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Tavern Politics

Free donuts at Krispy Kreme. Free coffee from Starbucks. A free scoop from Ben & Jerrry’s. Corporate America is doing its part to reward Americans who do their civic duty today and get out and vote.

One company, though, has made a campaign of it — which explains those cases of “Participation Lager” you’ve seen in Costco the last few months.

The Crypt called up the Magic Hat Brewing Co. to find out what was behind those beers. Alan Newman, who runs the company and goes by the title “Conductor of Cosmic Symphonies for Magic Hat," said he began kicking around the idea of connecting beer and politics in the mid- to late-'90s.

He said his goal wasn’t to influence which candidate would win but to “counteract the neo-prohibitionist movement” that he saw bubbling up at the time. “It’s not so much about trying to affect the election as it is about bringing interest in politics back into the bars and taverns.”

Zero-tolerance policies were becoming the norm at universities and, said Newman, “MADD was really strong. ... It was really right before the whole buildup of the religious right, which seems to have dissipated as well, praise the Lord.”

Over the course of the first 100 years of American history, taverns served as political meeting-places and even polling stations. Newman said he grew up in a tavern atmosphere and wanted to revive that tradition while defending bars from those who saw them merely as dens of sin. “Taverns aren’t just a place to get drunk and hook up,” he said.

The campaign — in which Magic Hat replaces its Halloween specialty beers with election-themed brew — began in 1998 around the Vermont gubernatorial election and continued with the 2000 election. The campaign works in cooperation with the perfectly named HeadCount — an organization that has registered upwards of 100,000 hippies at various festival and events this election cycle.

This year, it was also good for business. “Whatever we could produce just vanished off the shelves,” said Stacey Steinmetz, whose title is “Supreme Dreamer and Schemer.”

Magic Hat sold out of its 119,346 twelve-packs — more than 1.4 million beers — and its third-quarter sales were up 41 percent over last year’s Halloween batch. “I think people were really into this election,” Steinmetz said.

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