanted to try? Bring it on!
There are some other perks to membership which are non-obvious and… depending on how they develop, might be really interesting. Flaviar, like many places, also sells harder to find bottles and membership also gives you 3 free package shippings a quarter. This could be a good deal if they get bottles you like. For example, one deal they have now is Kilchoman Machir Bay, a release from 2014 that is about $10 cheaper than anywhere else that has it. That’s a nice benefit but it’s hard to know how useful that would be on an ongoing basis.
They also have private bottlings under their Deer, Bear & Moose label. The first one was a 20yo single malt from Tobermory and the second is a Ben Nevis 18yo. They go for about $125. Here’s a photo of their first and second private bottlings.
THIS would be interesting… since members get first crack at it. But is it interesting enough to join?
What’s your take on whisky of the month clubs?
I have been with Flavior for six months now and have tasted some great liquers I would have never tasted. $24.00 a month has been worth it to me. After only drinking scotch for the last 50 years , I have opened a whole new world. Duane
Very cool, do you think you could fully appreciate the other liquor types after not being a fan? As a whisky aficionado, my appreciation has only improved over time. If you gave me something rare in my early years, it would’ve been wasted on me. 🙂
This was my one and only experience with Flaviar. They had a special promotion of Talisker Storm a couple years ago. I always wanted to try that one, and the price seemed really good, and I do not think I had to pay for shipping on this specially advertised deal. They promised a 2 week delivery…..but after 6 weeks went by, I finally got my scotch routed from Ljubljana, Slovenia….and the product was in a 700 ml bottle…not a 750 ml bottle. The company apologized for the delay, but since it was the first time dealing with an unfamiliar supplier, I thought for sure I had be taken to the cleaners. Hopefully their turn around time has now improved.
Eek, that would not be a good experience…
I haven’t joined a club like Flaviar. I have a friend that just joined and we are waiting to see how that works out. I agree with the concept of being able to get to offerings that are not readily available in one’s home area. But, I don’t know if the price is worth the sample and your Canadian Whisky example is perfect. I too have been eyeing the Lark since it was introduced in Whisky Advocate Magazine a year plus ago but of course it’s not available here in Maryland. So, instead, I started my own club with a friend. It is a small (14 members), private (by invitation only), club with the express purpose of expanding our tasting experience. The fundamental premise is ‘staying married’…anecdotally true but, if I were to go out and purchase a $300 bottle of whisky, whether I liked it or not, I would have some explaining to do. If 14 of us split the cost of a $300 bottle of whisky, who cares!. So we keep a running list of offerings we want people to be on the lookout for in their travels (some travel all over the world and Duty Free has offerings that are not available in the US market period) and once a quarter we get together and ‘explore’ the offering(s) we decided on for that quarter. Its a fun way to meet with friends that all share the same love of whisky and keep it cost effective.
It might be fun to join a club like that with a friend – the drams are big enough that splitting one could still be fun.
I love the “staying married” fundamental premise… 🙂 I think whisky tastings like that are the way to go if you have enough friends (14 is a pretty nice size) who are fans. I have a couple fans but not enough that people would want to split a $300 bottle, even just one. We’ve just brought our own to each event (we haven’t done one in years). I love this idea.
Jim, not sure where in Maryland you would be traveling from, but as one of the two plank holders (original founders) I could have you up as a guest. Let me know if you are interested. We actually have our next meeting coming up in May. Email me at the club email: [email protected] (yes, I know it is misspelled [cairdeas]; that’s what happens when you make a new email account while having a Scotch Club meeting 🙂 ).
I appreciate the offer, thank you! I’ll send you an email. 🙂
I’m in The Whisky Club (http://thewhiskyclub.com.au/ – mention my name if you join, please!) and every month I receive a new bottle, I can opt out of a monthly choice, or double up if I think I’ll like it. Each bottle is around $100-$130 Australian and none of the selections have been ordinary.
Japanese, Indian, Irish and many Scottish malts. Oddly enough, even though the club is based in Tasmania, no Australian bottles yet.
They have all been good, but some absolute crackers in the list. The Nikka Miyagikyo 12 Year Old seemed to evaporate right out of the bottle, and the BenRiach Pedro Ximenez wasn’t far behind. Each month’s notice includes tasting notes, some information about the distillery and the bottling, often a link to a video of some lucky cove tasting a dram and sharing his knowledge of the expression. So members aren’t flying blind; we know what’s coming.
A bottle a month is a little more than my wife and I can comfortably put away, so we’ve opted out a few times. Along with my own private buyings, I now have a good little collection and a growing knowledge of whisky.
Once or twice I’ve spotted a club offering for a lower price at one of the franchise alcohol retailers here, but mostly the selections are the sort that you never see on the public shelves. They have all been good, that’s the main thing. No dogs here, and some absolute champions.
Do you ever worry that the club sends you an entire bottle? What if you dislike it (even with tasting notes)?
A bottle a month would be too much for me, especially since I love hopping around and trying new things.
I’ve found that once you have a few friends that enjoy whiskey it’s usually not an issue. Just trade it with a friend. Just because you dislike a whiskey the first time you try it doesn’t mean you won’t like it later on. Try it later when you’re in a different mood or eating something different and you may find you actually do enjoy it. Plus you have years before it goes bad so you needn’t rush.
I bought into the 9.99 Flaviar whiskey package over the holidays thinking I would specialize in whisky. The initial package was great – enjoyed all three. I opted not to receive the next package at 24.99 because it wasn’t whisky. I wrote them and told them I was only interested in whiskey groupings – what do I get in the mail the month after, smoky vodka, smoky tequila and one whisky. Currently not pleased. Maybe I missed something but I thought I filled out a form that my preference was for whisky. I don’t care for vodka nor Tequila. I’ll give it another go round but if they don’t start to shape their packages towards my liking, I will end my subscription to them. Aside from that, I like the idea of a whisky club.
Hmmm I wouldn’t be a fan of that, though technically that shipment did have a whisky. I’ve never had smoky vodka or tequila, I’d be curious. 🙂
That said, I’m not a vodka or tequila aficionado. I don’t need the rare and obscure in those categories… so I’d hope your future experience with them is good.
I discovered something about tequila. I never really cared for the stuff, until one fine night when a true tequila aficionado opened up his private liquor cabinet. We’re talking bottles from $200 on up to about $1500. It turns out that in the stratosphere of tequila, it doesn’t really taste like tequila any more and is actually quite good.
Of course, spending hundreds on a tequila bottle just to reach the level of a $50-$60 scotch makes no sense at all, but it wasn’t my money.
Hurry up and drink those so we can have some tasting notes! Seriously, though, the price seems kind of high. If it were about 25% cheaper I could maybe see subscribing for a few quarters.
Since you brought it up, I think I’m done trying Japanese whisky. I’ve splurged on three bottles now, and none of them has really done it for me. They weren’t terrible, just not to my taste. All the elements seemed to be there for something I ought to like, but they’re just not balanced right or something.
Of course, I’m always willing to sample a dram from someone else’s bottle…
Hahahaha yes yes, I’m working on it. Two little kids and an early morning makes sampling a little trickier.
Your experience with Japanese whisky has highlighted what makes sampling so powerful. Pay a little more for a tiny bottle, try it, and if you like it buy more. I’m fine paying a premium on a few ml because the times I avoid a bottle I dislike will pay for the times I find one I love.
I am enrolled in an Australian whisky subscription from a group called White Possum. You can order monthly or quarterly and it costs A$69 per shipment. Bottles range from 375 mL to 750 mL. So for they have shipped me a Dobson’s Belle Époque NAS Cask Strength Single Malt (375 mL) and a Dobson’s Old Reliable NAS Single Malt (375 mL). I didn’t care for the Belle Époque. The Old Reliable is delicious. They also have Australian craft gin, vodka and liqueur subscriptions. The prices are about right for the content, but the ability to taste unusual whiskys is worth a premium.
Yeah, that premium is really about trying whisky you can’t get anywhere else (easily) — I think if you try to do it for saving money, you’re going to lose out.
My fear is that I’ll sample something wonderful…and never be able to buy in a Pennsylvania state store. I’d also rather put the membership fee towards good scotch that I can buy in PA.
Ha good point!
I was very, very excited when I received my email inviting me to join Flavier. I accepted almost instantly. I selected my tasting profile, picked my favorite whisky, and started filling out the shipping address. Then, I received some terrible news. No, no on shot my dog. No, no one stole my car. This was worse than that. Flavier is not available for shipping to North Dakota. Why is this? Is there some weird law on the books? Do I need to call my Congressman? How do I correct this terrible injustice?
Call your Congressman!
I’ve just started getting into whiskey and found that i really enjoy a great bourbon. I live in Colorado, (So naturally, i basically bathe in excellent craft beer, as while you are in one brewery tasting a flight, two more breweries open up across the street), and I’ve been really getting into the craft distilleries here. While not the rare $300/ bottle range, there are some great things going on here. Of course Breckenridge puts out a great bourbon and then there’s Stranahan’s, (especially if you can get your hands on some snowflake), but, to those who are unaware, try to get your hands on a bottle of A D Laws’ four grain bourbon, or their Triticum. Each of these will run you about $60+ retail. Another of my local favorites is Deerhammer’s Down Time American whiskey, approximately $50/ bottle which is great straight or as a mixer. My point here is, for someone starting out, rather than joining a club as you’ve described, (thank you btw), look around your local areas. One of the best parts of your search is, you get to explore your area, lounge in a local tasting room, and, in cases like Deerhammer, get to sit at a bar, with no-one else in the distillery and chat with the owner/ distiller over a cocktail.
There’s some other interesting things going on here like Leopold Bro’s fruit whiskeys. While being more of a cordial than whiskey, it’s a fun break from the norm. All of these are extremely drinkable bottles that won’t break the bank.
What are your favs within that $50-$100/750ml bottle?
All those whiskies are fantastic, especially the AD Laws, which is a farm to bottle operation.
I recently signed up for Flaviar and I am still evaluating its merits. It certainly favors product in the $50 + arena and an average price for a good scotch overs @ $100. The sample packs are more reasonable, but limited in choice. I hope to set up a neighborhood whiskey & spirits club soon to try to see if we can effectively and religiously administer tastings. I have also found that master of malt http://www.masterofmalt.com has a great selection of sample bottles and nips (airline bottles) This offers the chance to expand the tasting experience. Here in the Chicago area and in most major cities there are more and more bars/restaurants with expanded spirits inventory. This also offers a sampling option. With an average cost of @ $12-20 per drink, it doesn’t take long to consume the monthly spirits budget. If you are lucky enough to be in a competitive liquor retailing state, there is plenty of opportunities to try product. If you make friends with the spirits staff, its surprising what you have access to. Not everything they offer is on the shelf. Like any other commodity it all depends on your budget. I’ve had plenty of <$20 whiskey that are just great, I treated myself to more exclusive tastings and even somehow managed to be part of exclusive rarely available drinks that I could never duplicate. Like anything else, if you use the power of positive thinking you can have a rich and adventurous spirits tasting journey for a long time.
Sad, Master of Malt does not ship to Maryland USA. I’ll keep checking back. They have interesting tastes.
I have been a member of Flaviar for 6 months now and I have enjoyed my experience. I have the $60 per quarter subscription and it may not always come out to a dollars and cents value, but I get to try different items I would not have the chance to otherwise. I also value the samples I get per quarter and that I can purchase, because there have been some that I have not liked at all and would be pretty upset with a full bottle of something I would not drink again.
Another added value for me is The Vault that they offer. Once per quarter they open The Vault and you have the opportunity to purchase samples and full bottles of more rate items that are tough to find. I don’t always participate, but I do like to buy one or two bottles per year and this gives me the opportunity to get my hands on some that would otherwise be very hard or very expensive for me to get.
I have read all the posts, which made the point that Flaviar is not for me!
But only a few were mentioned (One in Australia!). Surely, in all the world there have to be more whiskey “clubs” that offer different kinds of plans. I wish someone would put together a list of all clubs and a link to their website! It would be GREAT!
Just a thought.
I am a Flaviar member and its well worth it to Me for their scotch purchasing selection. Being from WA state, we have the highest tax in the US on liquor… Works out to be roughly 30% on most bottles. For example, I bought a bottle of Bunnehabhain 12 year for $51.99 with free shipping from Flaviar, tax free. That same bottle would have cost me almost $110 after tax here in WA. So it all depends on what you use the membership for.
I’m looking to join a monthly scotch/bourbon club.
I’m contemplating between:
I’ve never subscribed to a club before, any guidance would be most appreciated.
J. Scott Rutter
My wife did Tasters Club for me for a few months. I like the selections they sent. They were things I don’t typically see in stores. They provide a nice 101 write up about each one that is cool too. I will probably do it again on my own.
Been a member of Flaviar for a bit over a year. I do try to get new (my free scotch) tastings of bottles I may never get otherwise. I give it a 50/50 would buy, would not buy from the samplings Ive had. The vault is a nice option (It`s not always open)to purchase harder to get items from time to time. Bottles can be expensive and it`s not for everyone. But you can also get let`s say a few samples of Yamazaki offerings Puncheon, limited etc) in the vault in sample sizes at decent prices so you don`t have to spend that big $$$ . As far as being worth it only you can decide if you love certain liquors and want to expand your knowledge and palate you may want to give it a go. You can always step away from the club if you don`t like it. after your initial purchase.
I’m disappointed that there is a wait list to join Flaviar tasting club as I wanted to purchase this as an anniversary gift for my husband. The online info has no timeline on waiting time.