Most tasting clubs are informal get-togethers between friends, but the Creekside Cask Club has gone the extra step of getting certified by their local homeowners association. That’s because the North Carolina-based group is comprised of residents living in a 55 and older active adult community. So in 2017, when Doug Neptun, Scott Underwood, and Kevin Walls decided that they wanted to organize tastings, they had a built-in audience and outreach tools at their disposal.
“We can use the resources of the association for emailing, scheduling, calendaring, and use of the clubhouse for events that qualify,” Walls says. Only community members or guests are eligible to join, but the Creekside Cask Club makes an effort to appeal to a wide range of drinkers. What started as a group of friends discussing bourbon has grown to include tastings of wine, gin, rum, brandy, and more. “Think of the name ‘Cask’ being, we’re going to deal with products that are aged somehow in a cask,” Walls says.
When a member of the community has an idea for a tasting, they bring it to Walls, who, as the group secretary and coordinator, works with them to get the event on the community calendar. The events occur once or twice a month, and range in size from 20 people in a person’s home to 80 in the clubhouse, with all attendees split into three groups. The first group will bring a bottle to taste, lead a brief discussion, and pass it around. There are usually six to seven bottles at a smaller event. The second group will bring high-end appetizers that grant them access to taste the whiskies. The third group is known as “socializers,” people who are not there to taste. Other than supplying food or drink, there is no cost to join.
“The costs are covered by individuals, and it may be you can bring a bottle that you had already opened for a tasting and virtually the cost is nothing,” Neptun says. They have experimented with blind tastings, but that adds cost and labor. Past tastings have focused on wines east of the Mississippi River, or whiskies from Canada; anything that pushes them to taste something new.
“We have all kinds of crazy criteria. I get to mix it up, so we aren’t just tasting bourbons,” Walls says, noting that the socializers group is key. “These were really set up for spouses that are not spirits-based drinkers. Otherwise, it was going to be the old man’s club.”
Walls moved to North Carolina from upstate New York, Neptun from Illinois, while Underwood is native to the Tar Heel State, but all three have bonded over a love of whisky and shared that with their fellow community members. With 591 units in their community presently, and plans to grow to 665 in the next two years, their club will continue to explore based on members’ interests.
The tastings are a mixture of education and socialization, with Walls saying he’s gone from drinking Maker’s Mark exclusively to now keeping 10 to 12 different bourbons on hand. As the group has expanded, the founding members have discovered a taste for new spirits altogether. “The three of us kind of started out focused on bourbons and whiskies, but as new members come on board, they have recommendations and suggestions,” Underwood says. “Getting into things like brandies and cognacs and that kind of stuff that we would probably never do if we didn’t have a neighbor that was interested in it.”
Club Insider: Creekside Cask Club
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Year founded: 2019
Number of members: Varies