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Take a Rare Peek Into the Exclusive Dallas Bourbon Club

Kentucky’s first woman master distiller Marianne Eaves visits a club that’s influence extends far beyond DFW

The Dallas Bourbon Club lands a lecture from master distiller Marianne Eaves.
Courtney E. Smith
Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

The first woman master distiller since Prohibition, 11 people obsessed with bourbon, and a reporter walk into a private bourbon venue that isn’t yet open in the Design District. It’s not the setup for a joke — this happened when a few members of the Dallas Bourbon Club gathered for an evening of tasting Sweetens Cove Bourbon with master distiller Marianne Eaves.

What exactly goes on in the Dallas Bourbon Club, “one of DFW’s most exclusive private groups,” according to D magazine? According to events organizer Randall Hoover, it has 140 members and now some 4,000 people on its waiting list. And the chances of getting in are slim. “We’ve got about a 98 percent retention rate, so...,” Hoover tells Eater Dallas with a woeful shake of his head. But the curious can glimpse what this club does by following it on Instagram, where its members taste and review bourbons to an audience of over 15,000 followers.

“Texas is a bourbon state,” Eaves says after the club’s event in Algiers, a not-yet-opened private bourbon venue in the Design District. “And this is known as its most exclusive club. So it’s not a bad group to get in with.”

A woman stands in front of tables of around six people at a bourbon tasting. She’s blonde and wearing glasses, while pointing a finger. Only the backs of the people, who are dressed informally, are seen — they are all sitting at high top tables, in barstools, and listening.
Marianne Eaves leads a tasting of Sweetens Cove Bourbon for members of the Dallas Bourbon Club.
Courtney E. Smith

Unlike what one might expect for the city’s most exclusive club, at Eaves’s tasting everyone is dressed informally, including lots of shorts, because the heat dome over Texas is blasting down on us. During the intimate event, which members signed up to attend on a first-come, first-served basis, 11 of the Bourbon Club members pepper Eaves with esoteric, and sometimes intensely geeky, questions about how she blended the Tennessee, 2021, and 2022 Blended bourbons everyone is sipping. She answers queries and fields opinions about the profile of each, percentages of the blends, the dilution process, which affordable bourbons she does and doesn’t like, and what the sweet spot is for proof in a bourbon.

These bourbon lovers are in good company with Eaves, who tells them she keeps an Excel sheet with notes when she evaluates bourbon. “I write all the specs about the bourbon: where it came from, the lot, the age, everything, in this Excel sheet. And I write my notes individually, barrel by barrel. Nobody else does that. I mean, they’ll go evaluate a few barrels out of the lot, and it’s a number rating. It’s not writing down specific characteristics,” Eaves says. While no one is taking notes during this tasting, much evaluation is happening.

It’s also a charitable organization, Hoover and treasurer and social media handler Daniel Palos are quick to note, raising hundreds of thousands yearly for various local organizations through bottle auctions, fundraisers, and donations made by members.

The Dallas Bourbon Club runs reviews on its blog and social media that hit on many things in Eaves’ Excel sheets. Those reviews are a powerful tool, Adam Pierce, market manager for North Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas for Sweetens Cove Spirits, says. “Taking to 10 of these guys is like taking to a thousand people who will buy [the bourbon].”