Spirited Endeavor

By Steve Lanahan

Whiskey,” according to the Wilmington Whiskey Club’s website, “is a drink that brings people together. . . and a glass of whiskey is simply something to have a good conversation over.”

Based on that premise, there should be lots of people having good conversations over many glasses of the liquor at the club’s second annual Gatsby Gala, set for  Saturday, Oct. 28, from 7:30-11:30 p.m., at the historic Brantwyn Estate, 600 Rockland Rd. in Wilmington. 

WWC co-founder and whiskey enthusiast Dan Young says the event is open to “anyone who would like to come and live life like it was 1929.”

Inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby and the Roaring ‘20s style brought to the big screen in the 2013 movie, the evening will feature a dress code of black tie for gentlemen and flapper fashions for the ladies. There will be champagne towers, Gatsby-themed cocktails, unique food stations, auctions, raffles, and photo ops. Period vehicles from Goober’s Garage in Wilmington will be on the grounds. And, of course, everyone will have a chance to dance the Charleston.

Confusing Terminology

The WWC happily educates its members about whiskey — its history, how it’s enjoyed, and its terminology, which can be confusing. The libation is distilled around the world, but whiskey originates in America and Ireland. Whiskey from Tennessee is called bourbon, but only sometimes. In Canada, Japan, and Scotland, they prefer the spelling whisky, though scotch is from Scotland. These distinctions are points pedants like to argue about, which can be confusing and intimidating for a novice.

Most WWC members do love their whiskey, but surprisingly some don’t, and around 10 percent don’t drink at all — testimony to the fact that the club is as much about community and the aforementioned “good conversation” as it is about whiskey. In fact, the isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic was a driving factor behind the formation of this club. 

Where it all Began

In early 2021, lockdowns and health concerns persuaded many people to stay in their homes, which led to a feeling of disconnection. WWC founders Dan Young and Jill Slader-Young wanted to find a way to re-engage with friends and build a new sense of community. As whiskey fans, they checked out local whiskey clubs to see if any of them had what they were hoping for. 

Says Young: “We wanted an event-forward club for the social aspect, one filled with couples who wanted to go out together.” 

Local options tended to focus more on the whiskey than on connections among people. So, Slader-Young suggested they start their own club. Young admits with a laugh, “Yes, it was technically my wife’s idea.” They discussed the idea with friends and found that many of them wanted to reconnect as well. Though whiskey was a common point of interest, Young says it’s not the focus.

“Whiskey is more of a club mascot,” he says. “The real goal was to create a way to be social and do something new and interesting.”

In April 2021, the WWC was born with 45 founding members. The club has grown to around 140 and is a diverse group, evenly divided between men and women whose ages range between ages 35 and 55. They include doctors, PH.Ds, CEOs, lawyers, legislators, and the highest-ranking female executive in the NFL.

Whiskey is a backdrop for the club, but conversation and community are the focus. This is their USP (unique selling point), a marketing term that you can learn about in one of Young’s classes at the Wharton School or at one of WWC’s happy hours or events. 

Monthly Get-Togethers

The WWC usually meets once a month, with a few big events throughout the year. Happy hours are a regular occurrence, generally every fourth Friday at the Rockwood Carriage House, 4671 Washington St. Extension. Members also get together at the Simmer Down Lounge on Market Street from time to time.

Tasting events, such as an upcoming Japanese Whiskey tasting, allow members to sample and learn more about whiskey — the distilling process, distribution, and how the drink is enjoyed. Each event provides a “whiskey sheet” for noting details about each tasting option. That sheet comes in handy at the end of the year when the club holds a blind-tasting contest. The winner takes home a bottle of whiskey, a small trophy, and a year’s worth of bragging rights. 

Club events often support nonprofits.  “We look to attach a philanthropic component to the large events we have,” Young says. “Our Gala last year included a silent auction, and the proceeds went to support Safe Haven Healing, a charity that my wife Jill started that helps survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape. In the future, we’re looking to help other charities whose missions and values are similar to the group’s.” 

— For information on the Gatsby Gala, as well as WWC membership details, visit WilmingtonWhiskeyClub.com.