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Craft Beer Politicking

Posted: September 7, 2015 | By: Bri Steirer Tagged: From the Campaign Trail
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley fills a pint at Confluence Brewery Company in Des Moines on Saturday. Photo by Bri Steirer

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley fills a pint at Confluence Brewery Company in Des Moines on Saturday. Photo by Bri Steirer

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley exchanged familiarities and enjoyed some Iowa-brewed beer with supporters Saturday at Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines. The casual setting drew a crowd of eclectic Iowa voters — college students and teachers, blue-collar and white-collar workers, suits and tattoos, an 8-year-old O’Malley volunteer and a man in a Tommy Bahama shirt. O’Malley worked the room, shook hands, and even poured a customer a pint of Confluence’s Farmer John’s Multi-Grain Ale.

Confluence Brewing Company is a member of the rapidly growing craft beer industry in Iowa. Strategic Economics Group’s research indicates that Iowa’s craft beer industry has generated more than $100 million in economic activity for the state, and there is no indication that the industry is losing momentum. Moreover, the highest percentage of craft beer aficionados lie in the 25-34 year age group—a demographic that has been traditionally difficult for campaign strategists to target.

Craft beer politicking is no joke; in fact, it’s becoming increasingly relevant as the industry continues to grow. And O’Malley is not the only one to notice. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R – Pennsylvania) also posed with a Confluence concoction earlier this year. President Barack Obama released his list of White House home brews while he was running for reelection back in 2012, giving a nod to the rapidly growing craft beer industry in traditionally purple states like Iowa and Wisconsin. Jeb Bush was even criticized by the press and on social media for choosing Budweiser — a widely distributed, mainstream beer — to wash down his pork chop on a stick at this year’s Iowa State Fair.

As presidential candidates continue to interact with the craft beer industry, the industry is likewise using its new role to advance its own political agenda. Republican Donald Trump felt the sting of the industry’s influence in late June when CEO Andres Araya of Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Brewery released a written statement saying it would no longer be providing an exclusive private label beer for Rebar, an establishment located in Chicago’s Trump Tower. Araya, the Latin-American founder of 5 Rabbit, cited Trump’s earlier controversial comments about Mexican immigrants as the reason they could no longer sustain the relationship between the two companies, writing, “As a company, an integral part of our vision reads that we are ‘not only based in, but also look to promote a strong and positive image of Latin America, its heritage and people.’”

Araya also revealed a characteristic about the industry that makes it a unique platform for political discourse: Craft beer is about community. Later on in his statement regarding Trump’s comments, he wrote, “The very foundation of the United States of America was built on acceptance and inclusion. That is what drew us here, and that’s why we feel so strongly about this.”

In every brewery and brewpub across the state, you can find members of this community. They will not all fit a certain demographic and they will not share all the same opinions. However, what they will share is a set of values: civic engagement, an appreciation for hard work and quality products, and a devotion to conversation, critique, and debate. These are the qualities that produce educated, involved, perceptive voters. These are the qualities that produce the Iowa voter.

So, don’t be surprised if the next time you pick up an Iowa craft beer, the next leader of the free world is doing the same.

Steirer is a senior LPS, politics, and rhetoric triple major and is originally from Hartland, Wisconsin. She loves all things Wisconsin sports, the outdoors, and any and all dogs.