50. You Deserve Better Beer TV Than "Brews Brothers" and, Obviously, "Brew Dogs"
A plea for a good beer travel show--and universal smaller pour size options at taprooms, too; plus tarot for fortitude and milds.
Some opening thoughts.
Good: It’s Pride Month! HAPPY PRIDE!
Bad: We’re still here in [checks notes] America. The Uvalde shooting story just keeps getting worse—let me be specific, actually. The enraging “response” from the Uvalde police keeps getting worse. Every day we learn something else that’s hard to bear. But I think it’s necessary to stay here in this discomfort, because we move on to the next thing too quickly here. Yeah, people are too fickle, but I’d also argue that when you live in a country where there’s a never-ending cycle of mass trauma and the only government you have telling you to fuck off when you want answers and solutions, you have no choice but to learn to keep living somehow. But then we get to a place where children are fucking murdered and literally nothing changes. So, this is awful, but we’ve got to keep talking about it. And voting.
And speaking of Pride Month and voting, let’s remember that unfortunately, we have to divide our attention among all the different horrors here, because transgender people are under attack in the this country. The laws that have been getting passed and that stand to get passed in the near future are terrifying. So, about that voting thing…do it, and if you can, donate to some great causes, like the HRC, The Okra Project, and The Trevor Project—and please keep this top of mind all year round, not just in June.
Why Can’t We Have Good Beer TV?
Okay, finally getting a chance to circle back to this great question Em Sauter posed on Twitter a few weeks ago:
I think about this a lot! Mostly because I really want one. I crave one to watch like a I crave a smoked doppelbock. A good brewery travel show feels like it would soothe the soul: the first time you watch it, you’d learn about new places, people, and beers, and you’d feel excited, and you’d add things to your beer bucket list, and hopefully, because this hypothetical platonic ideal of a show would be great at this sort of thing, you’d feel good about the diversity, visibility, and representation at work. Then, it would naturally be the kind of show you’d like watching over and over again, as a kind of pleasing background noise while you get on with the less pleasant chores of the day. Why don’t we have this? Why can’t we have this? Do we not deserve this?
And don’t we especially not deserve the pathetic offerings thrown at us in the past? Michael Jackson’s “The Beer Hunter” was presumably great; I wish it wasn’t well before my time. Between 1989 and…now, we’ve gotten…ugh “Brew Dogs.” Look at this smarmy, smug p.o.s. No wonder a show like this didn’t magically convert more people into craft beer fans, fueling the demand for more producers to make more televised beer-related content.
I don’t remember much about this show (which apparently ran for three seasons), like where it aired, but I do remember watching it whenever I stumbled upon it channel-surfing. I didn’t know any better—most of us didn’t then!—and was thrilled to find something actually talking to me, a craft beer enthusiast. TV doesn’t make us beer geeks feel very seen, does it? Unless it’s making fun of us, as previously discussed, and gosh, looking at that still from “Brew Dogs,” uh, no wonder! I was going to make myself watch a clip of “Brew Dogs,” but you know, no one deserves that, not even me.
Then we got “Beerland.” Look, I’m absolutely not wading into the ugly, unnecessary, and unhelpful muck of talking shit about someone, which is what it feels like when people start criticizing this show’s host, but I see some of what people say when talking about why “Beerland” didn’t work, or at least didn’t scratch this itch for craft beer TV for many of us. I really don’t love when people start tearing apart Meg Gill’s personality, and say it wasn’t X or Y enough to host a show—that feels akin to saying a woman’s work email is a borderline verbal assault because it doesn’t have any exclamation points when the same email from a man warrants nary an eyebrow-raise. But I do get and agree with the basic issue from the get with “Beerland,” which is its inauthentic foundation. Especially when it premiered in 2017 and people were still really fired up about this type of thing, “Beerland” was pushed by AB InBev and Gill kind of felt like the face of its try-hard-ness, and any host in that position inevitably would have. I argue “Beerland” is still fun to watch because it’s chock full of talented beer folks we know and love today, dotting in and out of the homebrewing competition as the show traveled from city to city. And I do think the show also did a decent job when it came to diversity and representation, if I’m not misremembering? But it never really connected, did it?
A few people pointed to YouTube shows in the responses to Em’s tweet, but I regret to inform them that those just aren’t quite what we’re looking for. I’m so glad those exist. Like podcasts, a YouTube show feels like a win in the sense that all you need is a computer and an internet connection and you can share your POV and your own content (which, you know, can sometimes also be a curse depending on what you’re watching but I digress). And no doubt, there are some fantastic YouTube shows out there on craft beer. This is a great resource, huzzah! I definitely dot into these from time to time. Alas, I am an Old, and I do not watch YouTube like TV. I want to be able to turn on the tube and find a beer show there. Ya dig?
One show I’ve always been genuinely excited about and hopeful about the possibility of it getting picked up is “The Six Most Metal Breweries,” as a show combining metal and craft beer would really be a dream for me to watch. You can watch the pilot here, by the way, which is a really fun visit with KCBC and a dive into the show’s collaboration with the brewery and Greenpoint metal bar and venue Saint Vitus to make Morbid Hour, a black pilsner. In my own personal utopia, I’d catch up on “The Six Most Metal Breweries” on 2007-era Fuse, right before cruising into “Uranium.”
You could argue a show about beer and metal might struggle with how niche it is, and maybe the answer lies in compromising some of the metal to get a beer travel show on the air. But then, is even a general craft beer show too niche? We have to remind ourselves all the time that the population of people who really give a damn about craft beer is smaller than we often realize. I’d argue back to that, though, that there are enough craft beer-interested folks out there to warrant a show. With all the streamers out there, it’s a golden age of niche TV. Long gone are the days when TV shows’ survival hinged on consistently huge ratings, expected from big audiences tuning in to a few networks. In 2021, a record was set when we hit 1,923 different available series between broadcast, cable, and streaming. 1,923! And not one of them a beer travel show?
The only bone we’ve ever been thrown, the only time a major streamer has ever said, “Oh, hey, there’s a segment out there who likes craft beer, I guess?” is the scripted series “Brews Brothers.” Unacceptable! A travesty! Why did creator Greg Schaffer do this and what did we as craft beer drinkers ever do to him? (I’ve also been thinking about forcing myself to re-watch “Brews Brothers” as a punishing binge and take notes, honk if you want this in the newsletter.)
If niche-ness isn’t a problem, then what’s the hold-up? Is it, as someone mentioned in the Twitter conversation, the fact that Americans are still all weird about alcohol? I hate that but I’m sure it’s absolutely part of the problem. But I’m still hopeful that someone will come along and finally give a beer travel show the green light it deserves—and us beer fans the content we deserve.
Please, Sir, Can I Have Some…Less?
Earlier this week, I posed a question on Twitter: How important is it for a taproom or beer bar to offer different—specifically, smaller—pour sizes?
As a human looking to try as much beer as I can for both business and pleasure without at best dying and at worst embarrassing myself, I’m always after those smaller pours. I simply can’t try as much beer if I’m limited to pints. And there are so, so many other reasons a smaller pour option might work for others. Health reasons, a wellness-minded pursuit of moderation, having to drive, needing to get to other things in the day, and so on. I was surprised to find a lot of breweries in LA, where you have to drive everywhere, did not offer smaller sizes. I asked about it at one spot in case I was missing something and the bartender scoffed and said, “You can order a pint and not finish it.” Lol ok cool thanks bro.
To me, this has always felt like yet another point of inclusivity and accessibility in the taproom and bar space. As we have talked about things like gender-neutral restrooms and spaces designed to welcome neurodiverse people or people with anxiety, I believe different pour size options welcome those with different health needs and life needs. And I think a lot of you feel the same way—65 of you voted on the Twitter poll and 92.3% were for different options compared to 7.7% saying you’d always be going full-size, anyway. And in the comments, you offered different reasons you appreciate small pours. What I wondered was, am I missing something when it comes to why a taproom or bar might not offer smaller pours?
Stasia Brewczynski pointed out the increased labor behind pouring a flight, which makes perfect sense.
There’s a whole, much bigger and more complicated conversation about craft beer costs here, weighing supply chain issues and the necessity of paying staff well against the prices that can act as a barrier of entry to many would-be craft drinkers. But for now, to keep focus on this specific topic, I’ll say that it absolutely tracks for flights to be more expensive. They are indeed more work! It’s the same reason I understand and respect when breweries have signs saying that they can’t pour flights when the taproom’s especially busy.
There was some talk about flights in this Twitter chat—honestly flights get a lot of hate that I don’t really understand. I see them as great ways to get to know a new-to-you brewery, and equally great ways for people to learn about beer, and I view snobbery toward them similarly to how I view general beer style preference snobbery and flavor and aroma descriptor snobbery. But, I definitely don’t think they necessarily work for every venue, nor do I think they’re always doable. Offering half-pour options on their own seems like a simpler, more straightforward approach.
Owner of Williamsburg bottle shop + bar Beer Karma Dan Lamonaca noted one hitch there:
I see it. Again, I’m imagining set size options across the board to avoid that confusion—I’m thinking of spots that do this like Beer Street South in Brooklyn and As Is in Manhattan. But then, that understandably comes back to having space for big, clear signage for all those beers, enough staff, etc. As with all measures a taproom or bar can take to continue improving inclusivity, this one’s not as easy as it sounds. But I think enough beer drinkers would appreciate it and feel welcomed by the smaller pour option, and so if a spot can, it would be great to see that effort.
This week, I pulled Strength.
This card summons strength, of course, but also courage and compassion. Who among us couldn’t use this card right now? Strength refers to inner strength, and bravery. It tells you that despite any self-doubts, you can confront whatever challenges you are facing. You might want to break—you might deserve to break—but you can do this. You can persevere. And that could be for a daunting life change, or calling on your endurance to get through a tough time, or being loyal to a friend or cause even when you feel alone doing so, or speaking truth to power.
You don’t need to listen to naysayers, you don’t need to listen to your own little insidious voice of insecurity in your own head. Play all the music that makes you feel like the—I know we hate this term but I swear it works here—badass you are. Tackle those life moments, take down the establishment, love the people in your life even when they make it fucking maddening to do it. When you come out on the other side, you’ll feel like even I, who loathes working out, can admit it feels to finish a brutal workout. You’ll be exhilarated, goddamned proud of yourself, on top of the world. It’ll be that good ache, you know what I mean? And you’ll channel all of that to help others around you find the same strength.
If you’re in the UK, Bristol Beer Factory has a delightful sounding amber ale called Fortitude, “a bitter with attitude,” and that beer sounds right here in both name and spirit.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
“No More Auteurs — Can Alternative Ownership Save Craft Beer from the Cult of the Singular Male Genius?” by Holly Regan and Jerard Fagerberg for Good Beer Hunting is a fascinating read about new models in the brewing world, from co-ops to incubators, and how they dilute the rock-star-syndrome narrative in craft beer and also help provide resources to people who normally can’t access them—in a sense, breaking away at that pattern of straight white dudes having the means to start a brewery and then hiring other people like them in their own circles. Potentially an exciting new chapter in this industry, for sure, and this story is incredibly comprehensive and well reported.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Cool-kid brewery Cantina Cantina was popping up at spots like Beer Street South and BierWax this weekend, and I enjoyed the Blurry Wishes DIPA at the latter. For the third year running, drinking a top-notch beer in the middle of Vanderbilt Avenue as part of the Open Streets program while bands play and people are generally just out having a lovely time has come to signal the start of summer in a really nice way.
Until next week, here’s Darby laying on the charm at Other Half this past weekend.