The White House Honey Ale.
For this year’s Super Bowl, President Obama served his guests some fine treats, which included a craft beer made specifically for the Big Game. In one of the 132 rooms, Obama and a craft-brew loving chef sterilized some equipment; boiled up some malt, White House Honey, grains, and hops; added some yeast; let the tank ferment for less than 14 days; added some sugar; bottle the beer; and let it bottle condition for a couple days.
Obama and the chef made the ale out of honey harvested at the White House, and then he served it to his guests.
In July 30th, 2009, he hosted a “Beer Summit” to bring together black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and white Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley, after Crowley wrongly arrested Gates for breaking into his own house. The Summit helped create a dialogue between the two men.
According to the NY Times: Gates spoke pleasantly about Crowley after the Summit:
“We hit it off right from the very beginning,” Professor Gates said. Laughing, he added, “When he’s not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy.”
There was some controversy, not over the guests or Republican outcry, but that the President picked three foreign owned beers: Bud Light, Red Stripe, and Blue Moon (partially owned by Molson). I think that he is making up for drinking Bud Light by crafting his own beer.
He is also using beer socials to befriend GOP lawmakers, especially the incoming Congress members. This month he will bring in fellow lawmakers into the White House to get to know each other. This included leading John McCain personally into the Oval Office.
As a home brewer and a Democrat, I find myself particularly drawn to this side of Obama. Too many times in America’s history have we been lead by teetotalers. While I don’t necessarily want a leader that is wasted all of the time—sorry Brits and Texans, there is a time and a place for the Churchills and Bushs—I also don’t like leaders that cast judgment on my fellow Americans for their vices.
Maybe I am a Libertarian at heart, and just wish to be left alone, but I am happy to see a President partake in the time honored tradition of making alcohol (for all of the alcohol haters, just know that humans have been ingesting fermented fruit socially before Jesus was born and, as a species, before we left the tree-tops).
For craft-brewers across the nation, Obama is saluting us and our more sustainable practice. (Instead of shipping in Red Stripe, I just need water, yeast, wheat, sugar, and hops—all of which can be grown in the USA, organically—and I can create Red Stripe, or something like it.) He is also saluting local, American artisan brewers as well.
Making alcohol within the confines of the Presidential estate dates all the way to the founding of the USA and George Washington. While George W. Bush avoided alcohol, Washington was a distiller and crafted whiskey right on the premises. According to Problems and Solutions:
Washington erected a 2,250 square foot distillery in 1797, making it among the largest whiskey distilleries in early America. In 1799, the former president produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey worth $7,500, making him one of the most successful distillers. $7,500 was a very large sum of money in 1799.
After Washington’s death that year, the distillery fell into disrepair and later burned to the ground.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, is even trying to recreate his old distillery.
As a President should, he set the tone for a “Buy American” policy; in a letter from Mount Vernon, on 29 January 1789, he wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette:
“We have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America; both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality.”
Once, of course, he had bought his beer from English suppliers, but no longer. His wife also seemed to have learned the same lesson. In May 1789, en route from Mount Vernon to join the President in New York, Martha Washington stopped off in Philadelphia and entertained some distinguished guests, among them the brewer Robert Hare. A list of what the guests drank follows:
“10 bottles of Madeira, one bottle of champagne, 2 bottles of claret, 45 bowls of punch, 10 bottles of American porter, one bottle of Taunton Ale, 2 bottles of crab cider.”
And don’t worry debt watch-dogs, the President and the First Lady footed the bill themselves. No American tax dollars were used on these sweet suds.
Now, Obama is really a President you should feel you can sit down at a bar and have a beer with.
Here’s to you too, Mr. President.
Joe Yeoman loves you. He is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School. As a displaced Chicago writer and editor, he hopes to see the Windy City soon. You can contact him at Joeyeoman [at] gmail [dot] com. Follow him on twitter @themindfullife, @walkthetalkshow, and @joeyeoman. Friend him of Facebook.