There is a fine line between being an enthusiast and one who plays for show. Jay Motley freely admits he loves bourbon, has tasted some of the best ever produced, and has a collection that rivals some of the best whiskey bars in the world—but he is no poser. We’ve all seen some guy order a rare spirit at a bar then roll his eyes in disgust when the bartender informs him they don’t carry it. Jay is not that guy. In fact, he will tell you there are a lot of really good bourbons out there in the $25 price range. Jay knows this because he has blind tasted hundreds of bourbons and understands that rare and expensive do not always equal best-tasting. That seems to be the essential difference between the enthusiast and the show-off—the enthusiast knows what he’s talking about.
Collectively, they are known as the DGC. A group of eleven men that includes an anesthesiologist, a screenwriter, a commercial mortgage broker, and a landscape company owner. Over the past five years they have become close friends and meet once a month to taste and discuss their shared passion—bourbon. Ask Jay what DGC stands for and he will hesitate before speaking. Press him a little more about the initials and he will reluctantly give you the answer. “It stands for Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club,” Jay says. “We came up with that name as sort of a tongue-in-cheek way of laughing at ourselves because we felt like we were getting into learning about spirits and didn’t really know anything about it or what we were doing.”
Although there is no set agenda, the monthly DGC meetings usually follow the same schedule. Each month, a member is responsible for hosting the meeting at his home. The guys show up around 7pm for a casual happy hour, which includes cocktails, beer, wine, and charcuterie. After some lively debate on everything from religion, to politics, to current events, it’s time to get down to the business at hand—the tasting. The DGC is not a drinking club, mind you. It’s a group focused on learning about spirits, how they’re produced, how they’re aged, and the subtle differences in years, distilleries, and recipes. Meetings often include multi-page handouts and sometimes even Power Point presentations. The host picks the theme and is responsible for the evening’s education. And even though the DGC started out focusing on bourbon, the group has moved into broader territory. “It’s about bourbon around 50 percent of the time,” Jay says. “One guy did a tequila night and taught us about all different types of tequila. And sometimes the theme is a country. I did a tasting all about Portugal, so I highlighted Portuguese food, wine, and port. We’ve also done beer, mezcal, and even cigars. And we’ve talked about doing a coffee tasting.”
For several members of the group, the tastings have introduced them to drinks they never thought they would enjoy, as well as given them a deeper understanding of the pleasures of various spirits. “I didn’t know a thing about bourbon when we started out,” says DGC member Andy Mitchell. “The first time I was at a tasting and they were talking about tasting notes, I thought, this is ridiculous. But the more I learned the more I wanted to know.” Jay’s “Real Men Drink Pink,” a rosé tasting, is a prime example of getting the guys outside of their comfort zones. “At some of the tastings, we’ve had over 100 glasses on the table,” Andy says. “And I’ve been surprised at how few things I actually dislike.”
Good Spirits // Comprised of 11 beverage enthusiasts, including founding member Jay Motley (above), the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club is not limited to drinking whiskey, like the bottle of Pot Still Willet Reserve (below). At their monthly meetings, members have presented rosé, tequila, and beer tastings, with coffee planned for the future.
Last year, the DGC took their bourbon passion to the next level, partnering with Four Roses distillery on a single-barrel bourbon branded with the group’s name. Three of the guys visited the distillery in Kentucky and tasted ten different single-barrel bourbons before unanimously selecting one barrel. “Once you pick a barrel, you sign it,” Jay says. “But then it takes a while before they are able to bottle it and put your label on it and get it to the store where you can pick it up.” According to those in the know, the DGC’s private label bourbon is among some of the best-tasting whiskey out there. “We’ve sent it out to other groups to taste test and it gets super high praise,” says DGC member Scott Williams. “We did a blind tasting with the top-ten Four Roses bottles that you can buy today and our bottle came in second that night.” The group also got to keep the barrel and have partnered with Upstate Craft Brewery to produce a barrel-aged stout that will age in the group’s bourbon barrel until the summer of 2018.
Man to Man // Scott Williams (right) and Steven Epps (left) are two of the DGC’s 11 members; (below) the club worked with Four Roses Distillery to create their own private-label bourbon.
As interest in bourbon continues to increase, the biggest hurdle now facing the DGC is getting their hands on the good stuff. One of the group’s early favorites, a W.L. Weller 12-year, has gone from $30 a bottle to more than $150. Many other bourbons are following the same trend as investors horde cases of the spirit, not to drink, but to resell. “Some people camp out at the distributor and wait for the truck to leave,” Jay says. “Then they follow the truck all around town as it makes its deliveries and they’ll buy up all the whiskey as soon as it’s delivered to each store. It’s become a hot commodity, and there’s not enough product out there to fulfill the demand. And because it’s aged, it takes a distillery 15 years to ramp up production.”
But despite the current bourbon drought, the DGC has plenty of other spirits to master. For this group of unpretentious enthusiasts, the goal is not to chase after the most expensive and rare spirits but to expand their knowledge and broaden their palates. “There’s so much out there,” Jay says. “There is always something new to learn and taste.”