The most heavenly of brews exists here on Earth, and it’s not made by angels. It’s made by man. It’s light-amber colored, sweet, and the right amount of bitter with of hops and lemon zest, finishing off with a salty pretzel aftertaste. It dances on your taste buds, making you wish you didn’t have to swallow it and end the experience. It’s one of the hardest beers to find, and you have to be in the right place at the right time to even get a glimpse of the bottle, with the smiling donkey in the straw hat on the label. There’s only one who can have it made, and he keeps it all to himself.
“And they call it ‘Barry Beer’.”
“I’ve never heard of anything called ‘Barry Beer’,” Scott said after I finished my description. He was an old friend, a craft beer aficionado, and a brew-master in his own right. He had a pallet for it like no other, and he was the only one I trusted with this secret.
“It’s like Billy Beer,” I said. “Remember that?”
“Yeah,” Scott replied. “Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy’s beer.”
“Barry Beer is specially made for Barack Obama,” I said, smiling. “There’s a presidential brewery that makes it in secret, and President Obama is the only one who gets it. He takes it everywhere with him. He loves it that much.”
“Let’s say for shits and giggles that I buy this story of yours,” Scott said, absently stroking his beard. I knew he was intrigued, and he was just trying to play it cool. “How did you find out so much about it?”
I smiled. “I met the man himself and had a beer with him.”
I was in Chicago on a business trip, and my company had set me up in a fancy hotel; fancier than what I was used to anyway. I had gone from the airport directly to the hotel and went to nap as soon as I was in the room. I had no idea the President of the United States was in the same hotel.
I woke up from my nap a little after six, and I decided to head downstairs for a quick dinner and a beer from the bar. I got there, pulled up a seat, and waited for the bartender to come to me and take my order. “Here on business?” someone asked next to me. I turned to see that it was Barack Obama. I was starstruck for a moment. I didn’t know what to say. I had walked right up to the bar and taken a seat just five feet from the current president. He just laughed at my nervousness.
“Sorry,” I finally said. “I mean ‘yes’. I’m here on business.”
“Me too,” Obama replied. “I’m not supposed to be having dinner at the bar. Please don’t tell Michelle.”
I laughed, and Obama laughed too. I had no idea what else to say. The bartender came over and addressed Obama. “Good evening, Mister President,” he said. “You want one of yours?”
“You know it,” Obama said, offering a wide smile.
“And how about you?” the bartender asked, looking toward me.
“Give him one of mine too,” Obama said. The bartender nodded and went to the fridge under the bar and came back with two bottles. He popped the tops off for us and placed the bottles on the bar.
And that’s when I first laid eyes on it. The bottle had a cartoon donkey wearing a straw hat on the front, and its face and smile were reminiscent of Obama himself. The words “Barry Beer” were above the donkey in blue letters with white stars in the middle. I grasped the cold, perspiring bottle, looking at the picture on the front. I took a small sip, and I knew from that first, beautiful taste that it was the best beer I had ever had.
I had been drinking beer since I was seventeen. Back then it was the cheap stuff, anything we could talk my friend’s older siblings into buying for us. They pocketed more money than they spent on dull-colored six packs with words like “dog” in the brand name. But it was all about getting drunk back then, and it didn’t take much for a teenage boy to get drunk.
Later in life, probably in my mid-twenties, I started to appreciate beer more, and I spent more to get something worth drinking. I learned to savor the taste and to make my pulls worth pulling; experiencing the various flavors, the balance of the ingredients, and the care the brewers put into making it. The good stuff was hard to come by and made in low quantities, but it was worth the search.
But I had stumbled onto the holy grail of craft beers by a chance meeting with the President of the United States.
“This is great,” I said, placing the bottle back on the bar. “Where did you get this?”
Obama finished his own pull and moved a seat closer to me, placing his bottle on the counter. “This is specially made in small batches in a private presidential brewery and sent directly to me,” he said. “I always make sure some makes it to wherever I go.”
I took another sip, wanting to drink the entire bottle, but not wanting it to end. “It’s the perks of being president,” I said.
“One of them.” Obama smiled and took another sip of his beer.
Our beers went quickly, despite our conversation. I couldn’t get him to tell me where it was brewed or what was in it, and I didn’t want to keep asking. When we were done, I almost asked for a second bottle, but I felt it would have been rude. I wished I had asked. I had never had a beer so good as that bottle of Barry Beer, sitting at a hotel bar, drinking with the President.
Obama left soon after when some secret service guys came over and whispered something to him. He politely excused himself and walked away. I ordered my dinner, eating with a lesser beer, still longing for just one more bottle of Barry Beer.
“I can’t replicate that based on your description alone,” Scott said after I had finished my story. “I can try, but it would be like asking someone who has never seen the statue of liberty to make a painting of it. I don’t know the method used, the ingredients, or anything. I can’t even go by taste.”
“What if I can get you a bottle?” I asked.
“It would help,” Scott replied, “but I still wouldn’t know the recipe. Besides, you said yourself you can’t get it. It sounds like Obama is the only one who can, and you didn’t say he gave you his private number in that story.”
“No,” I said, “but I know where he’s going to be. There’s a country club in Florida that’s expecting him while he’s on vacation. I’ve made some connections through some of the friendlier bigwigs at my company, so I’ll be there at the same time. I had to pull a lot of strings, but Barry Beer is worth it.”
“Then what?” Scott asked. “You’re just going to ask him for a bottle of his personal, private beer to take with you?”
“I’m not going to ask him anything,” I replied. “I’m going to steal it.”
The country club was located on a beautiful stretch of Florida land that almost sparkled in the sunlight. It was no wonder that the executives at my company frequented it, and Barack Obama himself had chosen it for a day of golfing and relaxation. I also knew that he’d want to finish off the day with a cold beer or two, and he said himself he never went anywhere without his personal favorite.
My plan was simple. I knew the bartender would have some Barry Beer in the fridge behind the bar like the one at the hotel had months before. All I had to do was offer a distraction, get behind the bar, grab a bottle or two, and leave. I’d have a cooler with ice waiting in my car to begin the long drive back home, ensuring the Barry Beers stayed cold the whole way. There was no way I was going to carry such precious cargo on a plane or ship it by any means. This was going to be my last chance to get my hands on this beer, and I wasn’t going to have my bottles smashed by a clumsy baggage handler or an ornery postman.
I especially didn’t want anyone else drinking the beers before I could get them to Scott, so he could start the reproduction process.
It was early for the bar. It wasn’t even open yet. The only one in there was the bartender, who was cutting up lime wedges. Just outside, a large cooler with ice water was sitting on a small table with a stack of glasses on it. It was in the perfect place to serve as my distraction.
I walked around, making sure nobody else would see what I was about to do. When I was sure I was alone in the hall outside the bar, I kicked the leg of the table, breaking it. The cooler and glasses fell, sending water, ice, and glasses to the floor. Water, ice, and broken glass spread across the tiles, covering them completely. I doubled back, getting out of the area before my shoes could get soaked. I turned and went into the bar and saw that my plan had worked. The bartender was gone, jogging toward the source of the sound.
I slipped right behind the bar now that I was alone. I opened the fridge under it and found my prize: six bottles of Barry Beer. I’m not greedy, so I only took two. That should have been plenty for Scott to taste and figure out the recipe to make our very own batch of Barry Beer. I got up with a bottle in each hand, but I hadn’t gotten away unseen. I was staring right into the disappointed face of President Obama.
“Are you stealing my beer?” he asked.
There was no denying what I had done. He had caught me with a beer in each hand. Obama read the answer on my face and shook his head. He held out his hands, and I gave him the two bottles. I didn’t know what was coming for me. Maybe he’d have his secret service kick me out and rough me up in the process. That was the best-case scenario as far as I imagined.
To my surprise, Obama opened both bottles with a keychain opener and handed me one. I took it with a shaking hand. “Come over to this side of the bar before you get yourself in trouble,” he said, motioning for me to join him.
President Obama and I sat at a table near the window overlooking the spacious golf course and drank Barry Beer together for the second time, something I never thought would ever happen again. Meeting him at the hotel bar was far-fetched enough, but having a second of the President’s private beers with him was just lunacy. I wondered if Scott or anyone else would ever believe that this had happened twice. I sipped at the beer, relishing the taste, noting that it was just as good as the first time I’d had it.
“Why did you try to steal from me?” Obama asked, breaking the silence. I looked away from his accusing face. In my perfect scenario I’d be on the road now, driving away with the two bottles in my cooler, Obama would hopefully be none the wiser that two of his beers had been taken away.
“I just wanted another,” I admitted, leaving out the part where I also wanted to have my friend reproduce it. “I don’t know if you remember, but you shared one of your beers with me in a hotel in Chicago.”
“I remember you,” Obama said. “And I want to apologize.”
“Apologize to me?” I asked. “I was the one stealing from you!”
Obama laughed. “That beer isn’t specially brewed for me,” he said. “It was a good story though, right?”
“But your name is on the bottle,” I said, looking at it, “and there’s no manufacturer. And I swear they made the donkey’s face look like you.”
Obama laughed again. “The private brewery story is a little joke of mine I tell the people I share it with,” he explained, “but I can see it backfired. The manufacturer who makes this beer knows it’s my favorite, so he sends me cases of it with this joke label. I take it around the country with me, telling the story about my private presidential brewery.”
“So it was all a joke?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Obama said. “If you ever meet Joe, you’ll have to try a bottle of ‘Biden Brew.’ I don’t know where he gets it. He claims he brews it in his garage; but I know he’s making it up just to copy me, and he knows I’m obsessed with it.”
I laughed this time, and Obama joined me a moment later. He was pretty jovial for someone who had just been robbed a moment ago. I took my last pull of Barry Beer and set the empty bottle on the table. I decided to ask what I hadn’t back at the hotel in Chicago. “Can I have one more for the road?”
“I’ll do you one better,” Obama said, getting up. He grabbed a pen and paper from the bar and came back over, sitting across from me once more. “I’m going to tell you where to get this beer under its real name, but you can’t tell a soul it’s Barry Beer. It’s becoming quite the urban legend, and I’m admittedly enjoying it.”
“You got it,” I said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Good,” Obama said, passing the piece of paper across the table. “A man is only as good as his word, and I’m trusting you here.”
I read the names of the beer and the manufacturer on the paper, and I knew I’d never forget them. Already in my head, I was imagining having cases of that beer in my own private stash at home. I didn’t care how far I had to drive or have it shipped.
“I better get going,” Obama said, standing. “Do me a favor.”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Stay out of trouble.” He gave me one more smile before putting his sunglasses on and leaving, followed by a couple of secret service agents.
I ran into Scott a couple of months later at the supermarket. “Hey,” he said, surprised to see me. “I haven’t heard from you since you were planning the Barry Beer heist. Should I assume it didn’t go well?”
I almost said no straightaway, but I didn’t. Instead, I told him how I tried and got caught, sharing one last beer with the President. I left out Obama’s confession of his joke and that I could now have a ‘Barry Beer’ any time I wanted.
“Those are the brakes,” Scott said shrugging. “I looked up the story on the ‘net and found at least a dozen tales like yours of guys who had a Barry Beer with the President. At least you had it one last time.”
“Yeah,” I said. “There’s that.”
“If you ever do meet the President again,” Scott said, “call me, and I’ll swing by. I’ve been dying to try this Barry Beer myself.”
I felt bad not giving Scott the heads up or letting him know I knew how to get Barry Beer myself, especially after telling him the story and getting the legendary beverage embedded in his imagination. I was home later that night, drinking one when I came up with a plan. I made my own picture of a donkey with Obama’s face I found on the internet. I was even able to superimpose a straw hat on it with some photo editing software. It wasn’t as good as the cartoon donkey on the actual Barry Beer bottle, but Scott didn’t know that. I printed the label, removed the labels from the last six pack I’d bought, and put my own Barry Beer labels over them. I was going to tell Scott that Barack Obama had sent me an entire six-pack, and split it with him. I’d have to swear him to secrecy that he’d never try to reproduce it with a story about how Obama had told me not to.
Hell, if President Obama could have his own private joke, then so could I.