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Did this article inspire the brewpub mayor?

Beer is blamed for every social ill, at every opportunity. When do we hear about the benefits that a few good pints can bring to a community? This article began with a moment of social unity in Brooklyn, New York, and moved on to Denver, Colorado. There, it drew attention to the contributions of brewer-publican John Hickenlooper in bringing life back to LoDo, in Denver, and to similar districts in other cities.

The article appeared seven years ago, in Ale Street News. This year, Hickenlooper announced that he would run for Mayor of Denver. This week, he was elected. I wonder when the idea first occurred to him.

"Pints with the pols
New York, August, 1996

When I hit town, I am not normally welcomed by the Mayor. Last time, I was. "Welcome to New York, Mr Jackson," he smiled, extending what I hope was a glad hand.

The occasion, front-paged in the last Ale Street, was the ribbon-cutting at Brooklyn's new brewery. The waiting guard of cops, and TV crews, looked like they had done this sort of thing before; the brewery hadn't, and was putting that last gleam on the kettle. I was probably not alone in assuming that the tireless Rudy would simply ride in, scatter some metaphorical holy water, take the photo opportunity and glide out. I was wrong. After the encouraging words, he was in there pulling pints and dispensing them with gusto to every thirsty soul.

One had only to look at the crowd to know that it did not universally support the Mayor's politics, but the mood was one of ecumenical celebration. The goodwill flowed even before the beer did. One speaker after the next pointed out that this was a return of a manufacturing industry to Brooklyn. Better yet, it was a restoration of brewing to a town that once bubbled with beer. Every single speaker, I swear, also pledged that one day the Dodgers would return.

Did you happen to see the Paul Auster/Wayne Wang movie Smoke, with those lingering shots of a Brooklyn Brewery neon? Or its sister film Blue in the Face, with its footage of the wrecking ball at Ebbets' Field? Beer-drinking and sport are both activities that once belonged to communities but somehow lost their souls to Mammon. Now beer is being re-born; it would be good to see the same happening in sport, but that seems less likely.

Beer really has been re-building communities. Anyone who visits the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in late September will see how an astonishing blossoming of brewpubs has brought new life to the district known as LoDo (Lower Downtown). It all began with the Wynkoop brewpub, whose principal John Hickenlooper has become quite a mover and shaker in Denver. With a free bus service linking the lower and upper parts of downtown, Denver has a real city-center once more.

Hicklenlooper has also advised people setting up brewpubs all over the mountain states and the prairies; in almost every case, the new brewpubs are near railroad stations and run-down warehouse districts. They are providing a new focus in these areas, and attracting other new businesses. The abandonment of downtowns was a catastrophe in many cities of Middle America and the Southwest. The brew kettle seems to be as powerful an instrument of good as the wrecking ball was of destruction. All it takes is an entrepreneurial brewer and a lively mayor.

I gather that Mayor Giuliani is a workaholic whose idea of a vacation is a long weekend: well, at least we have that in common. I was reading in the Times that he took part in several Independence Day parades in different parts of the city. I found myself almost double-booked, to spend an afternoon at the beer-bar DBA and present a dinner at the Long Island Brewing Company. Would the traffic permit it? "No problem", said d.b.a. owner Ray Deter. "We'll book you a ride from the Downtown Heliport." He was as good as his word. That's what I like: A beer bar that provides transport.

Even travel is getting a little better with the growing number of airports that have bars featuring local micro-brews. At Logan Airport, in Boston, there is a large bar dominated by the beers of the Shipyard microbrewery. I think it was already there before Shipyard was partially acquired by Miller. I was sitting there having a smooth, syrupy, nutty, Old Thumper when a customer bellied up to the bar looking lost and nervous, as though he had wandered into the wrong place. "Do you have anything" he pleaded.

What this man wanted was a regular American beer: any regular American beer. You know, like Budweiser.They had Budweiser itself, and were more than happy to provide it for him, but I had to suppress a chuckle. Imagine, Joe Public being embarrassed to ask for a Bud...

Farther north, and across the border, for Bud read Labatt's Blue. I thought Bleue, or Molson Canadienne, might be the choice of Pierre Public at Le Mondiale de la Biere, the June festival in Montreal (for information on next year, phone 514-722-9640). Both of those breweries were also offering minor specialities: Labatt a sweetish amber lager called Celtique and Molson a light but credible Scotch Ale. Something to do with Franco-Scottish conspiracies against the English, I think. In centuries past, they called it the Auld Alliance.

As it turned out, the crowd were looking farther afield, for wheat beers to cool the heat of the sun: a clovey tasting one called Stouque ("Stook"), from Brasserie aux Quatre Temps ("Four Seasons", but no connection with the hotel chain); a more banana-like example called Blanche de l'Ile (referring to the island on which Montreal stands), from a brewery called GMT; and the lemony, orangey, Belgian style, Blanche de Chambly, from Unibroue. That colorful brewery, in Chambly, near Montreal, has its own festival in September (514-658-7658). When the sunshine turned to sudden thunderstorms, drinkers switched to Unibroue's cherry beer Quelque Chose, served hot, like a gluhwein.

One of Unibroue's principals, rock singer Robert Charlebois, offered me their latest creation, a Belgian-style golden ale called Eau Bénite ("Holy Water"). I found myself raising a glass of this at the festival with Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. The Premier was once thought by some to have behaved excessively when he physically fended off a heckler, so I felt a trifle nervous when he made as if to punch me in the stomach. Turned out he just wanted to prod my beer-gut. "Good to tell what you do for a living," he observed. "Thanks for what you have done for beer."

I can't see why people get so mad about politicians...

Published: JUNE 5, 2003
In: Beer Hunter Online


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