Great Whisky Club: Exec’s Whiskey Club

Fernando Castorena had already been a member of Financial Executives International’s (FEI) Orange County, California chapter for around three years when he discovered that he and fellow member Todd Amy shared a passion for whisky. “Todd and I were just randomly talking one day, and we were both like, ‘Hey, I like whisky.’ ‘Oh, I like whisky too.’ And it developed into ‘Should we start a smaller club through FEI?’ And it just kind of happened,” explains Castorena.

In the beginning, they sought to connect with other FEI members over a dram. “At the first meetings, we were hoping to maybe have like 10 people attend,” Castorena recalls. “But probably halfway through year one of starting that networking group, we were selling out every tasting, and I realized we were more of a whisky club than originally intended. It was just a passion for whisky—and wanting to learn more about it—that helped us create the club, and organically, it grew to be what it is today.”

From its humble SoCal roots, Exec’s Whiskey Club has expanded to around 120 members across the U.S. The club previously held in-person gatherings but transitioned to virtual meetings due to COVID-19. The new format seems to have boosted interest and membership. “COVID has allowed for an expansion that we weren’t really expecting, and not only within Orange County,” Castorena says. Active members come together for monthly Zoom meetings, and the club has a robust social media presence. Currently, the group has around 1,000 followers on Instagram, where anyone thirsting for whisky knowledge and friendship can reach out to Castorena to express interest in joining the group. “[Due to] COVID, people are home and looking for fun ways to interact with each other, so it’s really been a godsend for a lot of our members to be able to look forward to a tasting each month,” he adds. “We’re looking to keep that community going, but also growing it at the same time.”

There is no cost to join Exec’s Whiskey Club at this time. Castorena tries to keep the tastings affordable; aiming to price them at no more than $60. When it comes to building a lineup, Castorena trusts his instincts—and those of fellow club members. “Whisky is a passion of mine, so I ask myself, ‘What would I love to taste?’ and go from there. And I certainly take suggestions from our club members if there’s something specific they want to taste.” Prior to going virtual, the club often paired food with flights. In January 2020 it held a Japanese whisky and sushi pairing, and Castorena notes, “That was a great hit.”

To wrangle the bottles, he leverages industry connections he’s cultivated over the years. “A lot of times [whisky brand] reps or the distilleries help us out in procuring bottles, and we’ve also worked with local liquor stores,” he says. “Growing those relationships has been really important in being able to put on good-quality tastings, and secure rare bottles not everyone gets to try.”

Exec’s Whiskey Club meetings emphasize inclusivity, and that extends to whisky-curious non-members. “We definitely have members that have come from, ‘Hey, I just want to dip my toe into this—can I join a meeting and see what you’re about?’ I’m all for that,” Castorena says. “At the end of the day we’re here to talk to each other and just have a good time. We all have the same passion for whisky, and we want to be a resource for anyone who’s interested in it.”

Club Insider: Exec’s Whiskey Club

Location: Orange County, Calif., with additional members in several U.S. states
Year founded: 2017
Number of members: Around 120
Membership: Open to the public, inquire via Instagram

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