☕️ The Golden Mug Awards are here

The biggest moments of the year, as chosen by you...
December 27, 2021 View Online | Sign Up | Shop

Morning Brew


Good morning. This week's newsletters won't be like the others. Starting today and running through Friday, we'll be hosting the first annual Golden Mug Awards, which showcase 2021's most important people, moments, and trends as selected by you, the readers.

This will unfold the only way awards shows know how: painfully slowly, with about three awards per day. Today's lineup: the categories of Phrase of the Year, Best Comeback Story, and Best Internet Moment. Feel free to play them off the stage if their speeches are taking too long.


Neal Freyman, Matty Merritt


Phrase of the Year: 'Vaccine Mandate'

Golden Mug award winner for phrase of the year Dianna "Mick" McDougall; Getty Images

Should you have to be fully vaccinated to enter your office? Eat at a restaurant? See Pearl Jam in concert? This year, those questions were more polarizing than cilantro.

Countries around the world have grappled with how exactly to compel their vaccine-hesitant populations to get shots, particularly as new and more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron have popped up. Few have gone as far as Austria, which earlier this month said it's requiring vaccines for everyone over the age of 14.

In the US, most vaccination mandates have been implemented by state and local governments, or by large companies.

  • Blue chip firms like Goldman Sachs, Google, Delta Air Lines, Microsoft, Citigroup, and Tyson Foods announced some version of a vaccine mandate over the course of the year.
  • In all, two-thirds of US companies are planning to require at least some of their workers be vaccinated, according to a December survey of more than 6,000 employers.

But many individuals and GOP lawmakers have bristled at vaccine mandates, arguing that they're a form of government overreach. Some of the most high-profile holdouts are elite athletes. Unvaccinated Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving hasn't played a single game all season, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers nearly broke the internet when he revealed he wasn't vaccinated.

As the year progressed, momentum for vaccine mandates in the US lost some juice. Major hospital systems, including HCA Healthcare and the Cleveland Clinic, paused their mandates as they struggled with a shortage of workers. GE, Amtrak, Boeing, and others also dropped their vaccine requirements since President Biden's vax-or-test mandate for large employers got held up in the courts. (As of now, that mandate will be implemented in the new year after an appeals court allowed it to proceed.)

Looking ahead...because two doses of vaccines appear to be less effective against the Omicron variant, we should expect more vaccine mandates to include booster shots. The NFL is requiring coaches and some staff to get a booster shot as of today, and some universities and arts organizations are also mandating boosters.


Runner up: "Transitory Inflation." Fed Chair Jerome Powell's once-favorite way to describe the current inflationary episode has been scrapped after higher prices spread across the economy and persisted longer than policymakers originally expected. The Fed has penciled in three rate hikes for next year in order to curb the highest inflation rate in 39 years.

Runner up: "Great Resignation." Pity HR departments. As employees reconsidered their relationship with work—and what they demanded of employers—a record 4.4 million people (or 3% of the workforce) quit their jobs in September alone. And many more could be updating their LinkedIn profiles next year, too: A recent survey showed that more than 40% of professionals are considering leaving their jobs in the first half of 2022.—NF



Best Comeback Story: Air Travel

Best comeback story: Air travel Dianna "Mick" McDougall; Getty Images

In April 2020, the aviation industry went into sleep mode. US airlines carried just 2.9 million passengers that month, a 96.3% drop from the year before. Empty planes sat parked on the tarmac, and tumbleweeds drifted through airports.

In all, US domestic air travel fell by 59% in 2020, while international travel fell 70%. The six biggest US airlines lost a collective $35 billion and shed 57,900 jobs from 2019.

What a difference a year makes

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2021, about 2.3 million people passed through TSA checkpoints, or 88% of the total from the same day in 2019. Other signs point to a continued rebound in 2022…

  • American Airlines plans to hire an additional 18,000 employees next year to keep up with demand, on top of the 16,000 new workers it hired this year.
  • Delta Air Lines is nearly doubling its transatlantic flight schedule for next summer in anticipation of more Euro trips by Americans looking for less ice in their drinks.

How'd it happen? With the rollout of vaccines, people became more comfortable flying again—for bachelorette parties, work conferences, and more. Plus, airlines were able to stay afloat during the roughest months thanks to a firehose of government aid. The US plugged airlines with $54 billion over the course of the pandemic to help cover payroll costs.

Aviation is not out of the woods yet

Omicron-induced staff shortages forced US airlines to cancel more than 1,600 flights over Christmas weekend. The new variant is also hitting the industry's major profit center: business travel. A few weeks ago, JPMorgan decided to move its big health care conference online, highlighting how quickly corporations will pivot to virtual communications in the face of Covid spikes, leaving airlines in the lurch.

Another challenge for airlines is figuring out how to deal with an alarming rise in people who forgot their manners. The FAA has recorded more than 5,600 cases of unruly passengers since January 1 and launched 1,030 investigations (the previous record was 310 investigations in 2004).

Because of the spike in obnoxious passengers, American Airlines won't serve alcohol in the main cabin on domestic flights until Jan. 18 at the earliest. Southwest also won't be serving alcohol until at least Jan. 2022.


Runner up: New York City. In August 2020, hedge fund manager James Altucher infamously penned a LinkedIn post with the title, "NYC IS DEAD FOREVER." He was…not correct. NYC was back to its buzzing self in 2021 thanks to the return of Broadway, sports, tourism, shopping, and work meetings. In the last year, NYC rents have surged 32%, topping SF as the most expensive city in the country.

Runner up: The job market. The US unemployment rate hit 4.2% in November, a remarkable drop from the 14.8% peak reached in April 2020. Some analysts say this is the best market for job seekers ever: There are more than 11 million job openings in the US, compared to only 6.9 million people who are unemployed and looking for work.—NF



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Best Internet Moment: Bernie's Mittens

"Best Internet Moment" award with Bernie at Inauguration wearing mittens Dianna "Mick" McDougall; Getty Images

After Washington, DC, endured a rough start to the year, President Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20 was a calmer day of fashion, memes, and fashion memes: We'll never forget Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders seated on the Capitol steps wearing 2021's most iconic knitwear.

It's giving...nothing. The unimpressed Sanders memes flooded Twitter for days and led to Snapchat filters, merch that raised $1.8 million for charity, and a big boost for Jen Ellis, the second-grade teacher who made the patterned mittens.

  • Ellis told Teen Vogue last winter that hours after the photo went viral, she received 5,000 emails from people who wanted to buy their own pair.

Zoom out: While Bernie's mittens may have stolen the show, the Biden admin didn't waste any time signing executive orders.

Within his first 24 hours in office, Biden enacted a mask mandate for all people in federal buildings and on federal land; he extended the federal eviction moratorium; he halted Trump's border wall construction; he ended the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries; and he rejoined the Paris Agreement.


Runner Up: The reappearance of Steve from Blue's Clues

Just when we needed him most, former Blue's Clues star Steve popped up on Nick Jr.'s Twitter account in September and made us feel again. Steve's sweet message marked the 25th anniversary of the first time we scream-sang, "We just got a letter!" at our TV sets.

Runner Up: Everything involving Squid Game

Netflix's most popular show ever didn't just cement South Korea as an entertainment powerhouse, it spawned a cultural moment that lasted for months:

  • Halloween costumes inspired by the show were so popular that sales of white slip-on Vans shot up 7,800% in the month after it premiered.
  • A Squid Game-themed crypto jumped 310,000% in less than two weeks (before being revealed as a scam.)
  • And YouTuber MrBeast spent $3.5 million building his own (nonviolent) version of the games.




Best Sunday Edition Cover Illustration: 'The Joy of Vax' by Kate Dehler

Illustration vaccine with serene landscape coming out of needle Kate Dehler

We've been privileged to work with incredibly talented illustrators for the cover images in each Sunday Edition. For their favorite of the year, Morning Brew's design team selected Kate Dehler's The Joy of Vax, which delicately captured the hopeful vibes after all US adults were made eligible for vaccines in the spring.


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The Puzzle Section

Turntable: C, R, G, S, I, E, B. How many words can you make using those letters? Find out here.

State facts

11 US states do not contain the letters "e" or "i." Can you name them?


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Written by Neal Freyman and Matty Merritt

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