Gifted by the President with a bottle of White House Honey Ale, 'The Beer Guy' tells all...and weighs in on the recipe release issue...
UPDATE, Sept 1, 2012: WH releases two beer recipes
While beer enthusiasts are aggressively lobbying the White House for the release of President Obama's top-secret homebrew recipe, there's one citizen in America who already holds the prize in his hands: Brad Magerkurth. He's the fellow President Obama gifted with a bottle of White House Honey Ale during a surprise stop at the Coffee Connection in Knoxville, Iowa as he buscapaded across the crucial swing state. Magerkurth says the bottle offers some secrets to the White House homebrewing operation, and to the President's drinking habits. And he could easily have it professionally analyzed, revealing all. (Above: The President and Magerkurth)
"You know Michelle and I make a beer...and we use honey from the beehive by the White House garden," President Obama told Magerkurth. "We make a honey beer."
Magerkurth, 42, is a homebrewer and traveling salesman for Artisan Beer Company in Minnesota's Twin Cities, known to business associates and pals alike as 'The Beer Guy.' He just happened to be in the coffee shop with a co-worker when President Obama's tour bus roared into the tiny town. He was "shocked" when Mr. Obama, his shirtsleeves rolled up, strolled in and took over the joint--and then held a private beer summit with him.
Magerkurth had never heard of the microbrewing operation in the bowels of the White House, nor did he know that the Obamas' chefs are the first in the history of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to homebrew. But the President brought up the subject up after hearing about Magerkurth's job and joking about his nickname.
"I said wow, that's really fantastic," Magerkurth said, and quizzed the President about the brew.
"And then the President said, 'and I'm gonna get you one. Let me get a beer for ya.'"
As the President moved on to shake hands at the next table, Magerkurth said he thought "Okay, very nice offer, right." But minutes later, an aide had retrieved a bottle of beer from Ground Force One.
"Obama grabbed it and brought it back to our table and said 'here, try this beer. I'd love to get a review on it. I'd love to hear what you think,'" Magerkuth said.
The Beer Guy was blown away.
"I'm like this is AWESOME!" Magerkurth said. "I was kind of freaking out on the thing."
"How often does the Leader of the Free World give you three handshakes and then get you a beer?!"
The President's request for a review was serious: His confidential personal aide, Eugene Kang, gave Magerkurth his card, instructing him to contact the White House after he quaffed his beer. Magerkurth was told his bottle contains Honey Ale, the first kind of homebrew the President ever served publicly, at his 2011 Super Bowl party. The Presidential bottle Magerkurth was given had no label. (Above: The gift bottle at the coffee house, with the President visible in the window beyond)
Still, Magerkurth has yet to open his beer.
"I don't want to be like the Sideways guy who's sitting in a cafe, oh, I should have tasted this, crying over a Styrofoam cup," Magerkurth said. "But I'm saving it for a special occasion."
Secrets of the White House homebrew...
As for the secrets that can be gleaned about the White House homebrewing operation: The bottles that are stocked aboard Ground Force One are "standard" brown glass 12-ounce long necks, and don't have the fancy label that is seen on the single official picture of beer that the White House has released.
"When you give a beer you've made to people, you usually give it with a label," Magerkurth said. "But when you use a bottle yourself, you don't label it because you don't want to waste the label."
"I thought this is really cool, he had a beer that he intended to drink, and he popped it out of Ground Force One and gave it to us."
Magerkurth also said that the bottle cap--which carries no marking, such as a Presidential seal--is "bench capped." (Above: Magerkurth's bottle with his company's website)
How beer bottles are capped is important, to maintain flavor and keep the brew stable. Bench capping allows bottles to be re-used, because the bottle top can be twisted off. It's a more expensive proposition than using a hand capping tool.
"A bench capper is about four hundred bucks," Magerkurth said, implying that the President has a pricey brewing operation.
When first revealing that the chefs are homebrewing, the White House was quick to point out that the Obamas paid for the brewing equipment themselves, so there's no cost to taxpayers.
The White House has never id'd which chefs are actually doing the brewing, but an aide recently told Obama Foodorama that assistant chef Sam Kass, the man responsible for cooking the First Family's private evening meals, is the staffer who keeps Ground Force One stocked with homebrew. Kass has previously told Obama Foodorama that he is not one of the homebrewers, though he's a big fan, calling the White House Honey Porter "unbelievably good."
Analyzing the White House brew...
Sidestepping the mania for the recipe release, Magerkurth could easily have his bottle of Presidential brew analyzed by a laboratory. He even teased the President about that.
"I said to him, do you want me to send this to BTI in Chicago?" Magerkurth said. "That's a professional tasting service. It's considered to be the top-notch place in the United States."
BTI, the Beverage Tasting Institute, uses a laboratory in the President's hometown to rate spirits, wines and beers with a 100-point score. And the Siebel Institute of Technology, also headquartered in the Windy City, offers a full range of beer analysis in its state-of-the-art laboratory.
But Magerkurth has no such plans for a professional lab analysis: "I wouldn't do that." Nor would he sell his bottle, Magerkurth said when asked, citing his theory of "Beer Karma."
"If you have the world, you have to learn how to give it away," Magerkurth said.
The Beer Guy finds the whole brew-ha-ha surrounding the recipe release pretty funny.
"People are crazy, aren't they?" he said, laughing, when told that a crafty citizen recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the White House recipe (here on Reddit).
Still, Magerkurth thinks the White House should offer Americans the recipe, again citing "Beer Karma." He pointed out that the Kitchen Garden and the talents of the White House chefs are paid for with taxpayer cash.
"If someone gives you a gift, you should pass it along. That's what our country is missing, people coming together. Beer brings people together."
Press Secretary Jay Carney announced via Twitter on Thursday that if the petition on the White House's 'We the People' petition site for the recipe reaches the required threshold of 25,000 signatures by September 17, the White House will issue a beer recipe. As of this writing, the petition has 4,802 signatures.
Magerkurth said he'll be bringing people together when he eventually tastes his Presidential brew: He plans on inviting friends who are brewers to join him as he opens the historic beer.
But while Magerkurth was excited to meet the President, and thrilled with his once-in-a-lifetime gift, he declined to say if he will be voting for Mr. Obama in November.
"I'd rather not say," Magerkurth said. "I speak to thousands of people for my business and I don't want that to impact their perception of me either way."
"But I think the President is wonderful," he added.
SIGN the White House petition here.
*Photos courtesy of Brad Magerkurth, The Beer Guy; beer bottle photo by Pete Souza/White House