Frothy Diplomacy: What Beer Will Obama Choose for White House Meeting?

The president hopes to ease race-relations tensions over a cold beer.

July 27, 2009, 6:01 PM

July 28, 2009— -- The easy part for President Obama might have been getting Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. to accept his invitation to the White House for a beer.

Now comes the hard part: finding just the right beer for the occasion.

Does the president choose a lager for Thursday's gathering? A porter? Maybe a wheat beer? Does he pick something light to help the men with the Washington, D.C., summer heat?

Whatever the president picks, it is likely to be closely watched and could even help propel a lesser-known beer into the mainstream.

"In the summertime people want something maybe just a little bit lighter, more refreshing. They're not going to go for a heavier stout or nut brown," said Steen Sawyer, general manager of John Harvard's Brew House a few steps away from Harvard's campus in Cambridge.

Donna Brazile, an ABC News political consultant, suggested Boston-brewed Sam Adams. The beer is sold everywhere from police bars to academic haunts.

"Honestly, I am a wine drinker and find common ground with beer could be tough," Brazile added. "Who knows, the two might decide to have iced tea. It's hot outside."

Choosing a drink is not an easy decision for politicians. During the heated Democratic primary in Pennsylvania Hillary Clinton pounded back a shot of Crown Royal whiskey and chased it with a beer. Obama visited a sports bar and sampled a Yuengling after making sure it wasn't ''some designer beer.''

This time around the president might instead choose to highlight a beer from his hometown of Chicago.

Goose Island, the city's largest brewery, provided the only beer at Obama's election night celebration in Grant Park, according to Anthony Bowker, the brewer's chief operating officer.

Beer From Obama's Hometown

That night, 3,000 bottles of Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Honker's Ale were at the celebration. The brewery was started in 1988, at the beginning of the craft beer resurgence and is made using water from Lake Michigan.

"We're rooting for the home town," Bowker said. "We'd be, naturally, absolutely thrilled. It's a point of pride for us that Chicago beer is known outside the region."

The company sells its beer mostly around the Midwest but started to distribute to Washington after Obama's victory.

"Goose Island beers are available in D.C. now," Bowker said. "And it's all on the coattails of the president."

The presidential choice could provide a big bounce for any beer maker. A presidential endorsement -- official or not -- sticks in people's minds.

Ask anybody what Bill Clinton ate during the 1992 presidential campaign and they are likely to mention McDonald's. And Michelle's Obama's selection of a J.Crew wardrobe brought the company massive spikes in orders, especially of outfits she has worn.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, when asked by reporters at a briefing Monday about the beverage choice, noted that Obama hoisted a Budweiser at baseball's All-Star Game earlier this month. Granted, however, the game was in St. Louis, home of Budweiser.

Gibbs also noted that Crowley told the president he was more partial to Blue Moon.

"It's widely know that people have sat down together over a beer to resolve differences and disputes. We're happy to know that beer continues to be a beverage that brings people together for fellowship and our beer Blue Moon may be considered for the occasion," said Julian Green, a spokesman for MillerCoors, which owns Blue Moon.

"Blue Moon is a classic style of beer that is artfully crafted with an inviting twist and would be great for any occasion when people want to connect for a lighthearted moment," Green said.

Blue Moon Might Not Make White House Cut

Blue Moon, however, could be a problematic pick for the Democratic president, because while it is marketed as a small craft beer, it was actually created by Coors and today owned by MillerCoors. The Coors family has been a long-time supporter of the Republican party. Additionally, the AFL-CIO ran a decade-long boycott of the company's beer in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Gates told The Boston Globe over the weekend that he was partial to Red Stripe and Beck's. But both of those are foreign beers. The White House only stocks American beers, under a tradition dating to the Johnson administration.

Budweiser isn't a slam dunk either. Some could argue that the beer is no longer an American beer after being bought out by Belgian-Brazilian beer giant InBev, maker of Hoegaarden, Leffe and Stella Artois.

Devin Dinneen, general manager of Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub in Cambridge's Kendall Square, the bar that Crowley was in Friday when the president called, inviting him to the White House for a beer, offered some perspective.

Dinneen said Sam Adams Summer Ale "is a good seller in the warm weather" but that pub also sells a fair amount of Guinness, being an Irish bar. He also suggested Magners Irish Cider.

"It's a nice summer drink with a bit of ice," Dinneen said.

He was there on Friday when Crowley and some other police officers were eating lunch and Obama called.

"They're regulars at the bar because the [police] station is right around the corner from us in Cambridge," he said.

But Dinneen couldn't say any particular beer that Crowley likes to drink. The New York Post reported that he had a Blue Moon during the call. But Dinneen said the sergeant was drinking "orange juice, I think."

So what beer would the manager of Crowley's bar choose if he got to go to the White House?

"I would have the most expensive beer I could order, I suppose," Dinneen said. Or just "maybe a cold pint of Guinness."

The Best Presidential Beers

Matt Simpson, who goes by the nickname The Beer Sommelier, provides craft beer consulting for individuals and businesses and writes the "Ask Beer" column for Beer Magazine, said his first choice would probably a Hennepin Farmhouse Saison from the Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"It would probably be the single beer that would go with just about every course served," Simpson said. "So, if I could just choose one, it would be that one because it pairs remarkably well with salads and cheeses but has enough body, heft and flavor to balance out other richer, heavier entrees."

Simpson said Sam Adams -- with its very wide range of beers for all tastes -- or Goose Island would both be great choices.

"There are many great craft beers that are made right here in the United States that have lots of flavor, aroma and complexity that would give them lots to talk about besides race relations," he said.

But he urged Obama to stay away from the larger, mass-produced beers.

"They're uninteresting beers," Simpson said. "They're very light. They're crisp and refreshing and thirst-quenching. But that's really about it. There's no depth of flavor, no big aroma, no character."

But perhaps that lack of pizzazz is just what Obama needs to get through what could be a very awkward meeting.

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