Reality TV has tackled Dog Grooming, Ice Road Trucking, and Real Housewifing. If a profession can be video-taped, it’s fair game these days. So it was only a matter of time before some dimwitted TV exec said “Hey! You know what would be endlessly fascinating?!?! A show about craft brewing!!!”
Now, we here at Aleheads are, of course, champions of the craft brewing movement. And anything that shines the spotlight on the industry is OK by me. But can a television show about a small brewery really maintain dramatic tension and interest for an entire hour? After the pilot episode of the Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters, we have our answer.*
*No. No, it can’t.
Brew Masters is hosted by Sam Calagione…the founder of the legendary Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, DE. The pilot episode focuses on his development of the Bitches Brew…a beer commemorating the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’s seminal jazz-fusion album. As a rule of thumb, anytime a new show premieres that looks at the trials and tribulations of the craft brewing world, the Aleheads must attempt a LiveChat. Slouch and I jumped on G-Chat for the premiere and shared our wit and wisdom with one another as we watched the train wreck unfold.
And away we go…
BARLEY: We’re chatting with you live from the McHops Monastery and Sixpack Tenement respectively. Slouch, I am giddy with excitement for the premiere of Brew Masters. You?
SLOUCH: What…what day is this?
BARLEY: On point as always. I’ve got an Oskar Blues Gordon cracked open and ready to go and the show is about to begin.
SLOUCH: Shit…I need to grab a beer. BRB…
SLOUCH: OK…Bell’s 25th Anniversary in hand. Good to go.
BARLEY: And we’re off! Welcome to Sarah Palin’s Alaska! I mean…Sam Calagione’s Brew Masters!
Calagione’s voice-over begins as he talks about Dogfish Head and the craft brewing movement.
SLOUCH: I already hate him, and he hasn’t even appeared on-screen yet…and there he is. Yep, now I’m sure of it. I hate him.
BARLEY: He looks like Henry Rollins’s effeminate little brother.
SLOUCH: He played in a softcore punk band called Rainbow Flag.
Slick animations abound in the intro.
BARLEY: The CGI is pretty intense for a show about beer. They clearly put some cash into this.
SLOUCH: The animations look like the rejects from a bad episode of CSI: Delaware.
BARLEY: How many brewmasters could legitimately carry a TV show? How many even have the personality to talk coherently for an hour? Calagione. Jim Koch. And Greg Koch. That’s pretty much the list, right?
SLOUCH: I think the BrewDog guys could carry a show. I’d watch them stuff bottles up squirrel’s asses for an hour.
Calagione talks about being a “maverick” and a “cowboy” and how he’s been brewing “cutting edge” beer for two decades. Apparently his entire business is based on an Emerson quote.
BARLEY: Sam seems awfully full of himself. I mean…basing your business on an Emerson quote? Really? Aren’t most breweries actually operating on the quote, “You know what would be fun…let’s open a brewery!”
SLOUCH: So pompous. I want to light him on fire.
BARLEY: How often do you think he’s going to use the words “maverick” and “cowboy”. Apparently he really is Sarah Palin.
SLOUCH: He notes that most breweries make 6 or 8 beers every year…but he makes 31.
BARLEY: Too bad. If he only made 6 or 8 beers, perhaps he could actually do some quality control instead of releasing every piece of shit he thinks of.
*Here’s where I should point out that Dogfish Head is one of the best breweries in the world and makes some ridiculously good beer.
Sam is talking about the “failed” beers he’s made, including a green beer for St. Patrick’s Day.
SLOUCH: He was “pressured” into making green beer? Who pressured him?
BARLEY: The lamestream media, doncha know?
Sam is sitting on a palette of Midas Touch, explaining how old the recipe is.
BARLEY: We just sit on palettes here at Dogfish Head.
SLOUCH: We don’t have office furniture here.
BARLEY: Because we’re mavericky cowboys.
A graphic showing the growth of craft beer pops up. It shows the number of breweries that have sprung up over the past 20 years.
BARLEY: Based on label size on the map, apparently Flying Dog is the largest brewery in the world. Good to know.
SLOUCH: He just showed a graphic of craft brewers vs. Big Beer. I’m not going to lie to you, big beer looks better.
BARLEY: True, that really is a big beer.
Sam talks about his current project. A tribute beer to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew.
SLOUCH: Sam just said Miles Davis was a “popular” jazz trumpeter.
BARLEY: Also, Michael Jordan was a “talented” basketball player.
SLOUCH: And World War II was a “pretty big deal”.
The show now ratchets up the drama by noting how little time Sam has to brew the tribute beer.
BARLEY: “We only get one shot at brewing an obscure beer to celebrate a 40 year old album! We HAVE to get this right!”
SLOUCH: What would happen if he misses the deadline? It might cost him tens of dollars.
BARLEY: I’m sure Miles Davis would be PISSED if there wasn’t an adequate beer created on the re-release date of one of his albums. He was a popular jazz trumpeter, you know.
Sam is talking to his Sony partner about the release of the beer and the album.
SLOUCH: These guys seem like natural “partners”.
BARLEY: I hope they start making out.
SLOUCH: If by that, you mean butt fucking, I hope they don’t.
Sam talks about Bitches Brew being one of the first albums he owned.
BARLEY: One of the first albums I ever owned was INXS Kick. I hope to one day brew a beer in tribute to that album.
SLOUCH: Me too… that’s why I always hang myself before I masturbate
Miles Davis’s nephew is hanging out and talking about the album. He seems cool.
SLOUCH: That guy does NOT drink Dogfish Head.
BARLEY: He drinks weed.
SLOUCH: He just called Sam the Miles Davis of beer.
BARLEY: I just lost all respect for Miles Davis’s nephew. That is the first and only time I will write that sentence.
Sam introduces his brewmaster…Floris.
BARLEY: Oh…Floris. He’s Belgian. Of course, he is.
SLOUCH: So Sam isn’t even the brewmaster?
BARLEY: He just pointed at all of the equipment in the brewery like he had no idea what it was. He clearly just hired a Belgian to do everything while he made up stupid new beers.
SLOUCH: I think his job is to just walk around dripping vinegar and water.
BARLEY: Floris has no idea who Miles Davis is. He’s just pissed that the brewery is at capacity and he has to deal with this ridiculous new beer AND a reality show interfering with his job.
Sam hops into his beat-up old pick-up truck.
SLOUCH: Sam drives a pick-up.
BARLEY: Because he’s real people.
Sam discusses the Reinheitsgebot beer purity law in Germany.
BARLEY: OK…that was actually a pretty good description. But read Aleheads for an even better discussion of the Bavarian Purity Law!
SLOUCH: So he’s saying he’s innovative because he doesn’t obey the Bavarian Purity Law?
BARLEY: Yes, pretty impressive that a man in Delaware in 2010 isn’t strictly following a 16th century German law. What an iconoclast!
SLOUCH: Holy shit, he is the worst person in the world.
Dramatic tension continues to increase as they discuss just how short a period of time they have to get this beer right.
BARLEY: Oh my God! Five weeks!
SLOUCH: Wait…they’re talking about incorporating an Ethiopian-style beer into the recipe. Was Miles Davis Ethiopian? Or are they just being racist?
BARLEY: Let’s go with racist.
SLOUCH: Floris seems confused.
BARLEY: He’s like George Bush’s assistant.
SLOUCH: “Sir… this beer won’t work.”
BARLEY: I like that they’re pretending the inclusion of honey in the beer is a really big deal. It’s only been done by thousands of brewers for centuries.
SLOUCH: So Sam is just going to release a new beer without actually testing it?
BARLEY: It’s nice to have proof that he never beta-tests anything. I’ve been saying for years that all he does is come up with ridiculous ideas and releases them with no actual idea if they taste good. This basically proves everything I’ve ever thought about him. And not in a good way.
We meet some of the regular folks in packaging.
SLOUCH: I’m a fan of Larry Murphy in packaging.
BARLEY: Yeah, I like this guy. He’s clearly just here for the beer.
SLOUCH: “Every day is a crapshoot.”
BARLEY: “I have a toothpick.”
SLOUCH: “I fix shit.”
BARLEY: “This is my brother Daryl.”
SLOUCH: He just said, “We ain’t in Perfectown, USA.”
BARLEY: AKA, Columbus, Ohio.
SLOUCH: “The filler is an important machine.”
BARLEY: “Because it puts beer into the bottles. Which is important.”
Oh no! A vent tube has gone missing! The plot thins!
SLOUCH: Good lord…a missing vent tube! Stop the filler!
BARLEY: What’s the big deal? It’s just a prize inside a bottle. Who wouldn’t want an authentic, game-used Dogfish Head vent tube in their beer?
SLOUCH: If there were no cameras around, would they be looking this hard for a missing vent tube?
BARLEY: Hell no. They wouldn’t even tell anyone.
SLOUCH: I’m never drinking a 90 Minute again.*
*The vent tube most likely fell into a bottle of 90 Minute IPA.
BARLEY: Let’s start a ban.
SLOUCH: This is intense.
BARLEY: It could bring down the entire Calagione empire!
BARLEY: A vent tube is a “long, stainless steel shaft.” Insightful.
SLOUCH: I have a long stainless steel shaft.
BARLEY: I like the guy that asked if he could drink the beer that had the tube in it.
SLOUCH: Annnnnd…they found the tube. Crisis averted.
BARLEY: Dogfish Head lives to fight another day. Would you have consumed a beer with a tube in it?
SLOUCH: I drank a beer with your beard trimmings in it…so, yeah.
BARLEY: Ah, fraternity life.
BARLEY: I don’t think this show’s going to make it. That tube thing seems to be the drama for the entire pilot.
SLOUCH: Apparently you don’t watch a lot of cable reality shows.
Sam starts talking about the brewing of “Tej”…an Ethiopian beer that he’s going to blend into the Bitch’s Brew.
BARLEY: He’s using raw honey. Actually, that’s the rawest honey I’ve ever seen.
SLOUCH: I think I saw a vent tube in the jar.
BARLEY: Also, a condom
SLOUCH: Why are they putting this in the beer?
BARLEY: Apparently it “smells like the woods”.
SLOUCH: The woods…where Sam buried that teenager.
BARLEY: In a tree.
SLOUCH: Too soon.
Sam is now in the back alley of the brewery, loading up the keg of Bitches Brew for “Savor”, a food and drink festival in DC.
BARLEY: Sam likes hanging out in front of dumpsters.
SLOUCH: Man, he just threw that keg in his pick-up like a rag-doll.
BARLEY: He’s pretty rough on that Bitch.
SLOUCH: He just said that his pick-up’s top speed is 58 mph.
BARLEY: Maybe you should buy a car that gets better than 1 mpg, you thoughtless ass
SLOUCH: But this is what “real” people drive!
BARLEY: Hey! Savor is at the National Building Museum. I love that place. It has the largest indoor columns of any building on Earth. Plus…
SLOUCH: Stop. No one cares.
Sam starts serving the Bitches Brew to the Savor guests.
SLOUCH: Folks seem unimpressed.
BARLEY: That woman just said she “heard jazz” when she drank it. She should talk to a therapist.
SLOUCH: I mean, what else are they going to say? Are they going to tell him it’s awful right to his face?
BARLEY: “What would you change about this beer?” “Nothing. It’s perfect.” Whatever.*
*I should note that I’ve had the Bitches Brew and it is indeed pretty awesome. But Sam Calagione is still a douche.
Sam and his lead brewer just showed off their rapping “abilities”. Completely unironically. They call themselves the “Pain Relievahs”. It’s just…awful.
SLOUCH: What the…? Holy shit.
BARLEY: I’m speechless. I am without speech.
SLOUCH: That was…I mean. What?
BARLEY: He just mocked the entire history of hip-hop. And maybe all of African-American culture.
SLOUCH: Commercial break.
BARLEY: Good, I need a minute to digest what I just heard. He had a Flavor Flav gold chain with the Dogfish Head logo hanging from his chest. Do you think his sales will drop 50% because of that?
SLOUCH: Actually, I think they’ll go up.
BARLEY: I’m not sure I can ever buy their beer again.
SLOUCH: There’s no way I can.
Sam’s on the brewery floor now to begin commercial production of Bitches Brew.
BARLEY: He just said that he wears a cup on the floor. That is all.
SLOUCH: Got to protect the Calagione junk. It’s his legacy. Other than his rap video.
Now Sam is talking about changing the specialty malts to give the “middle” of the sip more body.
BARLEY: I call bullshit that completely changing the recipe only affects one aspect of the sip.
SLOUCH: He said it had a perfect start and perfect finish, but the middle needed tweaking.
BARLEY: My guess is that it didn’t taste anything like he wanted it to and how he’s panicking.
Sam is in the brewery with his lead brewer/rap partner and the Sony Exec. They start rapping for the Sony guy.
BARLEY: Good god. Just stop.
SLOUCH: I would happily kill these 3 men execution-style
BARLEY: I have never hated a brewery more. I’d rather drink Bud Light w/Lime than Dogfish Head.
SLOUCH: I hope that kid (the lead brewer/rap partner) is being compensated well for this.
BARLEY: He’s like the Dwight Schrute of Dogfish Head. And Sam is Michael. I wish everyone else was just rolling their eyes every time he walked by.
SLOUCH: I think they are
BARLEY: Do you think this show was edited by his mortal enemy? Could they make him look worse?
SLOUCH: He just said that he was “Chillin like Bob Dylan on Penicillin.” I can’t even mock this.
BARLEY: Now I just feel bad. It’s like watching a train wreck.
SLOUCH: I’m about to start vomiting to expel any Dogfish Head I might still have in my system.
The commercials are showing a teaser for next week’s episode where Sam samples traditional Peruvian Chicha…a beer made by chewing kernels of corn and spitting them into the brewing kettle.
BARLEY: I drank Chicha when Wifey and I were in Peru. So I have some Peruvian spit in my stomach. But not as much as Sam Calagione.
SLOUCH: Well played.
Sam notes that the reception to Bitches Brew has been “phenomenal”.
SLOUCH: Well, of course it’s been phenomenal. You brewed a beer honoring Miles Davis.
BARLEY: And here’s Miles’s nephew again. I assume that’s his only claim to fame, right?
SLOUCH: That album isn’t even that great. I bought it in College. Listened to it high. I prefer Tool.
BARLEY: And thus ends Episode 1 of Brewmasters. Almost as good as Episode 1 of Star Wars. Except I liked Jar Jar Binks better than Sam Calagione.
SLOUCH: Nice. Topical joke.
BARLEY: We should do an Aleheads rap…just like the Pain Relievahs.
SLOUCH: Yo, I’m Slouch and I’m here to say / That was a god-awful show.