A competition for beer supremacy is brewing again in Washington

Lawmakers embrace the challenge, worts and all

Beer can be both a political tool and a simple pleasure, lawmakers-turned-brewers say.  (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Beer can be both a political tool and a simple pleasure, lawmakers-turned-brewers say. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 19, 2021 at 4:29pm

Beers (and friendly rivalries) are once again flowing in Congress, as members compete at the annual Brew Across America event set for Wednesday night.

The contest pushes lawmakers to become alchemists for a day, creating small batch runs at Anheuser-Busch plants. It’s a chance to brew, brag and indulge in the grand old tradition of mixing beer-drinking with politics.

“There was absolutely sampling going on the entire time,” Florida Republican Rep. Kat Cammack said of her experience at the booze giant’s Jacksonville facility, where some of her constituents work. Though her beer was just a warm and malty juice when she helped make it last month, it has since fermented into a light orange citrus ale with Madagascar vanilla.

The brews now go before a panel of Washington media that — full disclosure — includes CQ Roll Call’s own senior reporter Lindsey McPherson. Those judges will crown the winner, but the real honor may be the people’s choice award, decided by guests at a taste-testing event that in the past has featured many beer-related puns.

New this year is a “bipartisan buddy” system that forces Republicans and Democrats to work together. Cammack picked Rep. Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat, as her partner because they’re the youngest House women from their respective parties in the current freshman class, a fact they found out at orientation, she said. Adding oranges to their beer was an easy call, given that both their home states are dominant in citrus production.

“The most difficult part about the entire thing has been coming up with a name,” Cammack said. “I kind of wanted to do a Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur thing, but we landed on something that was a little bit more palatable to the masses.”

They settled on the beer’s name, “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Order Wine,” during morning discussions in the House gym, she said. 

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also went the fruit route, helping to produce something classified as a “cider donut ale,” while Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., poured themselves into producing a barrel-aged chai baltic porter. 

More traditional lager formulations round out the offerings — one from Reps. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., and another from Reps. Steve Womack, R-Ark., and Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Cárdenas said the Mexican-style lager he helped concoct at the Los Angeles brewery is designed to taste like a classic cocktail. 

“If you’ve ever been to a gathering of people from Mexico, you’re gonna see beer, and you’re going to see micheladas,” he said. “So micheladas were part of what we made.”

This year’s Brew Across America is the fourth installment of the event, which was on hiatus last year during the pandemic. (The big winner in 2019 was Missouri Republican Rep. Ann Wagner with her “Big House Brew.”) Organizers say they’re following D.C.’s guidelines and requiring indoor guests to wear a mask, except when they are actively eating or drinking. 

The current mood in Congress is icy, as members spar over Joe Biden’s agenda and cope with memories of a pro-Trump mob attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6. But Anheuser-Busch is billing its new bipartisan twist as a way to promote democracy and bring Republicans and Democrats together over drinks. 

The company has sponsored other competitive social events on the informal circuit around Washington, like the Congressional Baseball Game, and is a steady lobbying presence on the Hill. The brewing giant has already spent nearly $2.5 million on lobbying in the first half of 2021, and in 2020 it spent $5.6 million, according to Open Secrets.

Lawmakers leaned into the beery buddy system, with Womack boasting that his pairing with Kildee combined the strengths of both their states — the alcohol-boosting sugar of Arkansas rice and the flavorful hops of Michigan. They named their lager “The Yeas and Nays.”

“At the end of a heated debate, and you’re ready to vote, what do both sides always ask for? The yeas and the nays,” Womack said.

Beer can be both a useful political tool and a simple pleasure at the same time, he said. 

“When you’re having a beer with an acquaintance, you might talk about politics,” he said. “But the beer itself tastes good, no matter whether you’re a liberal Democrat or the most conservative Republican.”