A Look Back at 2018 and a Thank You From the Professors

A look back at the year that was, and the Editor in Chief speaks out.

We’ll miss you, Flatiron Lounge. Photo by Amanda Schuster

We’ll miss you, Flatiron Lounge. Photo by Amanda Schuster

2018 seemed to go by faster than you can say “directional freeze.” The news cycle continued its rapid onslaught, as the beverage industry did its best to keep up with bar openings, new products and trends (although I think we can now all agree now there is no such thing as a “healthy” cocktail). Of course, it was also a tough year on many levels, as we attempt to cope with sudden losses of dear friends and favorite establishments, and more divisive controversy (more on that later).

Luckily plenty of good things came of this year too. For one, it meant some much needed changes, and now we have a fabulous new look, thanks to the talents at Digital Limit! For another, our talented team of far-flung writers has continued to grow, this year taking readers to Australia, Cognac, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Amsterdam, Budapest, as well as further exploration of the Kentucky whiskey industry, (including where to watch the Derby with the cool kids), checking into the Minneapolis craft spirits industry, and with two separate articles, showing how Nashville is becoming its own booze travel destination. We also traced the history of the drinking straw and the evolution of the bartender’s tool kit, experienced a hop harvest, took a deep dive into Pineau des Charentes, looked back at the history of Brooklyn’s longshoremen bars, explained orange and pét-nat wine and helped introduce the world of sake. I even got to personally assist in selecting a blend for a Booker’s Batch (that’s a major one to check off the boozy bucket list)! Oh, and there was beer. Lots of beer. And mead. Thank you, team Alcohol Prof, for making my editing job such a joy!

It was a delight to have a major beverage convention back in New York City again with Bar Convent Brooklyn, and we look forward to participating in it next year, as well as attend our 5th year at Bar Convent Berlin. This was also the year we began the Music and Cocktails project, enlisting bartenders to come up with drink recipes as tributes to favorite songs by venerated recording artists starting with Duran Duran over the summer, and continuing with Madonna for her 60th birthday in the fall, and then Queen in time for the smash biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Writing these articles has been fun and therapeutic, especially since they unite so many talents across the industry who love music as much as I do. I can’t wait to work on more of these features.

Around this time last year, I was approached to write an article that would become one of our biggest stories of 2018 entitled, “Admitting to Mistakes, USBG Overhauls Policy in the #MeToo Age.” It’s time to tell some backstory about that: I was very hesitant to say anything when the matter was presented, particularly since people I knew, and one I even considered to be a respected friend, were being accused of deeds I didn’t want to believe they took part in. However, evidence and testimony I found to be both deeply disturbing and incontrovertible began building up, and I knew I had to put allegiances and feelings aside and do something. The piece finally published in May. It was expected there would be divisive reaction to it, to say the least. What was surprising and heartening, was the far-reaching support of it from the community. Backlash was, of course, par for the course, but it was still disappointing to discover the call was coming from inside the house.

Ironically, I realize now the word “mistake” was the wrong one to use in the title of the piece. A “mistake” is when you send something in the mail to the wrong address, or put salt in your coffee instead of sugar, or call someone “George” when their name is really “Walter.” A mistake is not a willful, deliberate choice.

Adam Levy (L) kicks back with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell at Tales of the Cocktail in 2018. Pickerell sadly passed in November, and cherished moments like these will be greatly missed.

Adam Levy (L) kicks back with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell at Tales of the Cocktail in 2018. Pickerell sadly passed in November, and cherished moments like these will be greatly missed.

In the weeks that followed the article’s publication—despite a close collaboration over nearly three weeks with the national office, their final approval of the draft and even a congratulatory note from the National Director—the USBG sent what has been characterized as an accusatory, threatening message (which included several factual inaccuracies) in response to my article to its mailing list, as well as an op ed to the publication Neat Pour with similar wording. The USBG email was sent without signature; the op ed was written without a byline. After that, Adam and I spoke a few times via conference call to top officers in the USBG National office, who claim the email was circulated by an unnamed individual within the organization without approval. It was decided they would draft a formal apology to the same list that received the unsigned email, and this would also include their first public address to the victims who suffered because of the policies in place that ultimately did not protect them from emotional trauma.

In a fashion that was becoming familiar, it took weeks for the USBG to act, and during this time, several chapters around the country condemned the email, and publicly expressed a preference to henceforth conduct chapter business without national office legislation, in effect going rogue. The then elected National President, who was “Sarah” in the article, ultimately resigned from that position and wrote a lengthy Facebook post about the resignation that failed to directly address the accusations in the article, or seem to show any discernible remorse for actions (or inactions) which could have caused emotional harm to individuals who requested her protection. When the USBG National office finally issued a retraction of the inflammatory email late on a Friday afternoon, it was not in the form of a letter members could easily read, but a video that was difficult to access or stream in its entirety. It was accompanied by a transcript that was also tricky to access, and one that originally did not include the entire wording of the video. It also suggested Alcohol Professor would be engaged in some sort of collaboration with the USBG National Office, which was never fully agreed upon. I believe these were not mistakes.

In the months since May, and especially in the past week for reasons many of you are aware of, I’ve thought a lot about that word “mistake” and what it means for the women who say they were repeatedly harassed and have to live with those painful memories. I’ve thought about how wary they have to be of participating in bartending events and competitions, and how uncomfortable other members of the community have expressed they have been made to feel at them, because all the accused parties in the article are still active participants, and are still members of the USBG (even the accused harasser, because, apparently, of grandfathered legal agreements), with the national leadership roles unchanged. Something is very broken if, after all this noise, the victims still have to watch their backs while those who are accused of hurting them have received unquestioning support to further their careers despite concrete evidence presented against them. Does this mean the only way anything can finally be done is if someone else gets hurt? That’s insanely messed up.

Moreover, I think about other members of the service community who have endured sexual misconduct, but are afraid to make formal accusations for fear of career retribution, or have confided in people in a position to help who choose not to because of that same fear. I think about bars that are named in “Best Of” lists with working team members who have been publicly accused of misconduct. Please explain to me how that kind of business can be such a comfortable drinking den, and above others?

These circumstances cause me to question why popularity continues to be favored over decency, influencer over proven influence, and why we are still supporting businesses which continue to employ or hire these individuals after these incidents become public knowledge.

photo courtesy Amanda Schuster

photo courtesy Amanda Schuster

All that said, it was a big risk to our business to publish this article and spark the conversation, and I can’t thank Adam Levy enough for seeing past the uncertainties and ultimately giving the approval to provide these women a voice that otherwise felt stifled. It did make a positive difference despite everything that was kicked up by it. It’s not the first time he’s done this. Our intention is never to divide a community, but be constructive members of it that work toward its health and longevity. I am forever grateful to him for helping to nurture Alcohol Professor with me. I am excited about all the ways it can continue to grow. It was certainly no mistake for me to accept the role of Senior Editor in Chief back in 2013.

Thank you, everyone, for your readership and support over the past six years. It means a lot to us, and we can’t wait to share more with you in the times to come.

Happy new year from the Alcohol Professors. Now go drink delicious things!

Amanda Schuster

Senior Editor in Chief