The Importance of Connecting with Fellow Bourbon Community Members and How to Do it

I am convinced that there is not a better support system in any interest group than that of the Gamecock Bourbon community. If there is I will be flat-out shocked, and I even challenge you to show me such an example.

When I started writing this I tried to find a community that rivals it. I even thought about the Gamecock fandom as a whole, but anyone who has seen Gamecock Twitter (or those angry Gamecock fans on Facebook threads) knows how dysfunctional the family can be. That’s not to say that there are not strong pockets of Gamecock community members that are close-knit, loyal to one another, and accepting of new friendships. In fact, I was graciously accepted into the Garnet and Black crowd before moving to Columbia and have found some of my best friends because of those first connections.

The difference though, between this bourbon community and others is that this group cares more about WHO they drink with than WHAT they drink. If you don’t believe me, and think that bourbon is only for lonely, rich, old men who pay too much to get drunk at home, you are sadly mistaken. Besides the fact that their is a large (and ever-increasing number of women bourbon experts– who know way more than I do in our group), the majority of our members will make it clear that they would rather pop open their rarest bottle to drink with others, than let it sit on the shelf, dusty and sealed.

Why does the people matter more than the bourbon?

There is something special about sharing your passion with someone (or a group of someones) who understand exactly why you are so enthused, and even share the same level of excitement for it. This “matching of energies” is one of the most satisfying experiences that can happen within a community. It is not just the feeling of finding someone who has one thing in common with you (I think that happens all the time) it is the undeniable affirmation that you are seen, heard, and understood. In this way, bourbon fanatics (and the Gamecock Bourbon Society specifically) offers something special– a chance to belong. nnMy experience in this community is one that has grown as I have. While I may be the president of a bourbon club, I continue to find new areas of growth as I learn more about bourbon from those around me. The beauty of our field of interest, is that there’s always more to learn, and always more to taste. Each addition of new “just released” products or samples of old forgotten ones, creates a unique opportunity to further one’s personal growth. We learn as we taste, but we learn more as we taste with others.

A good example of this happened recently. Paul Miles, our Director of Development, mentioned that the new Maker’s Wood-Finished series reminded him of Big Red gum. That was not a taste I had ever gotten from any bourbon, and not one that I picked up from that specific bottle. After hearing him say it a few times though, I went back to my personal bottle and gave it a try. Sure enough, he was right– I caught the hint of spice and cinnamon that had eluded me previously, opening up a richer appreciation for the flavor.

This further proved to me two things: 1. My palate is not perfect, and does not catch everything, even the most obvious notes. 2. I really enjoy drinking with my friends and hearing their opinion, because it makes the experience exponentially more enjoyable.

How do I know that others feel the same way about this community?

If it had not been for my involvement in the leadership of GBS, I might would have convinced myself that my experience of acceptance, friendship, and enjoyment as a member of a thriving bourbon community was strictly personal and perhaps very unlike what others have experienced. But, because of the countless messages, texts, and emails I’ve received from members (some I know well, and others I’ve just met) telling me that they have made lifelong friends through GBS or that they have never experienced a connection and authenticity like this, it proves that I’m not the only one who values what we have here.nnMost people, like me, start getting involved with modest expectations. I thought that I would post some things on social media as a means of sharing what I’m drinking, or what I’m looking for, and perhaps would receive a few comments or suggestions. What I didn’t expect was to stumble upon a fully fledged support system, one that held such valuable insight and companionship that I would severely doubt that I could continue collecting bourbon without it. Turns out that is exactly what I have found, and what others swear they’ve found here too.

The type of mutual support that has come from GBS has gone so far beyond just tips for where to find certain bottles. It has evolved into a safety net of friends where tough times can be talked about, advice can be requested, and people– our people, will do whatever they can to help a community member solve a problem. This mutual support and care tends to spread, producing more mutual support, which of course multiplies over and over. What’s left after all of the exponential growth is a living breathing support structure that not only shares the same deep passion for the bourbon, but also, seeks to lift up and encourage those who belong. It’s a beautiful display of true community, one that I sincerely wish our country as a whole would attempt to replicate.

So, you may be wondering, “How do I join something like this?”

That’s easy. All you have to do is…1. Simply be a person who is interested in bourbon: As I’ve said countless times, being an expert or owning rare bottles is not the criteria for being a GBS member– not even in the slightest. Being a member is not spending tons of money on whiskey, it’s not knowing every detail of bourbon history, and it’s not even drinking bourbon (controversial, I know, but it’s true! We have dedicated members who are sober and just enjoy the friendships and learning about bourbon). Being a member of the Gamecock Bourbon Society is nothing more and nothing less than, you guessed it, loving the Gamecocks and being interested in Bourbon. If you already know the history, the process of distilling, or how to recognize the different notes and mash bills of bourbon, this is a great place for you. And if you don’t know any of these things, but you are interested learning them, all we can say is welcome home. 2. Understand that you get what you put in: Getting out there and getting to know people who share your interests makes a difference. Members who share their thoughts, opinions, and preferences often, tend to find the feeling of “connection” quickly since they are in more conversations and elicit more engagement (both online and in real life). By putting the effort out to know people, people tend to want to also know you. It really is often that simple, but simplicity does not always equal easy.

I do understand that putting yourself out there can be difficult. Believe it or not, I’m actually an extremely introverted person. It is not natural to me to say, “Here I am world, look at me.” I’d much rather quietly stay in my comfort zone and hope that friends come to me. The problem with that though, is that no one ever grows with their feet glued to what’s comfortable. You stay stagnant when you allow fear to prevent you from moving forward and it drastically hinders your progress. It’s like being on an escalator that stops half-way up, and instead of just walking up the stairs that are formed in front of you, you decide to stay put and wait for help. For me, had to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and jump into what was a bit scary, so that people could get to know me. As a result of that anxiety-filled action, not only did those friends I hoped for show up, but I also found it much easier to put myself out there again; and before long, that dreaded comfort zone was totally erased.

But that’s not all…3. Don’t Just Make Good Friends, Be a Good Friend: Remember the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated. This is perhaps the underlying principal of not just the Gamecock Bourbon community, but any community that is worth a shit. If you need support, you should give support. If you want your bottle request or business shared to the masses, be willing to share others too. If you need someone to help you find a ticket for a game, be willing to take the time to help others as well. It sounds simple right? It is simple in theory, but practicing it is like moving outside of your comfort zone, it is not always easy. We are naturally self-centered creatures. The pin-point laser focus that helps us to move mountains and find the rare or allocated bottles for ourselves can also hinder us from seeing what we might could help find for others.

Sometimes, when we as humans are at our worst, we might view ourselves as worthy of being helped, yet, see very little worth in taking the time to help others. This mindset is toxic, and the poison that comes from it can completely derail your place in a healthy community. This community is one that is built firmly upon a foundation of give and take. Those who give will receive in abundance (trust me when I say that there are folks in GBS who will bend over backwards to help you with just about anything), while those who only take will quickly stop receiving. The secret is no secret at all, just be kind, be helpful, and take the time to support a community that will return the favor.

Final words

Whether you are just getting started or you’ve loved bourbon for years, there’s value in connecting with a community of people who share your passion. Your big break in finding your “dream” bottle (or your dream job…) could be right around the corner, but you cannot make that your sole focus. Take the time to look for an opportunity to help other members find their big break. More often than not, they will be so appreciative that their thank you will lead to far greater things than your personal drive alone.

When one of us wins we all win.

Go Cocks!

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