Many of them are providing samples for a gift basket of craft brews that they hope end up in the presidential fridge.
Written by John Richardson For The Portland Press Herald and mainetoday.com
PORTLAND â€” President Obama had better make some room in the White House fridge. Maine brewers and beer merchant Bill Milliken plan to deliver a gift basket of Maine brews to Obama later this month. No one knows if Obama will like the sampling of ales and bitters, but he asked for it.
Obama referred to Milliken during his speech at the Portland Expo on April 1, citing Milliken as a small-business owner who will be able to provide health insurance to more of his workers because of tax credits in the new health care reform law. He also had an unscripted exchange with Milliken, one of about 2,000 people in the audience at the Expo.
â€œBill, stand up. Thatâ€™s Bill right there. Now, I want to give a little plug to Bill here,â€ Obama said as the crowd cheered. â€œBill owns Market House Coffee and the Maine Beer and Beverage Corporation, both here, right here in Portland. â€¦ In exchange for this publicity, I hope that Iâ€™m going to get some samples of the beer. â€¦ OK, he nodded in the affirmative.â€
In addition to nodding, Milliken was trying to answer back over the applause. â€œI went, ‘Hell yeah, man, you kiddin?â€™â€ he said Thursday, still excited about the presidential â€œconversation.â€
Milliken, now known as â€œBill the Beer Guyâ€ on the Internet, got calls from friends and family members all over the country who saw or read about the speech, he said.
Even before he returned to his business to put together the presidential care package, brewers were thinking the same thing.
â€œNappi Distributors had already called and said ‘Weâ€™ll send four cases of Shipyard,â€™â€ Milliken said. â€œWe figured, letâ€™s include everybody. â€¦ This isnâ€™t political at all. Itâ€™s just the president asked for some beer samples.â€
The Maine Brewers Guild expects all of its 17 members to provide samples for the basket. â€œItâ€™s a great moment for Maine and itâ€™s wonderful for Maine beer,â€ said Tami Kennedy, who works for Shipyard Brewery in Portland and is spokeswoman for the brewers guild.
Fred Forsley, owner of Shipyard and president of the guild, expects the company will pitch in bottles of its Export Ale and Summer Ale, and maybe some specialty brews. â€œItâ€™s great that we can get him aware of whatâ€™s happening with craft beer in the U.S.,â€ Forsley said.
While the basket is intended as a simple â€œthank youâ€ for the presidentâ€™s visit to Maine, some in Maineâ€™s beer community hope it can win over Obamaâ€™s taste buds.
The presidentâ€™s choice of Bud Light for his famous â€œBeer Summitâ€ last summer â€“ he invited a Cambridge, Mass., police officer and a Harvard professor to settle their differences over a beer at the White House â€“ made some brewers eager for a chance to broaden his horizons.
Milliken said he sells Bud Light, but heâ€™s sure the president will appreciate the Maine-made craft beers because â€œheâ€™s a beer guy.â€ Milliken and the brewers plan to make the most of the opportunity. They are planning a media event for the gift basketâ€™s send-off April 19. Itâ€™s unclear how the beer will actually get into the Obamasâ€™ refrigerator.
â€œThe White House has an actual gift committee that receives gifts. But this is a unique situation where the president specifically requested this,â€ said Paul Drinan, a friend of Milliken. Drinan is helping to coordinate with the White House and respond to the media so Milliken can run his business and recuperate from sinus surgery this week.
Milliken hopes to make the delivery in person, beer guy to beer guy.
â€œHe asked for it. The entire Democratic establishment of the state of Maine was in that room when he said it,â€ Milliken said. â€œOn the other hand, I know heâ€™s a busy guy. He did sign an anti-nuclear peace treaty today.â€
(Staff Writer Meredith Goad contributed to this report.)