Are you guys kind of getting sick of the "craft beer scene"?
No? Well, OK, I guess I can respect that; as we all know,
America in the midst of a golden age of brewing, and thanks to The
Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, the greatest beers in the history of
the world are somehow actually being brewed right here in
Still, do you ever feel like the "microbrew culture" has reached
a level of popularity where, just to keep potential annoyingness in
check, it might require some acerbic, well-placed criticism that
doesn't derive from the larger faux-populist "hipster bashing"
that's already plagued our national conversation for several years?
Are you tired of debating which IPA is the best? Does every
discussion you have with a male friend become a discussion about
If you're not sick of this stuff, TV networks are now aiming to
make you so.
The idea of a television show about beer makes sense in the same
way that television shows about food make sense - which means that
it makes a great deal of sense or maybe not much at all - but, for
whatever reason, neither of the initial two attempts to create one
turned into a massive success.
The first, Discovery's short-lived semi-educational "Brew
Masters," both chronicled the trials of a middle-sized business and
loosely mimicked the celebrity-cooking-challenge format, contriving
reasons for its narrator, the founder of Dogfish Head, to create
oddball malt beverages from inconvenient ingredients or by
Next came a program called "Beer Geeks," which uses the "Diners,
Drive-Ins, and Dives" travel-show format, in which some
non-participatory host guy goes around the country providing free
advertising to preexisting breweries.
The third and latest beer-focused TV program is called "Brew
Dogs," and it airs on Tuesdays on the Esquire Network, which is a
thing now. "Brew Dogs" combines the above-mentioned formats. The
stars are Scotsmen James Watt and Martin Dickie, who have been
making beer under the name BrewDog since 2007, becoming famous as
much for their showmanship as for their ales. There has always been
an element of deliberate wackiness in the craft beer scene - antics
designed to set fun-loving "beer guys" apart from the boring snobs
on the wine scene - but BrewDog surely holds the record: in 2010,
they made a 55% ABV eisbock and bottled it inside stuffed
Their TV show has brought James and Martin to America, where
they travel from city to city, visiting breweries and then, drawing
inspiration from the local culture and employing native
ingredients, creating beers of their own. In the first episode,
they fly to San Diego to meet the CEO of Stone Brewing. After a few
minutes of conversation, James and Martin set out to create their
own quintessential West Coast IPA - containing kelp
(self-harvested, via surfboard) and the world's hottest chili
peppers. Most inexplicably, they decide to brew it on a moving
train. The following episode, set in San Francisco, is roughly the
same, with Anchor standing in for Stone and the BrewDog product
paying gimmicky homage to the S.F. fog - the beer's water is
extracted from the mist over the Marin Headlands, and at the end of
brewing process, the beer is converted back into vapor, meaning
that the final product is actually inhaled.
It's obvious that "Brew Dogs" is straining for novelty here, and
it's equally obvious why that's necessary. Beer comes in a million
varieties, but on TV, it varies only according to where it falls on
the brown color spectrum. The beer-making process, too, is complex
but not particularly visual. With cooking, the food is out in the
open, in pans and on cutting boards; with beer, the real action
takes place invisibly, inside large vessels over the course of many
The reason this show works is the same reason any show works,
i.e. the human factor: James and Martin seem to be incredibly
likable dudes, almost exactly the way you'd imagine good brewers
would be: smart and dedicated but unserious, hip but not hipster -
they're guys who like beer. They're also really funny and kind of
make me feel like maybe I could become a brewer just by virtue of
having a cheeky, irreverent attitude toward life.
"Brew Dogs" is least amusing, however, during segments about
James and Martin's attempts to convert "craft beer virgins": it
feels as though the producers insisted that the show - which also
contains a fair amount of basic information about brewing and beer
styles - operate according to the premise that most Americans are
not really on board yet with this whole "craft beer revolution" and
are slightly suspicious of anything that is not a lager, and
although this is probably true, it doesn't feel true.
Even though James and Martin approach these strangers sweetly,
the situation unattractively suggests a fantasy of certain beer
enthusiasts; they get to demonstrate their sophistication in the
face of various plebs who, in the end, are actually grateful for
the lesson - they've been happily converted to this superior
product and lifestyle, thus validating our sense that we've all
"seen the light" and the rest of mankind is still in the dark.
Is that in fact the case? Is craft beer really so wonderful?
If so, why is this show on the "Esquire Network"? Does it ever
occur to you, as a beer drinker, that alcohol actually is poison,
and what you really want is a life of consuming nothing but raw
kale and rainwater? Should TV shows devoted to the supposedly
semi-orgasmic pleasure of eating and drinking be forced to admit
that food and beverages are never really all that great? In
reality, beer tastes good, but not good enough to justify the
amount of time we spend talking and thinking about it. Do we do
this mostly because it's an easily shareable hobby among bros, not
because of any intrinsic merit in the beer itself?
Will a TV show ever grapple with these questions? Will we?