The event was run by the Des Moines Register and featured beer from six Iowa breweries.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 17, 2019

If you follow politics, you've almost certainly heard the term "caucus." You might even have a vague idea what a caucus is—voters assembling in meeting places to choose a candidate instead of independently casting ballots in polling stations. But have you ever participated in one? That's far more unlikely—and becoming unlikelier: Recent changes in Democratic Party rules means 2020 will feature even fewer caucuses than the last presidential election, with only three states—Iowa, Nevada, and Wyoming—running traditional-style caucuses. (North Dakota's "firehouse caucuses" are said to be essentially the same as a primary.)

But if you do live in one of those states—especially in Iowa, which is the first primary event, and therefore, one of the most anticipated—how do you participate? Last week, the Des Moines Register newspaper tried out a novel idea to show voters the process: a "Beer Caucus"—billed as a way "Iowa voters can warm up their caucus muscles."

Niccoló Pontigia / EyeEm/Getty Images

The event, which took place at The Hall (an aptly-named beer hall in West Des Moines), was intended to operate like a presidential caucus, but instead, attendees cast their votes "to elect one of their favorite Iowa craft beers as president of the Beer Caucus." The six "candidates" each came from one of six different breweries—Big Grove, Confluence, Exile, Lake Time, Peace Tree, and SingleSpeed—with reps "on hand to speak about their beers' outstanding qualities and electability."

"We want to encourage all Iowans, whatever their political leanings, to participate in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses," Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Register, said in the lead up to the event. "The Des Moines Register Beer Caucus is intended to help voters learn more about the real caucus process and have some fun doing it."

Eric Lach of The New Yorker was one of about 250 people who attended the event—which demonstrated both a Republican-style caucus and the more involved Democratic-style caucus—and based on the people he spoke with, the event seemed to serve its purpose: "I've been too nervous to go to a caucus—I don't really know how they work," said one woman in her 20s. "And this involves beer also, so that's a plus."

Except, the Register may have overlooked one potential flaw: "It was very crazy," that same woman admitted afterwards. "I think it made me not want to go. I'm going to, because it's my duty. But I don't want to." Not a ringing endorsement, especially when you consider there won't be free beer served at the real caucus. Perhaps that helps explain why caucuses have continued to go out of fashion.