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Suds Summit '09: A Bust for Local Brewers


Published July 31, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

Yesterday, the POTUS, his vice prez., the Harvard prof and his arresting officer sat down to chat over some tasty brews on a patio near the White House Rose Garden. The Obama beer bash was billed as a "teachable moment" where Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the esteemed Ivy League academic, and Sgt. Joseph Crowley, the Cambridge police officer who booked Gates for disorderly conduct, could hug it out. Because the media was kept at a distance, no one knows exactly how the convo on race relations in America went. But we can assume that everyone worked out their differences over their frosty mugs of grog.

Not unsurprisingly, the backyard bro powwow has created a controversy of its own. Apparently,  the prez and his posse didn't drink the right beer — so says South Burlington's Magic Hat Brewery. Yesterday, Magic Hat sent out a press release declaring how pee-ohed they were at the prez's choice of swill — Bud Light.

Now, I'm not a drinker, but even this teetotaler knows that Bud Light is the province of poor college kids and people who just want to drink to get drunk. No one really buys Bud Light because of its complex layering of heirloom hops and exotic barley. But that wasn't really Magic Hat's beef. Their issue, as outlined in the press release, was the fact that the prez chose to imbibe beer that was not made by an American company. Instead of going with some craft-brewed American pilsner stout, Obama went with a beer that is manufactured by the Belgium-based AB InBev.

Apparently, Gates initially selected Red Stripe, owned by London-based Diageo, which also owns Guiness, as his summit bevvie. But Bostonians practically revolted at the thought of Gates tossing back a non-local quaff, so he changed his mind to Sam Adams Light. Looks like Gates is the only patriot of the bunch, since Sam Adams is owned by the Boston Beer Company, based in Boston. Crowley went with a Blue Moon, which is owned by the London-based SAB Miller. VP Biden swigged a Buckler, a non-alcoholic beer made by the Dutch company, Heineken International.

Of course, all of those companies are going bonkers because their beer was profiled at such a highly publicized event. The president drinking a Bud Light is like Lindsay Lohan wearing some $100 self-tanner: everyone's going to go out and buy it. And thus, the American craft brewers, of which there are more than 1500, are rightly ticked off. Just think what it would mean for Otter Creek or Long Trail or any other of the 19 craft brewers in Vermont, which has the highest number of craft brewers per capita, if the prez tapped their keg. But of course, Obama can't be shown playing favorites, so perhaps a non-beer like Bud Light owned by a Belgian company was safe. 

Krissy Leonard, of Magic Hat, disagrees. She says it's important that we look at the choices our leaders are making, even if it's just about beer. AB InBev and SAB Miller control 94 percent of the domestic beer market, and the playing field for American brewers isn't level, Leonard says. She found it ironic that during a conversation about race and opportunity in America, the players in that conversation would choose to drink beer from "multinational conglomerates." "We want there to be accountability in the choices they've made," Leonard says.

Fair enough. So what beer should they have drunk?