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They'll Drink To That: The Presidential Hopefuls Pull Out The Brewery Stops in N.H.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sips a "Kirstenweizen," named for her by To Share Brewing Company in Manchester.

There’s an old cliché in politics – who’s the candidate voters would want to have a beer with?

It’s a euphemism for likability. But this year, it’s also something New Hampshire voters might actually be able to answer.

Microbreweries have joined diners, living rooms and town halls as go-to venues for face-time with the Democrats running for president. 

At Liquid Therapy in Nashua last month, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand squared up for a beer pong throw. She had an audience of 50 or so voters who came out to this recent campaign stop inside an old firehouse-turned-brewery.

Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., plays a game of beer pong at Liquid Therapy in Nashua.

After a few tries, cheers erupt. Gillibrand sinks a ping pong ball into a half-empty plastic cup.

“Did somebody get that? Because I’m gonna post that one,” she said triumphantly to her staff.

A few weeks later, the video of that same moment pops up in a campaign ad on this reporter’s Instagram feed. “If Kirsten makes this shot,” it asks as she throws, “will you donate a dollar?”

Breweries and pubs are full of that kind of marketable photo-op – and candidates are taking advantage of it.

This weekend, Cory Booker will be at one of New Hampshire’s northernmost breweries, in Littleton. Beto O’Rourke is campaigning at multiple bars across the state. And Gillibrand will visit another brewery in Hampton.

Her spokesman Evan Lukaske says these are good venues because they’re casual, and a way for the candidate to experience the state.

“She likes to mix it up,” he says. “She likes to taste all of New Hampshire’s great beers – I think this is our fourth or fifth brewery that we’ve been to.”

Credit Throwback Brewery
Sen Elizabeth Warren recently campaigned at Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, N.H., and posed for a photo with co-founder Nicole Carrier (far left), and the brewery's team.

One even offered a beer named for Gillibrand – the KirstenWeizen. Lukaske says today, she’s chosen one of Liquid Therapy’s citrusy IPAs.

“She tends to enjoy the grapefruit-flavored beers,” he says. “I’ll let voters decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.”

Perched on a barstool, Stephen Meno is reserving judgment and drinking a lavender chamomile IPA sour while he watches the scrum.

“It’s nice to sip on a cocktail while everyone just swarms and descends on these candidates,” he says.

Meno also saw California Senator Kamala Harris at a bar in Manchester.

Another candidate who’s hit the New Hampshire brew trail is John Hickenlooper. The former Colorado governor ran his own brewpub before getting into politics, and he talked that up during a stop at a busy bar in Newmarket in March.

“I had a couple friends, and we opened a restaurant that brewed its own beer,” he said, to cheers, “in 1988, in an abandoned warehouse in an abandoned part of downtown Denver.”

But not every campaign event fits into such a small, laid-back setting. South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg had planned on visiting a brewery in Manchester last month. But the expected crowd got so big that he moved his event to the more spacious Currier Museum of Art.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper greets people at The Stone Church in Newmarket in March.

Back at Liquid Therapy, Chris Maloney of Massachusetts says the brewery setting is more his speed.

“This is actually very interactive,” he says. “I think everyone will have a chance to meet the candidate, which is different.” 

That kind of intimacy suits more than just the barflies. Candidates – like Gillibrand – enjoy it too.

“I love this size because I can answer every question,” she says. “I can take every selfie, no one feels unheard and they all have a chance to have a real conversation with me.”

A real conversation – and maybe a grapefruit or lavender beer to go with it.

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