Yes, another great question. Although I said:
There are online spaces too, but I haven’t found them to be as magical as the in-person
I actually met a ton of amazing new people through a regular cocktail video chat that a friend of mine setup. She works in a local spirits store, and honestly was someone I didn’t know that well; we’d met maybe a few times in the store and chatted about cocktails a little. But apparently that was enough for her to know that I was “her kind of people” and so she invited me to one of the first of these video chats fairly early in the pandemic. She turned out to have good instincts, and I got closer to her as a result, as well as to many other great people she connected together.
Attendance fluctuated, we even got some local spirits luminaries, writers, reviewers, bartenders, etc., but we ultimately settled on a smaller core of people who stuck to meeting regularly up until perhaps 6 months ago, and we’ve even done a few special one-offs since. Including a couple in-person events! But for a while there it was twice weekly online only, and I’m amazed we kept that up for so long. It was a really unexpected but lovely and spontaneous experiment in community and I’ve made some friendships that I hope last for years to come. Some of these people I still haven’t met, yet I consider them friends, people I care about. (I’m no stranger to creating strong bonds solely through online spaces though, I am still online friends with a couple people I met more than 20 years ago and hope one day to visit them in their various homes around the world!)
The Pandemic also brought a tremendous increase in accessibility of information, creation or strengthening of broader online community, and big boosts in drink-related content creation. Organizations like Portland Cocktail Week, Mezcalistas, and many brands created regular educational video content, which previously would have been in-person events open only to e.g. bartenders, but are now recorded (and live) video and often made available openly and freely on e.g. YouTube. The increased availability of informational content from really expert folks is amazing. And I think this has also helped fuel community growth, often around the e.g. YouTube channel itself (in extensive comment threads, etc.), but especially where a channel or brand provides an additional outlet, like YT channel The Educated Barfly and their very active Discord.
I think Rosieland well demonstrates how making information accessible even outside of a direct “community space” can do a lot to help create and support community more broadly. I suspect there was a lot of in-person and other small-scale, local community growth bolstered by people’s growing understanding and appreciation of how to make good drinks. Friends new and old getting together to share new recipes and knowledge, and even virtual happy hours and the like. I did some virtual cocktail classes with a few friends as well, which was a small form of community. And I even saw some well-known bartenders doing online classes, whether because they were out of work, or simply to connect with people (something many of them missed so much when that part of their job went away, even if they did remain employed to make e.g. to-go drinks).
I think what connects all this is simply breadth, variety, and creativity. People found new ways to connect during the pandemic, and topics like cocktails were perhaps of particular interest since going out was no longer an option for many, and likewise people wanted ways to celebrate and find brightness even in dark times. Whether it was trading recipes and tips through Reddit or doing Zoom happy hours, people found and created community in new ways.
Outside the direct community sphere there was also an explosion in both to-go cocktails (and trial + error and innovation surrounding that), as well as Ready to Drink (RTD) products. And in some cases there were interesting changes in laws around alcohol sales and consumption, some of which (like small distilleries being able to sell and ship directly to consumers) I hope sticks! The US still has some rather outdated laws and structures in place around alcohol that serve little purpose as far as keeping unsafe products out of consumer’s hands, and just create useless bureaucracy.