I think we can all admit that 2020 was a very trying year in so many ways. Hopefully when we look back in many years 2020 will have been an aberration. Here are five memorable ocurrences during 2020 that related in some way to Irish Whiskey.
#1: Saint Patrick's Day gets "cancelled"
Arguably the biggest day of the year for celebrating all things Irish was muted to say the least. As news of Covid spread intensified in February not many could have foreseen the extent of what was to come. One of the early indications that this was serious was the announcement that pubs would be closed in Ireland for Saint Patrick's Day. Quarantine and lockdown soon became prevalent the week leading up to the holiday. Parades and pub gatherings were sidelined leaving many to celebrate in partial isolation.
#2: Hospitality takes a hit
Pubs in Ireland were closed. Travel restrictions to and around Ireland cancelled planned vacations. Distillery tours ceased. New distillery openings were delayed. This brief summary does not do justice to the impact both socially and economically. As bad as things got in the USA, this sector in Ireland experienced the brunt of the pain as the country remained in level 5 lockdown to end the year.
#3: Virtual Tasting
With indoor dining and pub drinking restricted and/or closed, the primary delivery channels for sharing and enjoying Irish whiskey ceased. What emerged in its place was the virtual tasting. Initially it started as Zoom Happy Hours amongst friends but then evolved within the greater Irish whiskey industry. With whiskey festivals cancelled months in advance, the industry shifted through the use of technology to bring attendees together for a communal drink on the computer. Distilleries and leading drinks shops led the way by sending out whiskey packs for people to enjoy while engaging in information discussion and spreading the craic. While in no way as good as the real thing, virtual tastings were at least a figurative life saver during the pandemic.
#4: Distillery Medicine
Many distilleries can be proud of how they faced the challenges of 2020. Safe to say everyone's plans for the year were scrapped. New and smaller distilleries lost time, entry to market in some cases, and the cashflow and exposure that come from visitors. Despite this, many stepped up along with their larger competitors and began producing alcohol in the form of hand sanitizer to help slow the spread of Covid.
#5: Industry perseverance
Unfortunately as 2020 comes to a close, we cannot say that the impact of Covid is behind us. While crippling in so many ways, Irish companies have managed through and continued the resurgence of Irish Whiskey. New distilleries opened during 2020 while others also began producing new spirit. With now nearly 40 distilleries operating in Ireland along with new bonders and independent companies, there were dozens of new releases to come to market both in Ireland and the USA. The increased volume of producers has led to innovation. Peated whiskies are making a comeback. Single Pot Still whiskies outside of Midleton have emerged. Unique wine cask finishes, different wood types, and even seaweed cask finished whiskies were all released during 2020. Hopefully the recently released vaccines allow for a better 2021 where the industry regains its prior momentum and we can all get back together for a drink of our favorite Irish Whiskey.