Obama taps White House brew on the campaign trail

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:02am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up as he celebrates St. Patrick's Day in Washington in this file photo taken March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files

U.S. President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up as he celebrates St. Patrick's Day in Washington in this file photo taken March 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has stocked up on a new all-American campaign prop -- White House-brewed beer.

During his bus tour across the battleground state of Iowa, the president on Tuesday gave a bottle of the brew, known as White House Honey Ale, to a patron of a Knoxville, Iowa, coffee shop when the subject of beer came up.

While it was the first time the branded beer grabbed wide attention from the press corps on the campaign trail, a White House official said the president and first lady have made a habit of occasionally traveling with bottles of the beer made at a White House small brewery.

The beer, which comes in both a light and dark variety, is made by the White House chefs who use traditional beer-brewing methods.

The honey portion of the drink is taken from first lady Michelle Obama's garden beehive near the White House Kitchen Garden on the south lawn.

Taxpayers are not footing the bill for the beer, as both the cost of the equipment and the cost of brewing the beer is paid for by the Obamas personally, the official said.

Beer has been a common theme for Obama on the campaign trail this week.

The president told supporters at an event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Tuesday that he had enjoyed a beer along with a pork chop at the Iowa State Fair. That prompted an audience member to yell out "Four more beers?"

"It's true, at the State Fair, instead of saying 'four more years,' they were saying, 'four more beers.' So I bought him four more beers. Told him he had to register to vote, though, to get one of the beers," Obama told a laughing crowd.

Connecting with the beer drinkers' vote is a tactic not used by Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, a Mormon who does not drink alcohol.

HISTORY OF WHITE HOUSE AND BOOZE

The White House Honey Ale started making appearances at White House events in 2011.

The Obamas kept it in stock at the White House mainly for special events, including this year's Super Bowl Party.

The beer was also served when Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer visited with the president on the patio outside of the Oval Office on September 14, 2011.

Former commanders in chief were also known to enjoy libations.

The nation's founding fathers used alcohol -- beer, whiskey and rum punch -- on the campaign trail. First U.S. President George Washington invited would-be supporters to hear campaign promises over heavy drinks when he was running for office.

When Washington left office in 1797, he went on to become the largest whiskey producer for a young nation.

Since Washington, the presidential liquor cabinet has mostly been well-stocked, from Thomas Jefferson's imported wines, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's martinis, to Bill Clinton's preferred Grey Goose vodka on the rocks at Cafe Milano in Washington.

Those occupying the Oval Office have been known to drink, with a few presidential exceptions, including George W. Bush, who swore off alcohol by the time he reached the White House.

Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal from 1920-1933, halted some of the fun. But even the White House was not completely dry; President Warren G. Harding snuck in an expansive collection of liquor to supply his famous cocktail parties.

Garrett Peck, an expert on the country's history with alcohol, said a more recent "defining moment" that changed how Americans viewed presidents and booze was when Ronald Reagan was photographed with a glass of white wine -- of course, plucked from his home state of California.

"This became a very well known photo," Peck said. "That was in some ways a defining moment. That meant it was okay."

Peck said he was unsure if any of Obama's predecessors had a White House brand of their favorite drink but as drinking has become mainstream, he has seen more presidents and presidential candidates embrace public drinking.

(Additional reporting by Lauren French; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)