Beer, said State Rep. Brett Harrell, is bipartisan.
That may be why harmony and peace reigned Wednesday night during a fermentous gathering of state lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, senator and representative, at a showdown to see which solon could cook up the best brew.
Competing were five members of the General Assembly (plus Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan), each of whom crafted a specialty beer, with the help of the knowledgeable folks at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Cartersville. The event, Brew Across Georgia, was hosted by Budweiser at a Dunwoody Taco Mac, and was the first state-level version of a similar showdown that each year tests the brewing skills of U.S. Senators and Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, said the Cartersville brewmasters helped him design a Dortmunder that he named, simply, Ice Cold Beer. “I told them what I like in a beer,” said Powell. “Make it ice cold, and make it taste like beer. No fruit flavors.”
Powell sampled a six-ounce taste of his creation as his colleagues sipped Lead Off Lager (Duncan’s brew) and Chill Bill Blackberry, a Kolsch designed by Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens.
Rep. Kasey Carpenter, who owns the Cherokee brewpub in Dalton, was the only competitor with any bona fide beer-making experience, but Carpenter didn’t give himself good odds of finishing ahead of the pack.
As he sipped a sixteen-ounce glass of his Space Force IPA (no six-ounce taste for Carpenter) he suggested that the panel of four judges, which included representatives of Anheuser-Busch, might respect influence more than skill.
“If I’m Budweiser,” he said, “I’m going to side with the lieutenant governor.”
Rep. Harrell of Snellville tried another way to curry favor for his Olde School ESB, sporting a Bud Light T-shirt, in an effort to win some approval from the host. “I was hoping there would be some (Anheuser-Busch) judges,” he joked. “I’m not proud. I’m going for the win.
The state officials spent a few weeks over the summer visiting the Cartersville plant, and collaborating with the brewmasters there to come up with their recipes. The beers were brewed not in the plant’s main line, which yearly funnels 92 million gallons of beer to the Southeast’s thirsty drinkers, but in an experimental kitchen that one brewer-in-training described as a homebrewer’s setup on steroids.
The brewmasters did most of the work, and none of the state officials had a chance to taste their creations until Wednesday night.
Chrissy Davenport, senior brewmaster at the Cartersville plant, said Anheuser-Busch uses the smaller facility as an experiment station. “We’re always thinking of new ideas.”
The only female lawmaker among the competitors, Sen. Jen Jordan (Atlanta) came up with a wheat beer called the Georgia Peach to celebrate the state’s native fruit. “It’s a very important product in Georgia,” she said, holding up a pale yellow glass of her potion.
“It’s almost like a Blue Moon,” she said. “I wanted to have a peach slice to garnish it, but we’re in the wrong season.”
Each specialty brew was produced in an extremely limited edition of only five gallons, or a sixth of a barrel. The exercise effectively made each of these state officials a craft brewer, if only temporarily. Craft brewers in Georgia have chafed at the state’s antique three-tiered distribution system, which allows limited direct sales by microbrewers. But Wednesday’s crowd seemed wedded to the old system.
In a brief address to the group Martin Smith, executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, spoke about the benefits of Georgia’s policies, gesturing to the Budweiser representatives and saying “The smallest beer out there can be on the same truck as these guys.”
At the end of the evening Powell’s Ice Cold Beer took the top prize.
“I don’t even drink beer, but I’d drink that,” said Powell.
Harrell said that it was no accident that the beers produced by members of his chamber did the best.
“That’s because the House represents the people,” he said. “We’re in touch with Joe Six-Pack.”
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