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There's bipartisan cooperation brewing on Capitol Hill ... over beer

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Tony<strong> </strong>Cárdenas, D-Calif., emerge victorious in the fourth Anheuser-Busch Brew Across America Congressional Brewing Competition in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Tony<strong> </strong>Cárdenas, D-Calif., emerge victorious in the fourth Anheuser-Busch Brew Across America Congressional Brewing Competition in Washington, D.C.

A lot "ales" Congress these days — with members clashing over President Biden's domestic agenda and continued fallout from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But on Wednesday night, bipartisan cooperation was on full display during the fourth annual Anheuser-Busch Brew Across America Congressional Brewing Competition, where five pairs of lawmakers work with breweries across the country to create new small batch beers and bring them back to Washington, D.C., to find out whose concoction is best.

"I am the queen of smack talk on Capitol Hill," Congresswoman Kat Cammack said with a laugh as she eyed the competition.

But one lawmaker has been spared the Florida Republican's smack talk — California Democrat Sara Jacobs. This year, there was a new requirement to the competition: Every lawmaker had to select a bipartisan buddy to team up with — ensuring both "suds" of the aisle were working together.

Cammack said she immediately thought of Jacobs. Both are the youngest women of their respective parties in their freshman congressional class.

"We bonded during orientation," Cammack said. "We have a little bit of an East Coast, West Coast thing going on. I wanted to name our beer after Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but we ended up settling on 'Orange You Glad I Didn't Order Wine.'"

The pair decided to brew an orange and vanilla beer to honor the citrus in their states, although their beer ultimately didn't get high marks from the crowd that showed up to taste test the teams' brews.

Each brew had a creative name — see Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. and Susan Collins', R-Maine, 'Unanimoose Consent' cider beer — but creativity was not what the judges — a panel of D.C. media including NPR's Deirdre Walsh — were looking for.

"We're going to score all these beers on five attributes: appearance, aroma, taste, balance and drinkability," Sarah Schilling, the senior general manager of Anheuser-Busch's Williamsburg brewery, explained to the judges.

The judges made their way to every booth, sampling brews that ranged from an American pale ale to one aged with apple cider donuts.

'It reminds us we have a lot in common'

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., "hopted" for an American lager made with rice from his home state and hops from Michigan for his partner Democrat Dan Kildee. The two dubbed their creation "The Yeas And Nays."

Womack said the event, which was on hiatus last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, serves as a reminder that people with different political views can work together to create something satisfying.

"Dan's a good friend of mine," he said. "Yeah, we're going to have spirited debates about issues. The people he represents have demands of him, the people I represent have demands of me — and they're not all the same. But at the end of the day, I love him like a brother and his hops, our rice — couldn't have been any better!"

Kildee agreed.

"There's a lot of tension right here in Washington," he said. "I mean, it's so thick you can cut it with a knife. But when we do stuff like this, it just reminds us — we have a lot in common."

Kildee noted that tension and division also exists outside of Washington.

"You spend time with one another, have a beer with one another — we can still disagree with one another but it's not going to be the end of the world," he added.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., competed with his partner Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.

"It was a piece of cake [choosing Upton]," he said. "When I got on the Energy and Commerce committee in my second term in Congress, he was the chairman and he earned my respect by just being such a fair, wonderful person. He treats everyone equally, doesn't matter if there's a 'D' or 'R' next to your name."

Cárdenas said it turns out there's some similarities between drafting brew and legislation.

"Once you realize what ingredients go into it, you say, 'That's weird,'" he mused. "What starts at the beginning doesn't necessarily come out the same at the end but you always hope for the best."

The duo produced a Mexican-style lager, reminiscent of micheladas, a classic beer-based cocktail.

The crowd seemed to be enjoying it. "We've run out of cups a couple of times," Upton said.

It turned out to be a good omen. The panel of judges named them the winners of the 2021 Brew Democracy Cup.

But that wasn't the only award handed out. There was also a people's choice award for the crowd favorite.

With 41% of the vote, Womack and Kildee's 'The Yeas And Nays' received the popular vote award.

"It was a sporting contest. We're happy to have the people's vote," Kildee said "hoppily."

Womack agreed, and cheekily added, "It just reinforces what a lot of my side has said all along — the media who judged it — fake news!"

Kildee burst into laughter at his friend's joke. Once he stopped laughing, he said they will take turns displaying the trophy in their Capitol Hill offices to keep with the spirit of the competition.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.