You Call That Beer?


The biggest disappointment from President Obama's "beer summit" with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley yesterday was the beer selection:

The four drank out of beer mugs. Mr. Obama had a Bud Lite, Sergeant Crowley had Blue Moon, Professor Gates drank Sam Adams Light and Mr. Biden, who does not drink, had a Buckler nonalcoholic beer. (Mr. Biden put a lime slice in his beer. Sergeant Crowley, for his part, kept with Blue Moon tradition and had a slice of orange in his drink.)

Without getting into the merits of citrus fruit in wheat beer (I happen to like it), Crowley seems to have the best taste. While there are many better Belgian-style ales made in the U.S. (in particular, those produced by Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, and New Belgium in Fort Collins, Colorado), the Coors-produced Blue Moon is a decent choice (though New York Times food critic Eric Asimov jokingly chides Crowley for not thinking through the implications of drinking a "white" ale). But look at the other selections: two lights and a nonalcoholic "beer." A regular Sam Adams lager (or one of the company's ales) would have been a good hometown choice for Gates, but I've never understood the urge to water down beer. Instead of having two crappy ones, why not just one good one? It sounds like there was only one round at this little get-together anyway.

As for Obama's selection of Bud Light, this has to rank as one of his worst decisions since taking office, somewhere between the stimulus package and the auto industry bailout. Regular Budweiser is bad enough. When you have a beer that already tastes like water, why would you add more water to it? And the less said about Biden and his Buckler, the better. In yet another example of the blatant misrepresentations for which the Times is notorious, Asimov erroneously reports that "Joe Biden, who joined the other three, enjoyed a nonalcoholic brew called Buckler."

The sad thing is that three out of four men, given their pick of the world's beers, chose three of the same bland style. Gates reportedly was considering Jamaica's Red Stripe, which sounds a little more exotic but tastes pretty much the same as the major American lagers. Given the wide variety of excellent beers in myriad styles produced in the United States today, even jingoism is no excuse for the pitiful selection displayed at the White House. 

This is a good time to revisit Jay R. Brooks' 2006 Reason article on the "long tail" phenomenon in the American beer industry.