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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Saturday, 25 July 2009

Beer, Politics and World Peace

Headline in today's paper:


Barack Obama steps back from race row

The story: a cop arrested a black professor and has been accused of acting in a racist manner. Obama was critical, saying the cop had "acted stupidly", and this has led to a cranking up of racial tension.  Obama, recognising that this is turning into a bigger row and that his own comments have helped inflame the situation, now wants to defuse that tension.  And how does he do that?  He invites the cop in question, and the guy he arrested, for a beer at the White House.

Not a cup of tea.  Not a coffee.  Not a glass of wine.  A BEER.

This seems kind of an obvious post for me to make, given that I've written books on the subject, but in an age where beer in headlines usually only means binge drinking, violence and alcoholism, this is a story that needs to be screamed from the rooftops till every hysteric in the media finally gets it.

Why would Obama invite both men for "a beer here in the White House" rather than simply invite them to get round a table and discuss it without stipulating what refreshments were on offer?  We all know why.  But I'll spell it out anyway.

Because beer is the most sociable drink in the world.

Because in every single culture where beer is drunk, to invite someone to share a beer with you is not just politeness; it symbolises an offer of friendship.  It's a clear statement that when you meet, this will not be a formal negotiation or dressing down, but a more relaxed meeting of equals.  By inviting them for a beer, rather than a meeting, Obama is saying that he will not be their president when they meet - he will be one of three guys who need to clear the air.  He's acknowledging that if they accept this particular invitation, these guys will be attending in a spirit of reconciliation.  Because only the biggest dick in the world would accept a beer from someone and then behave in an antagonistic manner as they sit drinking together.

The social codes around beer are universal, and as old as civilisation itself.  They remain largely unspoken, even though they are commonly understood.  But for years we've allowed beer's unique magic to be eroded on all sides - it's been demonised by neo-prohibitionists and health freaks, commoditised by retailers and by global brewers who describe themselves 'not as brewers, but as FMCG marketing companies that just happen to sell beer'*, moronised by a small minority of boors, scorned by snobs who think you have to drink wine to be admired in shallow, materialistic, brand-obsessed society, and made impenetrable by another minority of deluded snobs who believe the best way to revive beer is to steal wine's most pretentious clothes and mannerisms.  

Now the most powerful man in the world has reminded us what it's really all about.

I hope the guys accept Obama's invitation.  I don't give a damn whether he serves them Bud Light or Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Corona or Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.  In one sentence, he's said everything I tried to say in Three Sheets to the Wind, and said it with a gazillion times more impact.

So raise a glass to Barack Obama - president, heir to Mr Miyagi, and now Global Beer Drinker of the Year 2009.

ps - Our old friends at the BBC - more enthusiastic than most about linking beer to anything negative - have managed to report the story without even mentioning Obama's offer of beer - thereby missing the entire point of his invitation.

*Here I'm paraphrasing comments made by the president of AB-Inbev UK last year - a guy I actually used to work with.  I'd been meaning to invite him out to responsibly consume some FMCG units with me in a business-to-consumer interface location till I read this.

11 comments:

Jeff Pickthall said...

The symbolism of the beer brand they drink will be of huge significance. I expect we won't be finding out which it is.

Did you see the stick Obama got for asking for poncy foreign dijon mustard on his burger rather than standard US pseudo-mustard? Right wing media whores Limbaugh, Hannerty, O'Reilly etc made a meal of that one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEzTl2Wd35o

Fatman said...

C'mon Jeff, the brand matters not one iota.

Great post Pete - spot on. I'm going to print it and stick it on the wall.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

I'm in the middle of Hops at the moment and loving it, but one thing struck me; when stuck with a four and a half gallon keg of beer at a railway station, I always roll it...

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Good post, saw that one this morning in the DT and bored Jane rigid about its symbolism. It doesn’t matter about the brand either, it’s the fact it’s a beer. Hooray.

Derrick said...

Excellent post. Wouldn't it seem odd if he invited them for wine or cocktails?

Jeff Pickthall said...

The brand matters hugely to Obama's team. Conservatives will put the boot in about anything that suggests he's not "a man of the people" but a liberal east coast elitist.

So, Buds all round it is.

Joe said...

There is one more aspect to the "meet me for a beer" thing that deserves comment. It is not just a social invitation (though it is that); it also implies status equality of those who meet. One can give some folks tea or coffee and maintain hierarchy, but if you offer them a beer you are not just saying "we are friends" but also "we are equals".

I hope that Gates and the cop accept, though I don't know if they will. But it is a shame if the BBC reported it without the beer part! It's a bit ironic as I have always considered the US far more neo-prohibitionist than the UK. Perhaps things are reversing? Sad for you but maybe happy for us if true.

Joe said...

There is one more aspect to the "meet me for a beer" thing that deserves comment. It is not just a social invitation (though it is that); it also implies status equality of those who meet. One can give some folks tea or coffee and maintain hierarchy, but if you offer them a beer you are not just saying "we are friends" but also "we are equals".

I hope that Gates and the cop accept, though I don't know if they will. But it is a shame if the BBC reported it without the beer part! It's a bit ironic as I have always considered the US far more neo-prohibitionist than the UK. Perhaps things are reversing? Sad for you but maybe happy for us if true.

Pete said...

When I wrote this on Saturday morning I also pitched the idea to The Guardian for a comment piece either in the main paper or on Comment is Free, the online bit.

Just got a response:

"thanks Pete but won't have room for this."

This is what The Guardian/Observer say every single time I pitch anything beer related. Curiously, they do have room to carry lots of beer advertising, because their sales department know full well their readers are interested in beer. But when it comes it editorial that is complimentary about beer, forget it.

What's curious about about this particular excuse is that I mentioned online publication. The internet is pretty much infinite isn't it? Yet there still 'isn't room'.

ReDave said...

This of ABC [USA network TV]
"Incidentally, asked at the White House press gaggle this morning which beers the president and his guests would likely be drinking, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted that the President hoisted a Budweiser at the All-Star Game (natch; he was in St. Louis) while Sgt. Crowley told the president he was more partial to Blue Moon.

Gates told the Boston Globe he likes Red Stripe and Beck's, but the White House doesn’t stock foreign beer."
------
not sure if this means they are getting together?

For the record tho, on the campaign trail, Obama did have some craft beers now and then, so here's hoping!

dave of California

ReDave said...

update!!

According to CNN's politicalticker blog, President Obama will meet this week with Officer James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. over a beer to discuss the false home invasion arrest fiasco in Boston from last week. The beers chosen by each man? Budweiser for Obama, Blue Moon for Crowley, and undetermined for Gates (Gates may not even drink beer, as it turns out). Maybe Bud is Obama’s beer of choice, but being the president, it's probably safe to say that he had to pick 1) an American beer and 2) something most people have tried. Remember what happened when he told Iowa voters what arugula cost at the store? Right.

Dud on bud, let's hope not!!
dave