Montpelier A-Buzz Over Shummy's Gucci-Gate
That's how Gov. Peter Shumlin appeared to characterize totally hop-tastic, Vermont-brewed beverages during an exchange Wednesday with a certain Seven Days reporter, as chronicled by Green Mountain Daily's John Walters.
Joking or not (And we presume he was. After all, we've witnessed him imbibe a Hill Farmstead Edward or two in our time), the gov's comments rubbed some beer drinkers — and purveyors — the wrong way.
"He put his foot in his mouth," says Three Penny Taproom co-owner Scott Kerner, whose Montpelier establishment registered its disagreement on a blackboard (pictured at right) outside its doors Thursday.
Kerner was particularly miffed to hear Shumlin say he sometimes drinks that god-awful crap "brewed" by Belgium-based Anheuser Busch.
"For him to bring up a company like Budweiser in that context is ludicrous," Kerner says.
"Saying that is kind of like saying you like Aunt Jemima more than real Vermont maple syrup," echoes Kurt Staudter, executive director of the Vermont Brewers Association. "It's the industrial swill versus hand-crafted goodness."
Not everybody in the biz was worked up about Gucci-gate.
"It doesn't bother me one bit," says John Kimmich, who owns Waterbury's famed cannery, The Alchemist, with his wife, Jen. "I think our governor can drink whatever he wants to drink. If someone likes light American lager, I can't fault 'em for it. I drink it myself sometimes."
Kimmich adds, "If my governor is willing to sit down at a bar and drink a beer, I'm tickled. I could care less what it is."
But within the august halls of the Statehouse Thursday, some of Shumlin's fellow pols were quick to distance themselves from the gubernatorial buzz-kill.
"I think, actually, there are a number of Vermont beers I wouldn't classify as being Gucci beers," Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said. "I think they're Vermont products that happen to be of high quality."
Appropriately, the lite gov said he prefers light beers — and says he's not opposed to drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon or even a Schlitz.
But, he said, "If I'm out to dinner and I want a beer, I would probably order a Switchback."
"Whatever's in the cooler," Scott said.
Was the lite gov offended by Shumlin's remark?
"I wouldn't say I'm offended by it," he said. "I would say I'm surprised that maybe he hasn't tried some of the high-quality beers Vermont produces. Maybe that's the problem."
(Pictured at left, Shumlin, mid-gaffe, with GMD's John Walters Wednesday in Barre)
But Shumlin's secretary of commerce, Lawrence Miller, disputes that. And he should know. After all, Miller founded Middlebury's Otter Creek Brewing in 1989.
"I've drunk enough really good beer with [Shumlin] to know that he's making a joke," Miller said at the Statehouse Thursday. "I know from beer-drinking experience with him that that's not his full opinion."
As for Miller, since he sold Otter Creek in 2002, he's become a dabbler in Vermont beers.
"In my house there's a case of Heady Topper — well, part of a case of Heady Topper after last weekend — and, god, there's probably a dozen different Vermont beers in there," he says.
Though he particularly enjoys Hill Farmstead and Heady Topper, Miller says he couldn't pick a favorite Vermont brew.
"I'm definitely a beer slut," he says. "I think all beer is great. That's why I got into the beer business."
Not every Vermont Dem has Shummy's back — at least in the Budweiser department.
"I haven't drunk Budweiser since I was probably a teenager," says Secretary of State Jim Condos. "It's like drinking water."
Then again, Condos is no beer snob. He says he favors a merlot or cabernet.
"I do drink Budweiser. There are times I put it into the rotation," Smith says. "Mostly it's Vermont beer, but occasionally Budweiser gets into the rotation."
The speaker's fave? Hill Farmstead Edward, he says, and, of course, Rock Art Brewery, which is in his home town of Morrisville.
(Pictured at right, a totally staged, bipartisan photo of Sen. Joe Benning [R-Caledonia] drinking a Trout River Rainbow Red Ale and Smith drinking a Long Trail Hibernator Thursday evening at the Statehouse. Smith ordered a water, but Seven Days insisted the Speaker pose with a Vermont brew.)
Smith's Senate counterpart, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, also claims to patronize Anheuser Busch — particularly its weakest variant.
"Bud light? Seriously?" asked Seven Days.
"But other than that, one of the ones— what is it? Raspberry wheat?" Campbell said.
"Blackbeary wheat?" Seven Days suggested.
"Blackbeary wheat! I do like that. I'm not a connoisseur of beer," he explained.
Under cross-examination, the Senate President's true colors came out.
"I'm a bourbon person," Campbell said.
Specifically, the Florida native likes a Jack Daniels with a touch of water, "but responsibly — only responsibly," he hastened to add.
"A bourbon is a southern man's drink," he explained.
Photos by Paul Heintz