Sharing a dram or several with fellow whisky fans is at the crux of Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends’ mission. Founder Aaron Hajduk started the group in the summer of 2016 to fill what he saw at the time as a chasm in the Pittsburgh whisky scene—an utter lack of camaraderie. Now the group holds bottle shares around once a month, typically at local cigar and coffee shop Leaf & Bean in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, where patrons are permitted to BYOB. “Also, cigars and whisky just work well together,” Hajduk says.
Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends keeps things casual, with few requirements or rules for its members other than that they must be at least 21 years of age and “respectful.” Promotions, spam, sales, trades, and valuations are forbidden on their social platforms. There is no maximum number of members or waitlist. “We are not a group founded on exclusivity,” Hajduk says. “There are no dues. Our goal is in our name—whiskey friends. We want to share a pour with you. We want to get to know you. We are neighborly.” Members personally pay for the whisky they bring, Hajduk adds. “People can bring anything they want to share—if they like it, I want to try it.”
The group recruits new members mostly by word-of-mouth. “We try to be very organic in our growth, and focus on being a community first,” Hajduk says. “We figure if we do that part right, members will follow.” Along with bringing together area whisky enthusiasts to revel in their collective love of the spirit—“the history, the tales, the shenanigans”—Hajduk says Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends’ secondary goal is helping “give back,” including partnering with the Drams for Fams charity, which actually started in 2016 as an initiative of the Alberta, Canada-based Edmonton Scotch Club to raise money for Edmonton’s Food Bank. Building alliances hasn’t been terribly complicated. “We contact the charity we’d like to work with, see if they’re interested, and then build from there,” Hajduk explains. “We brainstorm with one another, get the shape of the event fleshed out, and then start publishing it. We typically use universe.com to sell tickets.”
Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends’ members’ interests transcend whisky and charity, however. Many are also craft beer fans, which they’ve explored in collaboration with Boilermaker-focused events at Fury Brewing Co. in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. “We paired different whiskies with various beers they had available at the time,” Hajduk recalls. The tinkering led to a new beer called Dad’s Nuts, from a Boilermaker pairing of Nuts of Fury brown ale with Dad’s Hat rye. “Fury amped up their brown ale recipe to an imperial version so it could stand up to the barrel-aging process, and then aged it in Dad’s Hat rye barrels,” Hajduk says. “Dad’s Hat was all in—super supportive, provided freshly dumped barrels—and the beer was very well received. Got this really nice, fudgy character to it, with that rye backbone.” It sounds like a great beer to enjoy with friends.
Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends At A Glance
Location: Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania
Year founded: 2016
Number of members: 940
Membership: Join via request to private Facebook group