When I first sat down to write this week’s blog post, I decided I’d go with a holiday theme – a list of atypical gift ideas. Instead of recommending new glassware or barware, I’d planned on discussing a vintage alternative (via local antique shops or eBay). Instead of giving whiskey (which is never a bad present), I’d suggest crafting custom whiskey blends to gift in 200ml glass flask bottles (easily found online). One might even take it a step further and design a personalized label for that “retail new” look. In that same vein, one could whip up a large Old Fashioned cocktail batch and bottle it similarly (all the recipient would need is a glass of ice and some fruit). At least, that was the direction I was originally headed – a brief guide free from the same old holiday gift ideas.

Yet surprisingly (well, unsurprisingly), this year is different. I’m struggling to find common ground with the holidays of years past. I’m disinterested in “perfect gifts” and “Black Friday” deals (hell, Black Friday is an everyday event according to my email). The excitement of seasonal limited edition bourbon and rye releases is lackluster. Frankly, there’s not a lot left I’m looking forward to in 2020. If humans could hibernate, I’d seriously consider doing so for the next several weeks. At this point, authoring a gift guide seems disingenuous. That’s never been what this blog is about. That’s never been me. Cranking out content simply for content’s sake is a waste of your time and mine.

So, what’s this all about? What is worth writing? Another review? Maybe a blind comparison? Not today. This week I’m taking a moment to reflect. No, it’s not a play-by-play of 2020 (ugh). Living through it once was plenty enough, though there were moments I enjoyed tremendously. “Whiskey from Home” was a blast (thanks again for the invite, Bourbon Pursuit), as well as spending time (virtually) with Joshua and Jason at One Nation Under Whisky. There were countless livestreams and Zoom meetings, both public and private, that put a smile on my face. I learned a few new things too. (Did you know that Bardstown Bourbon Company is making impressive whiskey? Their two-year maturate could arguably be sold as is.) But all of this is merely decoration – icing on a magnificent cake hiding in plain sight.

If there were ever a year for the whiskey hobby to implode, it was 2020. Yet, it didn’t. In fact, our ranks only grew stronger. And there’s something to be said for that. In a time fraught with tension, strife, heartache, and fear, we relied on one another; we helped one another. Our enthusiast community thrived. Why is that?

It’s because we put our love of the spirit – our love of the appreciation of the spirit and those who share it – above the madness. We look at each other and see equals. In a hobby as subjective as ours, my opinion is no more or less credible than yours. But if you’re honest with yourself, you’re never wrong. And therein lies the beauty of this community. As staunch as our own opinions can be (and quite often are) we recognize the value of others’. You don’t find that in every hobby, especially those open to philosophical, political, and religious debate. Of course, there’s always the proverbial “bad apples.” Albeit rare (and not worth naming), a few lines are crossed from time to time. And then there’s Twitter, which I both love(ish) and loathe. But even though there’s folks I follow that share different social/political views, I care about them as individuals – as enthusiasts. I’d share my whiskey with them, as they would me. I firmly believe that.

In the end, I’m taking more than I’m leaving behind in 2020. The quality of this hobby far outweighs the quantity of calamities. There’s a saying, a short mantra, employed by Heaven Hill’s Bernie Lubbers, “Stay bonded.” While frequently used in reference to bottled-in-bond whiskey expressions, the implication is greater, the meaning, deeper. Just as a bottled-in-bond designation is a mark of integrity – a 100-proof straight whiskey, distilled in one season by one distiller, aged in a government bonded warehouse – its origin is rooted in diversity. Thousands of grains, trees, and gallons of water coming together – weathering the elements, enduring the seasons – to become a unified, harmonious spirit. Bonded, inherently. Even in the shittiest year I’ve personally ever witnessed, I feel a bond with my whiskey brothers and sisters.

So here’s to 2021 … No matter what comes our way I believe this community will stay strong. (I also believe that everyone should be drinking Wild Turkey. 🙂  But, even if you don’t I still care about you and what you’re sipping.) We have much to look forward to. This industry is growing by leaps and bounds. We’re seeing immense talent from new faces and innovative products from familiar ones. The possibilities are endless and filled with promise. And at the heart lies the individuals that will inevitably appreciate it most – you, me, and those yet to discover this wonderful fellowship – fostered in diversity, bonded in spirit.

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