Who Was the First President to Brew Beer at the White House?

Lots of American Presidents Enjoyed Their Brew, but Only One Was a Brewer

Beer in the White House
Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and President Barack Obama drink beer in the Rose Garden at the White House in 2009. (White House/Getty Images News)

Lots of American presidents enjoyed their booze, and many brewed their own beer. George Washington was well known as a home brewer and made his own porter and whiskey at Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson did the same thing at Monticello.

But the first American president known to have brewed his own beer on the grounds of the White House in Washington, D.C. was Barack Obama, who made porter and ale beginning in his first term.

"As far as we know the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds," wrote Sam Kass, the White House senior policy adviser on nutrition policy, in September 2012. "George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson made wine but there's no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House."

Obama as Home Brewer

Obama began brewing beer in 2011 after the president bought his first home-brewing kit. He started brewing beer because he was in search of a hobby, according to published reports. Shortly after his home-brewing activities were made public, the American Homebrewers Association made Obama a lifetime member.

"Though beer has long been part of the country’s history and traditions, Obama made history when, as president, he purchased a homebrewing kit and then — alongside chef Kass — spearheaded the effort to brew White House Honey Ale, the first beer known to have been brewed in the White House," the association wrote.

About the Obama White House Beer

The Obama staff made at least three difference styles of beer: a brown ale, a porter, and a blonde ale. All three were brewed with honey that was drawn from a beehive on the South Lawn of the White House. "The honey gives the beer a rich aroma and a nice finish but it doesn't sweeten it," the White House said of the ingredient.

The names of the Obama White House beers were:

  • White House Honey Brown Ale
  • White House Honey Porter
  • White House Honey Blonde

When Obama ran for a second term in the 2012 presidential election, he stocked his campaign buses with the White House brews.

While the White House brewed the beer, it did not market or sell the beer publicly. It did, however, publish the recipes for likeminded home brewers to try.

Both the brown ale and honey porter were given good marks by fellow home brewers.

Remarked Ray Daniels, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek: “They are both pretty malty and on the sweeter side of the scale in overall balance. That will certainly make them crowd pleasers or at least unobjectionable to a broad range of people.”

Wrote critic Gary Dzen in The Boston Globe: "The White House knew what they were doing when they brewed this beer. It's approachable enough to serve to casual beer enthusiasts but flavorful enough to be interesting to those of us who know what we want our beer to taste like."

Why Beer for Obama

Obama is a beer drinker who was known to invite members of Congress and other important figures in American politics to the White House to talk and quaff a brew or two.

In 2009, for example, Obama called what came to be known as a "beer summit" between himself, Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Cambridge, Mass. police Sergeant James Crowley. Obama invited the men to the White House to talk over beers after police in Crowley's force arrested Gates at his home.