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. Until 2003, Beam's CEO was another retired baseball big-leaguer, Rich Reese. Bunning's 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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck,

Excellent post. Thanks for that.

I'll disagree with you on this one.

I think they'll go for symbolism over politics. What better to do the symbolism thing than with Four Roses (Single Barrel version).

Each roses can symbolize one of the components of American political life, as follows:

1. Congress
2. Supreme Court
3. Executive
4. American People

A bit of a stretch, but not too much.

And the Four Roses story of quality and all that is a strong one.

Also, I don't mean to be snide on this because I like Old Forester, but Four Roses SB is better than Old Forester, much more... presidential.

Thanks for the excellent information on your blog.


Christopher Williams said...

It would be fun to enumerate the various bourbon brands that have a political pedigree/story. For example, original stocks of Old Crow made by Dr. Crow himself were said to have been liberally poured by Kentucky Senator Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn from his private stash for his constituents to secure reelection bids. I doubt the current iteration of Old Crow would win anyone many votes, however.

Anonymous said...

it has to be a brand from Brown Forman or Heaven Hill, as they are the only American and Kentucky owned companies left. Beam, Makers Four Ross are Japanese, Wild Turkey is Italian, Bulleitt is British, and Buffalo Trace is Louisiana....

merd said...

I'll bet they hammer down a 750 of Blue State Bourbon and end up streaking.

Rob K said...

Wasn't Old Forester named for Nathan Bedford Forrest?

Harold Bussell said...

My pick is Eagle Rare, there is no doubt that this would be a RARE event, and what could be better than the symbolism of the Eagle.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Old Forester was named after Dr. William Forrester, a prominent Louisville physician, who endorsed the brand. The name was originally spelled with two 'r's, like the doctor's name, but was changed to 'Forester' after the doctor's death. Some writers treat this as a myth or theory but it has always been the company's official story. George Garvin Brown's intention in selling Old Forester only in sealed bottles was so doctors could prescribe it with confidence. Naturally, he sought the endorsement of a prominent local physician. Before he started his whiskey company, Brown had been a medical supplies salesman.

Rob K said...

That's good to know. I think I read the other story in a book, I don't recall which. I'm glad it's not true.

bluedog20175 said...

Hi Chuck;

Great post. But the question is: Does McConnell have a favorite bourbon? Being from Kentucky, it would be an interesting fact to know. What's his daily drinker (Though I understand from the press that he like Old Fashioneds and that Knob Creek has offered a couple of bottles, glasses and a welcome note from Fred Noe).

Anonymous said...

Way off base Chuck. Brown-Forman is all about the democrats. Christy Brown's son-in-law (Matthew Barzun) is the US Ambassador to London.

Chuck Cowdery said...

That may be true now but it doesn't change the fact that Brown family members and other company executives launched McConnell's career, and many still support him.

Anonymous said...

I'm so disappointed in everyone here. Two politicians getting together to have some bourbon......Larceny is the only choice; representative of what the govt has been doing to the people of this fine country for decades.
Crown Pt. Marc

Donna Mattingly said...

There could be a chance Four Roses would be considered. I understand the Master Distiller and McConnell were fraternity brothers.

danz said...

It depends on which person picks. I agree with the note above that it would likely be from a US-owned company, otherwise Beam would have been my guess. I think I might recommend Old Forester also, although Fred Minnick's Promise of Hope suggestion has a strong appeal as well.

Keith W said...

Widow Jane. It hits all the notes. It's from Kentucky, drains Americans of way too much money, attempts at every turn to deceive the public, and when it's caught, it blames it all on the consumer and the jerks in the media.

Unknown said...

The choice should be Elijah Craig 12 year. The bourbon that most represents what I think most Americans think America should be all about:

1) it's very high quality, patiently aged, and therefore delicious
2) it's price is low
3) it's owned by Americans that don't price gouge their customers in order to support a bloated, multinational corporate structure

Heaven Hill quietly makes superior whiskies at a fraction of the cost of comparable, more glamorous, and more marketed brands.

No, EC and Evan don't have the coolest bottles in the business but I'll choose substance of style any day of the week.

Unfortunately, if this meeting ever takes place, it's likely that the President and the senator will choose something like Pappy 23...something that regular Americans can't find or afford if they could find it.

Thanks for the article Chuck.

Anonymous said...

How about a couple of Diageo's "Orphan Barrel" releases: Old Blowhard (for McConnell), or Rhetoric (for both him and Obama);-)

Miles D. Harrison said...

It isn't bourbon, but I do know that both Clinton and Reagan loved a bottle of Germain-Robin brandy.

Anonymous said...

Actually the President is a Vodka martini drinker.

Chuck Cowdery said...

About a year after this went up, J. McCauley “Mac” Brown, Vice President of Brown-Forman Corporation, was elected as Chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, a post he held until this year.