The White House released its not-so-secret homebrew recipe this weekend, which means we can all celebrate the Freedom of Information Act for doing its rightful job. It’s called White House Honey Ale, and it’s made with honey from the White House’s own bees. As a bonus, they included the recipe for the White House Honey Porter.
"The White House has its own bees?" I said.
"Yup," the Internet answered.
Despite questionable use of government measures, there’s something empowering about the release of this recipe. At this very moment, thousands of homebrewers are working through one of White House recipes, pushing on not because they like the style or because it’s the right season to brew a honey ale, but because it represents a rare connection between the common homebrewer and the President himself. This is as close as most of us are going to get to having a beer with the President. What was formerly unattainable has been delivered to the masses.
I’ve spent enough time in South Dakota to understand the allure of the unattainable. Admittedly, the craft brew movement is new, but in South Dakota it’s even newer. We’re just now finding our feet on the brewing stage thanks to local favorites like Heist and Crow Peak, but beyond that, we’re just now finding our way through the tangled mess of craft and import beers that once befuddled the American Light taste buds of traditional Midwesterners.
It probably comes as no surprise that here in Sioux Falls, our first major connection to the world of craft beer - at least, on a “sample and experience it all” level, came in the form of a pizza restaurant chain: Old Chicago. It was Old Chicago that introduced the area to a wall of craft taps and, more importantly, to the concept of a “beer tour.”
The pros and cons of a beer tour in a place like Old Chicago should be obvious. It’s 110 beers deep, but of those 110 beers you need to employ a strategy of drinking seasonals and taking advantage of mini-tours, lest your forced to start drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade to reach your goal. It also means breweries become less important than individual beers (you have to pad your count somehow) which is how, this past week, I found myself drinking something called “Batch 19”.
Batch 19 is what it is, to use a wishy washy term. It’s an unbalanced beer that tastes at first sip like an uninspired Grain Belt Nordeast - a Vienna lager that didn’t bother with being bold or tasty. I was surprised, still, that it wasn’t horrible - it wasn’t great, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t horrible.
Batch 19 tasted like the type of beer I’d give to someone who is just beginning to move away from American light beers and into something with a bit more complexity. It’s darker than you’d expect. It’s only available on tap. It’s a little bland but it goes down smooth. Reading into it, I discovered it’s got a great story: it’s part of a movement to begin brewing pre-prohibition-style beers for mass consumption, instilling a bit of history into our otherwise drunken escapades.
This isn’t a Coors property, like Blue Moon or Leinenkugel’s - this is a 100% straight-out-of-the-brewery Coors beer. It’s accessible. It’s easy. It’s not inspired, but it’s welcome. It’s also a surprising move for the brewery, as it’s the type of beer that teaches beer drinkers the first steps to appreciating craft brew, thus driving potentially driving them away from the MillerCoors conglomerate altogether.
Whether it’s because Old Chicago has lowered their standards for what beers will appear as “Owner’s Choice” or “Micro Specials,” or if it’s just that I’m used to the new crop of craft-friendly restaurants and bars around town, I am still taken aback by the inclusion of decidedly non-craft beers on Old Chicago’s chalkboard - an area typically reserved for the newest or most exclusive tap selections. Seeing an old standard like Miller Lite or this mysterious Batch 19 on the board at Old Chicago - a restaurant that is never lacking in brilliant seasonal craft brews - is unsettling.
But maybe that’s the bitter brewer coming through. Maybe that’s just because I think, “You know, Monk’s or Bros would never go that far.”
Yet, that’s the catch. A good friend of mine doesn’t like to go to Monk’s. He’s untrained in the finer points of craft beer, and he hates feeling like a jerk for ordering Miller Lite. He wants that accessibility without the stigma of being common. He wants the bridge - the same bridge that allowed Old Chicago to cater to both beer snobs and those with lighter sensibilities, and the same bridge that pushed a beginner-friendly but not moronically basic Presidential beer recipe into the hands of us homebrew nerds.
Batch 19 - and even Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s, while we’re on the subject - have a purpose and a place, just like Old Chicago. None of them are cool or sexy or hip. None of them are considered worth a mention in the annals of craft brew snobbery, at least not anymore. Then again, maybe that’s not the point. Maybe, we’re supposed to just view those areas of easy entry - the points where we can jump on and begin the journey - for what they are: opportunity and inclusion.