Friday, November 7, 2014
What Bourbon Should Obama and McConnell Drink? That's a No-Brainer
I'll admit my heart skipped a beat on Wednesday when President Obama suggested that he and Senator Mitch McConnell have a bourbon summit. Many since have speculated as to what bourbon they should drink. They're probably important enough to get their hands on some Pappy, if they want to go that route, but if Mitch has anything to say about it there is really only one choice.
Most members of Louisville's Brown family, who control Brown-Forman, are major Republican donors. They have backed Mitch McConnell's career from the beginning. I attended one of the first fundraisers for his 1984 Senate campaign at the home of Robinson Brown Jr., then Brown-Forman's Chairman of the Board.
At the time Robbie's cousin, Lee (Lyons Brown Jr) was Brown-Forman's CEO. After he handed the reins to his brother, Owsley, he was named to the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations by President Reagan. In 2001, President Bush made him U.S. Ambassador to Austria, where he served until 2006.
The summit bourbon, therefore, must be Old Forester, the brand that launched Brown-Forman in 1870. The company's marketing executives will probably argue for Woodford Reserve, the more popular and contemporary brand. These days the company's true flagship is Jack Daniel's, but that's for summits with Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
As McConnell has always been the Senator from Brown-Forman, Jim Beam became a big supporter of former Senator Jim Bunning, also a Republican. His replacement, Rand Paul, doesn't appear to have a favorite bourbon distiller.
I worked on a project for McConnell in 1992. I only had one meeting with him, at which I presented. When you're presenting, you always try to read your audience so you can make adjustments on the fly. McConnell was inscrutable. I wouldn't want to play poker with him. He was also very low key, not an attention hog at all, which is very uncharacteristic for a politician. He was professional and business-like, no showboating. I believe he drove himself to the meeting, which took place in Louisville. I don't recall a driver or any aides being there. The project must have gone well, as he alluded to it in his speech on Wednesday.
In this era of excessive disclosure, the drinking habits of presidents are still generally kept private. We now know that Johnson and Nixon were likely alcoholics. Obama is known to favor a beer now and then. McConnell, too, is believed to be a light drinker but he has been known to take a sip of bourbon from time to time. Sharing one with the president certainly couldn't hurt.