WASHINGTON — The bourbon was flowing and, at least in one Washington ballroom, a spirit of bipartisanship broke out Tuesday night, courtesy of Kentucky's distillers.
A 42-gallon oak barrel filled with some of the state's best bourbon made a 545-mile trek from Lexington to a politically gridlocked Washington by bus on a mission to foster bipartisanship by the glass, rekindling a strategy used by Henry Clay, Congress's legendary "Great Compromiser."
"It's a pleasure to be here to celebrate the spirit of Kentucky — literally," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the crowd. "The history of bourbon whiskey and the legend of Henry Clay have long been intertwined. It is said that whenever Clay went to Washington, he carried a barrel with him, to 'lubricate the wheels of government.'"
Tuesday night's Bourbon Barrel of Compromise event wasn't the so-called "Bourbon Summit" pitched after President Barack Obama suggested that he would like to have a glass of bourbon with McConnell.
The president didn't attend Tuesday night. But Jerry Abramson, Kentucky's former lieutenant governor and a former mayor of Louisville, was there on behalf of the White House. Abramson is the administration's director of intergovernmental affairs.
As McConnell spoke about Clay, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Kentucky's congressional delegation, and a few Democrats who belong to the Congressional Bourbon caucus mingled with the crowd — and among themselves. Was Clay's elixir working?
"John Boehner and I had a wonderful discussion," said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky. "He was drinking bourbon and we talked about bourbon — I thought he was a merlot guy."
The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, in Lexington, teamed with the Kentucky Distillers Association in organizing Tuesday's event with a dual purpose: to promote the state's bourbon industry and help ease the bitter political atmosphere in Washington.
Given the partisan bickering this week alone, it might take more than a barrel of hooch to loosen up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"If only it were that easy," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said of lawmakers tossing a few back and talking. "A lot of us would have paid for it (bourbon) earlier."
Still, Bourbon Barrel of Compromise organizers hold out hope, for Congress and for a McConnell-Obama bourbon session. Just in case, they presented McConnell with a decanter filled with a one-time-only special blend created by seven distillers in honor of Heaven Hill master distiller emeritus Parker Beam, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.