Winter 2020-21|volume 14|Issue 2

    Raise Your Spirits

    What Pairs with Ambiguity? Reorienting Our Senses During a Pandemic
    Max Miller

    Max Miller

    Having Bourbon this eve? Try pairing some chocolate or nuts, or maybe even my favorite: duck. Having Tequila? Try pairing with some sautéed shrimp. Having a smoky, peaty Single Malt? Maybe some great barbeque.

    Our palates can discern what pairs well. Why? Because our past experiences guide us. Or, if it is our first time trying a certain pairing, we can see, taste, touch, and smell the elements of what we are tasting and eating. We have the physical and mental tools to place what we are tasting into context.

    These last several months of being confined to our homes and neighborhoods without any sense of when our lives will get back to normal have reshaped the parameters of how we experience the world and one another. The term “new normal” is now ubiquitous, but really we are in the midst of dealing with a lifestyle that is evolving and reshaping our senses. It’s hard for us to see around the corner right now, so we are dealing with the ambiguities of the day all the time—our health, the economy, our schools, etc. The result? Some coping mechanisms I never thought I’d see or participate in, and some insights that were revealed.

    For example, who would have thought a virtual happy hour would be a thing? If I’d said those words to you back in January of 2020, your mind would have a hard time grasping not actually being with friends at a bar or restaurant and physically interacting with them over a drink. The physical presence with others paired with a drink was at the core of the pre-pandemic experience.

    And now we may be sitting by ourselves, or our significant others, in front of a PC, a tablet, or our phones and drinking with friends that may be just next door, across town, in another state, or even in another country. No appetizers being ordered. No servers, no bartenders, no Uber or Lyft. Instead we find ourselves focused on talking and listening to one another. No loud music (we control our own volume), no waiting for your food (we can grill before we Zoom), no cramped bar tables (we have free reign of our deck, patio, or basement). And in these moments of listening to one another, the drinks are there, but seem to become the stage décor and not the performance as they had been before. In the midst of tragedy, the connecting technology of the day (Zoom, Teams, Webex, FaceTime, you name it) has elevated our sense of listening and connecting with others over a drink even when they are miles or even continents away.

    And therein lies the other extraordinary impact of these extraordinary times: reconnection. I’ve reconnected with high school friends and talk once a month after not connecting more than once a year for the last 30 years! And even for some of my best friends who I’d talk to frequently, there’s just something different (better, actually) about seeing them on the screen every week; seeing their families and them seeing mine. Of course it goes without saying that we are drinking some sort of fine spirit during all of our calls. Our conversations migrate invariably to many of the issues our society is dealing with now: social justice and racial injustice (the other pandemic); economic recovery, politics, sports, etc. The ultimate irony: finding more connectivity and closeness in a time of social distancing along with an enhanced sense of awareness.

    Not only awareness, but self-awareness. This time alone with ourselves also has allowed us to see what is going on around us and what we have … or don’t have. Some of our fellow citizens have no internet or computer to use to connect with others. Some of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs and can’t afford food, let alone a drink. Some of our fellow citizens are facing home insecurity. And there is no definitive solution in sight.

    The ambiguity of these times can be both empowering and depressing. It can be a gift or a curse. It can be connector or a disruptor. It can be exhilarating or restricting. So what did I discover pairs well with ambiguity? Our family and friends, our communities, ourselves. Try to understand and do good for others. Try to stay safe and healthy. Stay strong, everyone, and find your pairing.

    Max Miller is the president and chief tasting officer of Raise Your Spirits ( A former corporate attorney turned entrepreneur and college professor, Max has a hearty thirst for knowledge and for fine spirits. He is well versed in the differentiation of the complex flavors found in craft and luxury spirits and he enjoys reading about the history of the brands, the science behind production, and the often whimsical anecdotes that are unique to each spirit. His vision is simple: Make every experience memorable, exceptional, and uniquely yours. Max’s new company is TheStillLife ( Enjoy regular tastings and also spread the word to those who may want to join; memberships available via the website.

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