“Beerack” Obama’s Home Brew is Latest Chapter In Presidential Booze Story

President Obama offers a beer toast.

His July 2009 “Beer Summit” might have tipped us off.

President Obama’s famous “Beer Summit” in July of 2009. Vice President Biden also joined in. (thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)

Working on he premise that there might be little that can’t be reasonably resolved over some beers, seven months into his new job as Chief Executive, President Barack Obama hosted a summertime chat under the shade trees of the White House, seeking to facilitate a better dialogue on racial conflict between  the African-American professor and the white Boston policeman who arrested him on the false premise that he was breaking into a home that proved to be his own.

Bee Culture magazine’s editor Kim Flottum, left, with White House bee keeper Charlie Brandts beside the South Lawn hive. (USnews.com)

By that time, the First Lady had already broken ground and was just starting to harvest the fruits and vegetables of her famous food gardens at the White House.

Shortly thereafter, hearing about White House staff member Charles Brandt, whose hobby is raising bees and producing his own honey, she initiated the first known beehives on the White House lawn, enthusiastically encouraging him to assume the mantle of the unofficial White House Beekeeper.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House food gardens inspired the beehive. (USnews.com)

Soon enough, the golden harvest of honey was sweetly oozing into jars  and being used by White House chef Sam Kass in numerous White House bills of fare for the First Family and guests.

Soon enough, something else was brewing in the old Executive Mansion’s basement. It first bubbled up to public attention during the President and Mrs. Obama’s 2011 Super Bowl Party.

Obama White House beer. (rankenmuthbrewery.com)

At that event, about one hundred 12-ounce brown glass bottles of “White House Honey Ale” premiered, made from the honey produced by the busy bees on the South Lawn.

The President enjoying a cold one on St. Patrick’s Day. (globalgrind.com)

It’s the first beer ever brewed by a President in the White House.

President Obama’s natural affinity for a good beer has been publicly celebrated in bars around the world, certainly since his 2008 presidential campaign.

Like all the other candidates, he was always game to sip a brew while shaking hands in a local bar or club.

And during his trip to Ireland, when he visited the hometown of his maternal Irish ancestors, he hoisted one with the local pub crowd.

Like Presidents since John F. Kennedy, he’s  always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, often seen with a frosty mug in hand.

President Barack Obama talking beer with David Letterman, September 18, 2012.

Earlier this month, President Obama talked about it during his interview with David Letterman on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” Bragging on its deliciousness and cracked that, “if the presidency thing doesn’t work out” he was relieved to now have a back-up profession. And while the large quantities of White House beer are now produced by the White House kitchen staff under direction of Sam Kass, it was indeed Barack Obama who came up with the idea.

On the White House website, Chef Kass recounted the short history of the Obama White House Beer:

“Inspired by home brewers from across the country, last year President Obama bought a home brewing kit for the kitchen. After the few first drafts we landed on some great recipes that came from a local brew shop. We received some tips from a couple of home brewers who work in the White House who helped us amend it and make it our own. To be honest, we were surprised that the beer turned out so well since none of us had brewed beer before….Since our first batch of White House Honey Brown Ale, we’ve added the Honey Porter and have gone even further to add a Honey Blonde this past summer. Like many home brewers who add secret ingredients to make their beer unique, all of our brews have honey that we tapped from the first ever bee-hive on the South Lawn. The honey gives the beer a rich aroma and a nice finish but it doesn’t sweeten it.”

White House Chef Sam Kass recently released the two White House beer recipes for the public, now free to try and concoct it for themselves. You can find both of them at the end of this article.

Martha Jefferson, who died twenty years before her husband’s presidency.

The story of the Obama White House Beer brewing represents a new chapter in the long, winding and sometimes uneasy story of alcoholic beverages being served or enjoyed by Presidents and First Ladies. Thomas Jefferson made his own wine in the White House – but also, his own beer at Monticello. In fact, among the few known facts about his wife Martha Wayles Jefferson, who died two decades before he became President, is that she started the Monticello brewery experiment.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took pride in mixing his own unique martini recipe as much as he enjoyed drinking it. His wife Eleanor Roosevelt called the concoction “perfectly dreadful.” (FDR Library)

George Washington made his own whiskey. John Adams loved his hard cider, made from apples on his Massachusetts farm. Eleanor Roosevelt abhorred her husband’s famous martini concoction while Florence Harding was master mixologist for the scotch-and-soda her husband served. There have been alcoholic Presidents and those with “dry” policies, and First Ladies who could drink more than any man and those who set examples by their temperance policies.

Ciderman Adams.

Along with the obvious fact that, as adults, they’ve all had a right to chose what they drink, presidential boozing has inevitably, colorfully, always carried potential political consequence.

And, as Presidents are apt to do, they also exploited their own personal drinking habits or abstinence to their advantage – even if those habits didn’t necessarily coincide with the policies related to alcohol they publicly supported.

And too, unsurprisingly, what touches the lips of the the couple still held up as role models of the idealized American Man and American Woman has reflected nearly a dozen distinct phases of the evolving Pop Culture’s views on booze, affected by aspects of American life including agriculture, industry, farming, magazine advertising, television marketing, even the women’s equal rights movement.

Carter brew. (rustycans.com)

While some squawkers might attempt to technically classify the White House as a federal office space or historical site, it has always been, first and foremost, the private home of the President and his family.

Although President Obama cracked to Letterman that he hoped it was legal to brew his own beer in the White House, he can rest assured it is – with thanks to predecessor Jimmy Carter.

A deluxe case of a dozen Billy Beers, featuring the First Brother on the box cover. (www.falstaffbrewing.com)

In the late 70s, President Carter rescinded an old law which forbid home-brewing of beer.

It’s unclear whether Carter had been lobbied by his brother, who still lived in their small, rural Georgia town while Jimmy was in the White House.

The First Brother, whom international reporters could always rely on for folksy wisdom and a country-style wisecrack if they could sit him down in his Plains filling station, famously marketed his own commercially-canned brew, the questionably palatable yet ubiquitous “Billy Beer.”

Here are the two White House beer recipes for home brewers:


Categories: Barack Obama, First Ladies, History, Jimmy Carter, Presidential Foods, Presidents, The Obamas, Thomas Jefferson

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