When we took over as guardians of the club as a new admin team, we wanted to understand which direction the members want the club to go. We started by asking members for input in our July tasting (“Opening Chapter 2”) and by email/WhatsApp. We then used this input to create a survey that 82 out of our current 184 members took the time to fill out. Thank you all for that!
Everyone on the waiting list will be admitted. Afterwards, the admins will decide on any new applications on a case-by-case basis, aiming at a cap between 215 and 235.
Remote tastings will continue when possible, and we will try to improve the experience, but not at the expense of in-person attendance.
- Banned members
Re-admission will only occur if everyone involved in the incident and most admins are on the same page. There is only one former member who applied for re-admittance. We will take up that point with all involved parties once they are available for a chat and take it from there.
We will use weighted ballots for popular tastings and work on improving the weighting system to reflect active contributions to our community.
- Club bottles
As there’s no strong preference on what to bottle, we will trust our bottling coordinator to do a great job. We will retain the current cask of Ballygrant (unpeated Bunnahabhain) for a future bottling. We are considering what to do with our empty Williamson quarter cask.
- Food and smoke
Except for food events, smelly hot food will only be served upstairs during the tasting, and smoking (including vaping) will only be possible upstairs as well. Thus, we hope to reduce smells in the rooms whilst not changing too much and allowing people to eat since most of us come straight from work.
- General feedback
You love the club as it is. We do, too.
We will try everything to keep the club’s spirit and emphasise the community where we can.
Please note that some of the values reported in this post don’t add up to 100% due to rounding.
Combining the first two questions, we get:
|200||Hard cap or no comment on the cap||28%|
|Two tiers||No number given||1%|
Most of the members favour some kind of cap, and only 6% want no cap. When averaging the answers, we end up somewhere between 217 and 235 (depending on how you weigh the votes for unlimited and “back to roots: 80 – 100 members”). 58% of us want some kind of vetting after admitting members from the waiting list, e.g. referral, value to the club or application form.
Thus, we will do the following:
- As a first step, we will admit everyone from the waiting list, which will most likely take the club up to 215 members.
- Afterwards, the admins will decide any new applications for the current year on a case-by-case basis, aiming at a cap between 215 and 235. We believe that this honours the feedback of the majority.
- The admin team will keep an eye on how things evolve (availability of places at tastings, number and quality of people on the waiting list, etc.).
Responses were quite varied, with the main diversity-related concern being the low number of women in the club. Several members don’t want any change, and most highlight that whisky should be the focus.
Our main takeaway is ensuring the club is a safe space for everyone. We will emphasise the club rules, especially concerning abuse or harassment, to all new and current members.
There’s strong support for continuing remote tastings via Zoom, but, as highlighted by several members, we will keep in mind that this is the Capital Whisky Club, so remote tastings will not be at the expense of the in-person experience.
We got positive feedback about our new camera and microphones, and we will also try other improvements, like a new layout with the speaker in the middle of the room. There will be a small minority of tastings for which it won’t be possible to provide a remote experience, e.g. the bottles arrive too late.
As stated in the poll question, this only applies to members who were banned for minor misbehaviours. We won’t let back any member who seriously misbehaved against the club or its members, and we won’t let back any member unless all affected parties agree with it.
In particular, the admin team won’t tolerate violent or discriminatory behaviour from members.
While the option with the most votes is “banned is banned”, the majority (54.3%) voted to allow members back at some conditions.
Considering this is not an overwhelming majority, the admin team decided that admitting banned members back will be a power used very sparingly, on a case-by-case basis and only at these conditions:
- All people involved in the accident must agree to allow the former member back.
- A majority of admins must agree as well.
- Thereafter, based on circumstances, we will decide whether to ask members as well.
Themes for tastings
The options with the most support are:
- 73.2%: Tastings are varied, and I’m happy with that so far
- 54.9%: I’d like more member-driven events like Colin’s or Matt’s event, or Sharing is Caring
- 52.4%: I’d like to see at least 1 or 2 high-end tastings per year, and I’m willing to pay more than £100 for it
- 48.8%: I’d like more geeky/educational tastings
- 29.3%: I’d like to see at least 1 or 2 budget tastings per year, around £10 to £15 for the tasting
Based on this, we will keep tastings varied, avoid purely commercial tastings and encourage more member-driven events.
This question was structured using a ranked voting system in which members list their preferences in order (like the system we used for electing admins).
Members have a strong preference for using some kind of ballot (80% of first choices are in favour of one of the two ballot options). Once the ranking of choices is kept in consideration, weighted ballots are the favourite solution.
We got various suggestions on how to structure ballots, with several members who want to strongly recognise the most active members who attend tastings regularly, others who wish to acknowledge the length of membership, and so on.
Interestingly, members on the opposite side of the argument made good observations. For instance, some feel that people who attend most tastings, including the least popular ones, should not have to miss the popular ones in favour of members who don’t bother to show up at other tastings. On the other hand, some respondents pointed out that members who cannot attend tastings very often (due to distance, work, family circumstances, etc.) should not be overly penalised.
It’s impossible to establish a system that makes everybody happy, so we will try to use ballots rarely and only when we are confident that tastings will be very popular. The weighting will be tweaked as we go (and as we learn more) to make it fairer, but we will incentivise active club interaction; this can be anything — great splits, leaving great cage drams (and not leftovers), attending less popular tastings, voting, taking part in surveys, giving for charity or club events, volunteering, etc.
Number and size of drams
Each tasting will be different in practice, but we will try to stick to six to eight drams when possible and keep dram sizes between 1.25 cl and 2.5 cl. On rare occasions, we may have more and smaller (1 cl) drams, but only if really worth it.
Additional club events
We will take these results as a starting point to investigate more options.
August’s and September’s tastings
Most members were away. Still, a few people raised valid points — the biggest one was about the tastings being too expensive, but also announcements being made too late for them to organise their trips, or simply not being interested in the topic/drams. These are all things we will consider for future tastings. However, we would like to highlight that tastings will appear more expensive since the change to include consumption and tip into the ticket. We know it will take time to get used to that, but for 95% of you, those £15 are not an extra cost. Consider it a credit to yourself — you prepaid your beer, food and tip that you would have given anyhow. We will monitor if we see less uptake for tastings that generally would sell out. We will also continue to send a pre-announcement for the next few months, as we have done before, to facilitate better planning. Please read it, though 🙂
The vast majority of members trust our bottling coordinator!
Another question using a ranked voting system. After running the numbers, “Keep all our casks, but don’t buy any more young spirit. I’d prefer to invest this year’s membership fees in ready-to-bottle whisky in 2024” won.
The club owns:
- A single, 1st-fill bourbon barrel containing Ballygrant (unpeated Bunnahabhain), which was filled in April 2022.
- A single, empty quarter cask, that was seasoned with Palo Cortado sherry and used to mature a Williamson blended malt for approximately a year.
The Ballygrant will be retained for a future club bottling. Uses for the empty quarter cask are currently being considered. Given its interesting character, it may be used as a finishing vessel for a short to mid-term club bottling or refilled with new make or young whisky for the future.
An approach will be taken to focus on providing interesting, ready-to-bottle whisky in 2024 while retaining the inventory we have for the future. Consideration will be given to longer-term purchases but not at the expense of providing club bottles in the immediate future.
Only 63% of you have answered that question, indicating interest in club merch. Out of those, club glassware and polo shirts were the favourites. Also, other members made interesting suggestions, such as club pins, which later got some interest on our WhatsApp groups as well.
We will investigate the most popular options, but before proceeding with anything, we will consult members. We will also look into other proposed items and check for members’ interest, ensuring we don’t create a stock of uninteresting items.
Anything else to say?
- Many people thanked the admins for their work in the club. We were delighted to see that, but we would like to use that opportunity for a big shout-out to the founding admins for their incredible work creating our community.
- The previous point leads us to the most significant topic that was mentioned. The sense of community, the sharing, the camaraderie and the knowledge exchange in the club are what the members love the most. Some of the earlier members are worried about how we can maintain that now that the club has grown so much. We will do our utmost to work towards ensuring that we stay a community and don’t become just another club.
- Two members highlighted their appreciation for the survey questions, while one thought they were leading. We learn as we go, and we will take the feedback (positive and negative) on board for any future questionnaires.
- One recurring point was the wish not to change the club. We got many “don’t implement too many rules”, “don’t change the club”, “don’t reinvent the wheel” comments. And now… we will rewrite the whole club charter. Just kidding. We think the founding admins did a fantastic job in club governance and writing the important club rules. We don’t think there’s any need to change much.
- You will probably be as surprised as we were, given the amount of discussions we had in the chat around the topic, that only a few people mentioned food and the smell of cigarettes. However, we will implement a compromise dealing with smells in the downstairs tasting room. From November’s tasting onwards (except for food events), smelly hot food will only be served upstairs during the tasting, and smoking (including vaping) will be possible only upstairs. Thus, we hope to reduce smells in the rooms whilst not reinventing the wheel and allowing people to eat since most of us come straight from work.
- Several members suggested we open non-sold-out events to partners and friends. Unfortunately, that will not be possible, even for alumni, for tax reasons. From a legal point of view, the club is owned by its members, so anything sold to members doesn’t incur Corporation tax; you cannot tax somebody for selling something to themselves. If we made even a single penny from selling anything to non-members, we would need to pay Corporation tax. We don’t want to become a company!
- A few people suggested we could have a two-tier system with different benefits for London and non-London members, but this would put the club in a difficult position for administrative reasons where resources of the two tiers could not be mixed. We will not pursue that option.
- Something suggested by many of you was the use of name tags. We will look into it and see if we can come up with something that doesn’t feel like being at a work conference — we got the message about not having too many rules and remaining a community. 🙂