Welcome to the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award!
On the first of every month, someone is awarded the prodigious title of Whisk(e)y Warrior. A question and answer interview is conducted with the valiant warrior, and then distributed to the world. What is a Whisk(e)y Warrior? Find out more by clicking here.
And now, we proudly present your Whisk(e)y Warrior.
His warrior call rang true through the Steel Valley. Whiskey drinkers of all sorts soon answered. He could hear far off the rhythmic beat of marching lines, like the smithies’ hammer. They’d come to comraderate, sitting him at the center. He’s the friendly foe of snobbery. He’s a jewel of no-judgment. He is…
Aaron Hajduk, Whisk(e)y Warrior!
Zac: Aaron, you live in the Pittsburgh area. Has that always been home for you?
Aaron: Yeah, I grew up outside of the city and when I got out of collage I had moved into the South Side for a little while and met my wife. When we got married, Monroeville is the halfway point between both our families, a kind of mid-way point. So yeah, we came out to this area and I lived a couple of other places but always came back to the Pittsburgh region.
Zac: What do you do for work?
Aaron: I am a Senior Systems Engineer. I work on the healthcare side of the software sales for my company.
Zac: Have you always been interested in whiskey or is something you found later?
Aaron: I grew up around it. I have distinct memories of going to my grandfathers, my dad’s dad, he was an Old Grand-dad drinker. Bottled in Bond was his favorite. He would drink standard or Bottled in Bond, sadly he never had a 114. He was always a whiskey drinker. I would say my first taste was at a young age and I wasn’t necessarily a fan at that time. I certainly gained more of an appreciation for it as I got older.
Zac: You’re currently quite involved in your local whiskey community. You started a Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends. Was it something you grew into or was there a pivotal moment?
Aaron: That’s a good question. I don’t think there was any epiphany moment it was just gradual.
Zac: Tell me a little bit about how you started Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends.
Aaron: The whole goal there was I was trying to find other people that also had an interest. I don’t like drinking alone, I like that social interaction side of things. I like meeting people that have similar interests. I couldn’t find anything in Pittsburgh. There’s always big craft beer groups, but I couldn’t find anything around whiskey. And I was like, “How is this possible? Are there not people like me who are interested in this? Or that enjoy these things?” I couldn’t find anything so I was like I’ll try and put some feelers out.
Zac: Is that when you created the group?
Aaron: So, I create this group on Facebook to put it out there in Pittsburgh and see what happens.
Zac: Was there a good initial response?
Aaron: It was slow going. When I first created it two years ago we might have had 15-20 people for 4-5 months and I thought that maybe there isn’t a big interest in this. And then I started to do tastings, real informal gatherings, like hey bring a bottle, and we’ll BS with one another. Find some stuff out, maybe I have something you’re interested in so let’s try stuff. The 1st time I tried to do one, there was no interest whatsoever, I got zero RSVP’s. Man, I was like, “Wow, this is really weird I thought there’d be more interest.”
Zac: So how did you overcome that initial apathy?
Aaron: When we reached the 30-member mark and I tried again and we ended up with 5 or 6 people at that one, which included me. I met some people and they were like, “Yeah, yeah, I have friends who are interested and I’ll recommend this to them.” So, it started to snowball from there.
Zac: I’m glad it started to pick up for you.
Aaron: Yeah, I was definitely worried.
Zac: So about how long has the group been going now?
Aaron: We just celebrated our 2 years as a group on August 26th. The last year has been really busy. So, Scott, Bobby, and Alex, I had met them at some different events, they became more active in the group and they helped run everything. It wasn’t a one man’s effort anymore. It’s always hard, you want to do things but work, life, balance, like being in a bottle-neck sometimes, you know. Having other people to rely on is awesome.
Zac: I bet. About how many members do you have now?
Aaron: We are over 400. We made up some business cards with picture of whiskey friends and we put the QR code on the back of the card so any modern pone, put the camera right up to it and takes you right to the page. It eliminates the whole, “Oh, here is what you have to search for on Facebook.” It streamlined it.
Zac: What’s one of the biggest challenges of your group?
Aaron: The hardest part is finding places that are willing to let you come in and do a whiskey share. You know there are a lot of places that let you do wine and beer but when you say whiskey it’s like, “Wo wo wo, wait a minute.”
Zac: How often do you do the bottle share events?
Aaron: We try to have one every month. Some months are harder than others just because it gets busy with summer stuff. There’s so many things vying for everyone’s attention and vacations and school being out and everything like that, but we still manage to have one every month this summer.
Zac: What’s your typical attendance at a bottle share these days?
Aaron: It varies from month to month. One month we might have 6-7 people and another month we might have 18. It’s a big swing at times. It’s also not a bad thing.
Zac: Yeah, it’s a manageable size.
Aaron: Yeah, we have over 400 members but you only get a certain percentage at any point in time. You have people who are more regulars and then we get somebody new at every event which is really what I hope for. You see some new faces, somebody takes a chance on you and they come out and they like it and you see them again. Maybe not every time because I know that’s a lot. But you’ll see them again, 2-3 months later, they’ll come back. Which is really what we hope. You’ll enjoy it enough that when you can you’ll come back again and we’ll still be here for you.
Zac: Tell me a little bit about the culture you’ve tried to create with the Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends.
Aaron: It all starts with the name. When I was naming the group, I was trying to come up with a name that has built into it a sense of comradery, friendship. I was like, “We’re going to call it Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends.” Because by having friends in there I was hoping it would curtail right up front this is not a place where you can bash people, it’s a place where we can talk with one another like you would talk with your friends. It’s a no judgement zone. We’re not snobby.
Zac: Switching gears, if you were interviewing me, what’s one question you’d want to ask?
Aaron: Are you a 50/50, do you evenly drink Scotch and Bourbon etc. or lean one way or the other?
Zac: The nature of being in this industry is I do tend to drink a little bit of everything. But when it’s just for my own enjoyment, I lean towards Scotch. I’m not saying it’s better than anything else, it’s simply the flavor profile I tend to prefer.
Zac: What advice would you give new whiskey drinkers?
Aaron: For me it’s don’t think you have to like what other people like or don’t think you have to drink things in a certain way. If you want ice with it, have ice with it. If you want water, have water. If you like it neat have it neat. If somebody tells you, you gotta drink this, everybody loves this and it’s the greatest thing, and you don’t like it, it’s okay.
Zac: If someone were visiting Pittsburgh, is there a whiskey spot you’d recommend?
Aaron: Yeah, Carmella’s Plates & Pints, down in the South Side, I love. I think they’re a little bit more reasonably priced. I would say Carmella’s is my go to.
Zac: Aaron, thank you so much for all you’re doing for your local whiskey community. It was a pleasure talking with you and I hope only good things for you and the Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends.
If you live in the Pittsburgh area or are planning to visit and would like to connect with Aaron, check out the Pittsburgh Whiskey Friends Facebook group here.
Remember to nominate your favorite Whisk(e)y Warriors by clicking here. The next award will be released November 1st. We’ll see you then.
— Zac Smith