“It’s not about the bottle, it’s not about what’s in the bottle, it’s about the connections.”
That’s what Nick Nguyen said when describing the creation of the First Responders Whiskey Society.
Nick, a sergeant for a major metropolitan police force, first got into whiskey as he bought a bottle or two at Costco. Actually, he was a big fan of the show Parks & Rec where the character Ron Swanson would lovingly refer to Lagavulin as the elixir of the gods.
“So I started out with a few bottles from the store. My wife, who’s also a police dispatcher, and I grew to love whiskey,” he said. His collection now spans about 500 bottles, and he’s since founded a Facebook group for first responders from around the world to gather and share stories about whiskey.
It was 2020 when the First Responder Whiskey Society was formed, in the midst of very trying times. First responders from all over the world were facing unprecedented tragedies from illness, mental health issues, and lack of public support.
The idea was formed to connect first responders of all disciplines through a shared love of whiskey. From police, fire, military, and medical staff, the Facebook group was a place where they could gather in camaraderie and support each other. A virtual happy hour if you will.
As the Facebook group grew in numbers, Nick said that every once in a while, a member would die. Some in the line of duty. In the first year, one of their founding members, Riverside County Sheriff’s K9 Sergeant Harry Cohen, passed away from an on-duty heart attack.
Nick said their group was devastated and left wondering, “What can we do?”
While Sergeant Cohen’s entire department was reeling from their loss while trying to take care of his wife and children, members of the Facebook group rallied behind the idea to purchase a barrel of whiskey, sell it, and raise money for his family.
And that’s where the group found its mission, Nick said, “To use whiskey to help first responders and their families in their time of need. We were doing it for those fallen responders, for their families, for their fellow first responders.”
It was always a single barrel picked, bottled, and sold for each particular charity. As this operation grew in size and scope, the Facebook group turned into a full-fledged, non-profit charity by 2022.
Nick said that whiskey is more than just grain and water to them. “It’s a physical representation of lost loved ones and a community of first responders that care for each other.”
The mission statement for the First Responder Whiskey Society states that they will “fund raise for first responders and their family members in need through our single barrel whiskey program as well as commemorative whiskey bottles to help save lives or commemorate those who have passed.”
The primary tool for fundraising for the Society is now custom engraving bottles of whiskey to honor the fallen heroes.
For this operation, Nick said, a three-year MGP sourced whiskey heads for finishing at Liberty Call Distilling in San Diego, California. There, it’s a one-stop shop for finishing the whiskey, bottling it, and even custom engraving the bottles with a gold-foil embossed look.
“They’re very special bottles. And the good thing is that they’re ready to drop ship wherever they’re needed,” Nick noted. A typical fundraiser with these bottles nets between $5,000 and $10,000.
The information about a fallen first responder could come from within the Society, as well as the community at large. Through the Facebook group or through the non-profit’s website, there’s an intake form to fill out, and with the family’s permission, the process of getting a custom bottle or bottles for charitable fundraising can begin.
For Nick, this remains a mission of love and connection.
At one particular moment in time, earlier this year, Nick said he saw the direct effect this kind of charity has on people, including himself.
He explained that he was going for a police training class in Sacramento, when he stopped at the distillers to get a bottle from the custom engraver to take with him. They had a leftover bottle from a charity fundraiser for two officers killed by gunfire earlier in the year.
Later, when Nick first arrived at that training, he and the whole session heard from a group of officers from the department where those particular officers killed by gunfire died in the line of duty.
After hearing their stories, Nick ran over to introduce himself, and said, “I did this fundraiser for your guys.” That’s when he showed them the custom engraved bottle he just happened to bring.
Later, Nick said, they decided to break open that bottle, pour some drinks and have a session where “we really connected. I got to hear the stories about their friends, be there to share that with them. That was very impactful.”
If you would like more information on how to take part in the charity, or to donate, you can log on to www.firstresponderwhiskeysociety.org or check out the Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/firstresponderwhiskeysociety.
Read the full article at First Responders Whiskey Society Serves Those Who Sacrifice For Others