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Peter Nôta

Welcome to my world

How Whiskey Making Informs about 2021 US Technology, Financial Markets & Politics

Our virtual @whiskarna community began only a couple years ago on Instragram, but its physical reality is deeply rooted in more than 30 years of real world camaraderie marking the historical milestones of the past three decades, all from the cozy environs of Jama, the first American owned burger joint in the Czech Republic. If you ask any of our community where were you were when Bill Clinton visited Prague and played saxophone with Václav Havel, when the Towers fell in New York, when Comey re- opened the investigation into Hillary’s emails or, most importantly, where we were within hours of our first born coming into the world, all of us have the same answer: Jama.

So here we are in 20201 and Jama’s @whisky_Wednesday_prague online has become not only our singular forum to taste whiskey (by distributing the sample sets from Jama Steakhouse’s take away window), but also to compare notes on the seemingly alien world we find ourselves in today, always better-informed through the prism of our favorite brown spirit swirled in a traditional glencairn glass.

Our recent discussion highlighted that much is made of age statements in the whiskey world; the longer the liquid remains barreled and exposed to seasonal weather, the more prized the resulting liquid. But ask any master distiller today how the whisky he is putting in his barrels now is going to taste when it emerges after that long slumber, and he’s going to give you a simple answer: “I’ll see, if I’m lucky enough to be around when that happens.”

And yet, despite 2021’s chaotic beginning, headlined by the Capitol Riots, social media censorship and even a 2008-financial-crisis-pales-by-comparison Game Stop trading frenzy, that everywhere you turn, someone is already telling you with certainty how the world’s whiskey is going to taste when it comes out of the barrel. And by everyone, I mean everyone from the man on the street, to the political leadership on both sides of the, dare I say, trenches; certainly no longer the aisle.

The truth is no one knows the answer and they are playing a very dangerous game by seeking to take advantage of the above-generalized chaos not just to tweak their whiskey recipe, but change the entire production process immediately, simultaneously and outright.

Imagine if the art of distillation and aging whiskey, perfected over hundreds of years, and all at once, every distillery burned to the ground simultaneously. Ignoring the conceit of the supposition, how do you suppose the rebuilding would take place? For one, there is no possible way that everyone could rebuild simultaneously. There would be massive competition for the materials and labor to rebuild in exactly the same way

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and also setting aside inflation due to the demand, it is clear that there would be winners and losers

Now the winners would want to sit on their advantage and hope the losers redirected their efforts to a different business, or in other words, just went away. The losers on the other hand would certainly cry foul and try to recreate the distilling industry on some more egalitarian terms so everyone could continue to participate. This tension would eventually be resolved by a brainstorm of ideas to allow the widest possible range of distilleries to be rebuilt.

Yet the term brainstorm, in this instance, would by the nature of the widespread effect of the catastrophe, encompass not only a storm of the best and brightest minds, but also the most incompetent and feeble. It would include so many minds in fact that the brainstorm would inevitably result in a rebuilding plan comprised of nothing more than a wish list of new ideas and requirements mostly ignorant of that aforementioned and wise master distiller’s experience. The art, the craft, savoir-faire.

I admit I am pretty comfortable enjoying the whisky I drink today and hope to be enjoying it long into the future. And as with whiskey, the same with my politics. There are many who would disagree with me. They want innovation and change to quicken and bring that je-ne-sais-quoi something new they have been searching for; or maybe their parents had a substance abuse problem rooted in alcohol that dramatically affected their own lives, and they do not wish to see the spirits industry continue to exist (cue the 18th Amendment redux). When put in the context of a simultaneously improbable catastrophic event like the destruction of every single distillery all at once, the argument seems like a philosophical caricature.

Unfortunately, this caricature is just as devious as the corona virus, fooling us into believing we can dismiss its seriousness as an asymptomatic infection. The travel, hospitality, and dining sectors of the economy have already and simultaneously burned to the ground. Others are like the Main Street businesses of many nations are on fire but on the knife’s edge of governments’ whims that may alternately add fuel to the inferno or send an ad-hock bucket brigade incapable of fully extinguishing the flames. Smell the char of the burning embers and one thing is clear: this argument is no caricature.

Even worse, the current brainstorm is too impatient to see what else is burning down besides the distilleries; they insist on torching anything they deem needs rebuilding without waiting for it to collapse on its own as their philosophy and belief system predicts. Why are they so impatient at a time that requires patience and deliberation? There is a reason why older whiskey age statements are so highly prized; making good whiskey takes deliberative action and time. Might not we expect the same of good policy? Impatience, whether with whiskey or policy, is equally dangerous. Yet the world rushes to burn down personal freedoms, democracy, its long-time reliable fossil fuel energy industry for a yet unproven green one, while simultaneously

dumping massive government cash payments on its citizenry and corporations to tamp down (should I rather say obscure?) the raging flames.

Speaking of cash, when in history has anything like the amount being tossed about even come close to a fraction of what is out there now? Never. It’s unprecedented, exponentially increasing, and yet the smallish retail investor is blamed, shamed and restrained for Game Stop and silver prices dramatically rising.

Our political leaders are demanding investigations and consequences, yet it was they who released the tidal wave of liquidity by their own actions. Are they going to take responsibility for pumping all this money into the economy? No, they are going to pin it on a vaguely defined group of simple retail traders from an obscure Reddit forum that coordinated at unprecedented, decentralized social-media-driven speed. Such speed and purpose of intent was heretofore only achievable by the oligarchs on Wall Street, assisted by the same Big Data corporations they finance, and who exclusively possessed, until Game Stop, a monopoly on access to the information vital to act, and profit, first. To which Wall Street and Big Data are saying, no jumping the line here for you small guys or we will kick you out of Disneyworld.

To wit, policy makers and bureaucrats overseeing the markets will now rush to use the levers government power to punish citizens for “improperly” disposing of the funds that were gifted to them in the first place by this same government. Add to the list of policies that cannot be allowed to eventually burn down of their own accord, the financial markets must also be torched and now.

As our beloved master distiller knows, due to the complexity of the whisky making process you can change maybe one thing at a time while making it and still be lucky enough to measure its effects. Only then you might say with some certainty there was a cause and effect.

The world does not now have the luxury of changing only one thing at a time, but it does have people smart enough to know that you should change only what is absolutely necessary. And that goes for the financial markets, technology, politics and, of course, whiskey. In a theoretical world where someone tells me my whisky has to change or it will cease to exist I would tell them go ahead, do what needs to be done but NOTHING more. Yet if the reply is that they need to change EVERYTHING and NOW, I already know that what comes out of the barrel certainly won’t be whiskey anymore.

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