Colorado's Beer-Brewing Governor Critiques the White House Beer

John Hickenlooper, the nation's first brewer-turned-governor, is a bit skeptical of President Obama's newly disclosed home brew recipes.


CHARLOTTE -- Before he became a politician, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was a beer entrepreneur. In 1988, having failed at his first career, geology, he founded Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Company. The first brew-pub in the Rocky Mountain West, it helped spawn the national craze for brew-pubs and craft beer that continues today. "I'm the first brewer who's ever been a governor, unless [you count] Sam Adams," Hickenlooper says. "He was the governor of Massachusetts, but it's unclear whether he really brewed commercially."

Recently, the White House released the recipes for the home brews President Obama has been enjoying. So what does Hickenlooper, clearly an expert on such matters, think?

The governor has taken a look at the recipes but hasn't had a chance to test them himself, he told me. But he's a bit skeptical based on what he's seen.

"He's using honey in the beer recipes, largely, I think, because they've got an apiary," Hickenlooper noted. "What that does is it makes it a smoother beer. It's none of my business and I don't want to criticize the White House chef, but I think maybe they could use a little less honey. One recipe I'm pretty sure would be better without the honey and the other one I think would be. A little bit less honey would be nice."

Hickenlooper loves that Obama is making beer, and thinks the fact that the president is a beer man speaks well for his character. "He's a beer guy, he's not a fine wine guy," he says. "He's certainly very refined. He's very articulate. But in the end, come on -- the guy's a White Sox fan." That common touch is "one of the big differences between Governor Romney and President Obama," he said: that Obama is passionate about things like beer and basketball, whereas with Romney, "most people can't tell you what he's passionate about."

Yet when Obama held his 2009 "beer summit" with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, the president had a Budweiser. "I was a little shocked," Hickenlooper admits, "but I figured it was politics." Hickenlooper pauses, not wanting to go too far. "You don't criticize the president about what beer he's drinking," he says. "But I will say I know for a fact that he drinks a variety of beer."

The Obama administration has been good for the craft-beer industry. "In the last four years, craft beer is up 35 percent. It's now 5.7 percent of the total beer market. It provides 50 percent of the total jobs in the beer industry," Hickenlooper says. (This is a stat he was hoping to get into his Wednesday night convention-floor speech, but there wasn't room.) "When I opened Wynkoop, there were roughly 100 breweries in the United States. Now there are 2,150. I mean, that's amazing, right? Within the next few years we're going to get to 3,000 breweries, which is what it was in 1890."

Are Americans better off than they were four years ago? Hickenlooper gives Democrats one potentially potent answer: They have more choices of beer.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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