Americans love two things:
- American Things, and
- cheering for the underdog.
You know the drill: the President and the guys up in Cambridge are getting together for a beer.
By now, you probably know the beers: Bud Lite, Blue Moon, Becks, and Red Stripe.
Feels all Americana, with just a dash of Jamaican and European thrown in for an exotic imported touch, huh?
Too bad the corporate ownership of these beers are anything but American. Bud is now a Belgian-owned corporation (AB InBev), which also owns Becks. Blue Moon is made by South African/Canadian-owned SAB Miller Molson-Coors. Red Stripe is owned by UK-based Diageo, the largest multinational beer, wine and spirits company in the world.
A missed opportunity for American craft beer. Yes, it would have been great for the handlers to choose something Bostonian (my vote was a shared growler of Cambridge Brewing Company). But experts make their decisions, and you know how it is...the more people provide input, the safer choices become.
Still, I'm an optimist. I see a surprising silver lining in this odd PR fiascopportunity. Stick with me, and I'll give you a cookie.
The White House is trying to be both symbolic and safe in its selection of beers. In doing so, it's exposed a sobering reality picked up by media and citizens nationwide: the beers many people perceive as all-American are, in fact, managed by foreign corporate interests. (Though of course these companies all employ Americans and manage US operations...lest I get too disparaging.) That said, many Americans -- I don't know how many -- are increasingly disillusioned with the notion that their "American" lager ain't all that American anymore.
Look, I realize this is the ultimate fluff public interest story. It's a respite from the hospice of healthcare reform. But as a future brewery owner, I can't help but think about how the choice of beers shapes public opinion and buying patterns.
I've been thinking about it a lot, and it turns out I'm okay with the choice of bland beer. Yes, it's a missed opportunity for American craft ales and lagers. But that opportunity would likely be limited to the one craft brewery chosen. The token nod. The oddball. The so-called "designer beer" that President Obama was afraid to touch during the campaign.
But the beers were all mass-market light lager. The public response? A collective "meh." A deflated and disappointed "Is that the best you could do?"
This would not have been the case had the media event taken place in the mid 90s, at the height of the Bud-versus-Miller-versus-Coors era. Today, Americans are bored by it all, driven in part by the media's exposé the globalization of beer.
In fact, the beer war in America is no longer "I'm a Bud guy" versus "It's Miller Time." The conversation has shifted, and the more compelling battle is the scrappy Davids against International Bland.
Craft beer will not be at the White House table today. That's not the story.
The story is that people expected craft beer at the table.