Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Hopper

Gene mentioned in his post last week that:
"I will be watching it (Brew Masters) tonight, and if Nick doesn't touch on it Wednesday (he doesn't have cable television... weird right?), I certainly will next Monday." 
Well sorry to disappoint you Gene, I'm touching it. I'm touching it a lot. Even without cable, I have my ways of accessing content. Let's just say that if you're willing to re-imagine the show when presented with grotesque substitutions and audio that sounds like it's coming from a can on a string you get my drift.

This post saddens me to write; Sam Caligione is a great name in beer and has done tremendous things to bring craft brewing back into the zeitgeist. As man of many talents, he has successfully started a brewing empire, written books, given speeches, and generally been recognized as one of the most prolific figures in the brewing industry. What he and his brewery are not however is compelling source material for a cable show.

Discovery Channel's executives must be great bakers because they are continuously using their cookie cutters to make nearly identical shows. I blame the runaway success of American Chopper for this since it was one of the first to use this format. The differences between a fast-as-hell stainless steel motorcycle and an immovable stainless steel tank of beer do warrant some consideration however. The best way to describe this show as a fan of both Dogfish Head beer and Sam Caligione is as a 43 minute cringe.

Gene sent me an email a few days ago saying the following, so I know he agrees.
"So I've got mixed feelings about brew masters (i dunno if you got the chance to watch it on hulu or something). The information and story is great. But [Mean Thing Removed]. Obviously that opinion of mine is never going to be put on the blogosphere."
I took notes throughout the show and I won't hold back in the hopes that my suggestions may either improve the show and make it tolerable (even without being drunk,) or cause a phoenix to rise from the ashes after it gets cancelled. I think a bulleted list is in order!

  • In shows like "How it's Made" the product is usually shown being assembled from its parts. While extremely boring to me, this show has a niche because the process is interesting enough for old people. With beer manufacturing everything happens over long periods of time inside stainless steel tanks. If the most exciting machine on the premises is a bottle filler, maybe it's not a good idea to film it?
  • Reading the poem that they derived their motto from, which is too long to print on a six pack is probably too long to read verbatim on a cable show.
  • Dogfish is far larger than most other craft breweries, making it look more like a medium sized factory that a craft brewery. It would have been more compelling to see several smaller operations who often use homemade equipment, rather than the stainless steel monoliths in a huge operation.
  • Sam tends to speak slowly, which is acceptable and part of his character. Whenever the camera is not on him, the editors clipped out all his "ums" and pauses, which sounds totally unnatural. 
  • Having a short deadline for an artisan product (the 5 weeks they had to test the beer before a festival) is a horrible premise. The entire point of craft beer is that it takes time and care to get it right. "Race to the finish" is fine for motorcycles but has no place here.
  • If the searching of bottles for a missing vent tube for over five minutes is compelling television, I feel sorry for this country. I know what my next show will be: find where you dropped your wedding ring under the bed at night without your glasses on.
  • In a show about making beer, it shouldn't take 24 minutes to get to the segment where they actually start making it.
  • Saying you want honey with "chunks of bees still in it" is not appetizing. He said this twice!
OK, this list is getting way too long. Let's do the short version for the last bit. This show was a mishmash of incompatible ideas. The jokes weren't funny enough for tv and they devoted waaaaay too much time to Sam's pet-project hip-hop group "Pain Relievas." 

If you saw the hip-hop sketch on "The Office" about paper this was roughly the same, but about beer and without any Dunder Mifflin paraphernalia. They didn't sound horrible without auto tune, but I couldn't tell if he was seriously fishing for a record contract at Sony. With corny lyrics about beer, this novelty could probably aspire to Tom Greene's "Lonely Swedish" at best. I'm not staying "stick to only what you're good at," but I would like to point out how good Michael Jordan was at baseball.

In summary, it hurts me to criticize one of the people I admire most. I'll continue to love Dogfish Head and I haven't lost any respect for Sam. Unfortunately, this show spoiled in the primary fermenter and should be thrown out. It's best to just move on and try again. Any number of great shows about beer are possible, but focusing on a single brewery and trying to fit it into the American Choppers mold is a mistake.

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