Will “Brew Masters” Last?

Like many of you, I watched the premiere of Brew Masters last night with a craft beer in hand and a big smile on my face.  And like many of you, I enjoyed the show because I’m a fan of Sam and a major beer nerd.  Even if it was a bit of an infomercial, it was great to get a peek behind the scenes, and they did a great job of capturing the renegade spirit of Sam and his gang at Dogfish Head.

But as I watched the show I began to feel a little uneasy.  I had to ask myself, can this show last?  Did they make beer interesting enough to capture an audience of people who aren’t into beer the way I am?

Here’s what has me concerned, in no particular order: 

    • How can beer compete with this?

      Watching last night’s episode was a lot like watching Ace of Cakes. – can Duff/Sam finish his cake/beer in time? The thing is that cakes are visual, which works well on TV.  When Duff whips up a 3D recreation of the Millennium Falcon, you can see it and appreciate how cool it is.  On the other hand, when Sam brews an awesome beer, all you see is liquid in a glass. It’s much harder to appreciate the end result because beer just isn’t visual.  That will get old quick, especially for non-beer nerds.

    • Sam comes across as a really nice guy.  Maybe too nice.  Last night was all smiles – there was no interpersonal conflict, an essential element for a “reality” television show. People didn’t watch American Choppers just for the bikes (which are visual BTW, like cakes) but also for the tension between Paulie and Paul Sr.  Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is fueled by Tony’s biting wit.  Shows like this need moments that make you cringe a bit, and there weren’t any last night.  Sam seems to want to be everybody’s buddy, which is a great way to live, but can make for flat TV.
    • There aren’t enough beer nerds out there to keep this show on the air. Many of us will watch this show just because it’s about beer, but cable shows need bigger numbers than that to stay afloat.  The reason there are three or more (I’ve lost count) shows about logging on TV is because there’s danger, conflict and the possibility for catastrophic failure.  It’s not because people like logs.

I loved last night’s episode, but realize that part of it was because I love and support craft beer.  I’m not sure my mom would watch a second episode. Like the rest of America, she needs drama, conflict and suspense to draw her in. Sam has a magnetic personality and is great on the screen, but I don’t think that charming smile is going to be enough to keep this train rolling, especially when she has no idea who he is.

Bryan adds an element of oddball humor to the show, not to mention mad mic skillz.

But it’s early.  Sam traveled the world while filming, so hopefully his adventures will infuse some excitement into the show.  His friendly demeanor might play well against rude Romans and curious African kids.  Plus shows like this really thrive when they explore another culture.  It was cool to see Bourdain eat his way across Vietnam, and it might be just as cool to see Sam navigating the bazaars of Cairo and haggling for cardamom.

As beer fans, it’s wonderful to see the world’s greatest beverage being celebrated on one of America’s premiere cable channels.  It shows just how far craft beer has come in the last 20 years.  Hopefully Brew Masters will find its legs and stick around for years to come.

What did you think of last night’s episode?  Do you think non-beer nerds will be back for another round?

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39 Comments on “Will “Brew Masters” Last?”

  1. Don
    November 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    This was my worry when I read the Tom Conroy review last week. It is here: http://www.medialifemagazine.com/artman2/publish/TV_Reviews_21/-Brew-Masters-bland-to-the-taste.asp

    But it basically came to the same conclusion as you did, that the show needs a source of conflict, and I’m sorry, but a guy spilling a bottle of labelling glue isn’t going to cut it. I hope they have more up their sleeve, if not, I’m afraid that Brew Masters will be history after 6 episodes.

    • November 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

      It’s still very early and Sam is great on camera. I just hope they get the show on the road (literally) and create some honest moments with Sam navigating other cultures. If they do, it’ll be fine. If they keep the same tone we saw last night, there’s gonna be problems. It needs to be Sam out in the world and not another DFH infomercial.

  2. Evan
    November 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Yeah, a show you you and Don fighting over beer would have been much better 🙂

    And I happen to find logs very interesting, thank you very much.

    • November 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

      Well, you’re in Washington State, Evan, so the log-love makes sense.

    • Don
      November 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

      I think a show about Jim and I doing log roll competition would be great! Then after we both fell off, I would dunk him until he almost choked to death! Just like in the good ol’ days!

  3. BobBu
    November 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I agree with you guys and the reviews of the show. I loved it as well, but it did show like a made-for-tv movie (not on lifetime tho). There wasn’t any suspense or conflict. Getting approached by your pal at Sony isn’t much of a battle/struggle for the protagonist.

    I liked the idea and the accomplishment of it so much so that I txt’d Jim after his bedtime last night to see where I could acquire a bottle of the BB, but I think even with the traveling or finding the ingredients, there isn’t anything to sustain the show.

    Now, if there was only a show out there that had a few guys (preferably 2 … brothers in fact) traveling the country to many breweries to get different perspectives on the beer craft, that would be a home run.

    • November 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

      We’ll see where it goes, Bob. I know Sam enlists the help of some brewer friends along the way, so other breweries will probably be featured, especially with all the collaboration brews DFH does.

      But so far Sam has been in spokesman mode, which is nice, but probably not juicy enough for TV. It can work, but only if they put him around truly nasty or aggressive people. That could make you root for him and cringe a bit, too, which is good.

  4. November 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    I will watch this show until the day it get’s taken off the air. You are right, it is unlikely it will last long without some sort of conflict involved. Which makes me unbelievable sad.

    As a beer nerd any way to consume information about beer is good enough for me. Even without drama! I read about beer, I taste beer, I talk about beer, and now I watch beer TV. Knowing that I am going to lose it because Willy Wife Beater would rather watch a truck slide on ice, or a log fall on a tractor because it makes him feel nervous chaps my a**.

    I remember a day when the Discovery Channel was able to make boring shows about things I cared about with out needing drama to keep them on the air. Too bad those days are gone.

    • November 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

      There are lots of ways to create drama and conflict, even with a nice guy. Look at Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs. He’s nice and they put him in awful situations (that’s your conflict), which allows him to use his gallows humor to entertain us while we learn. It’s laid back, fun and relaxing to watch.

      The first episode of Brew Masters makes it seem unclear if they’ve figured out how to harness Sam’s persona in a way that’s entertaining and informative. Certainly they told us about beer, but I’m hoping they hit their stride once the show starts traveling and put him in the right situations where he can be the nice guy in a tight spot.

  5. SeanH99
    November 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    I enjoyed the show, I for one intend to watch every episode and revel in the beer!
    BUT, while I was watching it I was trying to decide if my wife would sit thru an episode, and I don’t think she would.
    The other side of this is my brother is a huge Miles Davis fan and a casual craft beer guy. He was excited to see the behind the scenes as the how this beer was made and how it ties to Jazz. I have a bottle for him that we will maybe get to drink together on Thanksgiving.

    I have had the good fortune to meet Sam on a couple occasions and he comes across in person as he did on TV which I think is a plus. The show had some educational aspects to it and maybe this could introduce more people to craft beer…Because he is a nice guy that is not in peoples faces I too feel that it will tough to get a non beer geek audience.

    Anybody else notice when they were working out the recipe they had a Life and Limb on the table? I would like to see how they came up with that one too.

    • November 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi Sean, thanks for chiming in!

      I agree that the show is pure pleasure for beer fans, but they’ll need folks like your wife to watch if it’s gonna stick around.

      The example I like best is the British hit show Top Gear. It’s supposed to be a show about cars, but non-car-nerds enjoy it to because of the dynamic between the hosts. There’s conflict, humor, admiration and competition. Top Gear shares a ton of useful information about the cars they drive, but they wrap it in such an entertaining package that you don’t need to love cars to tune in.

      This has made for a show that is seen by 350 million people in 150 countries and is worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars. All from a silly car show.

      For a show about beer to be a hit, it has to do the same. It has to be about characters, conflict and competition surrounding beer. I hope that Brew Masters gets to this point and gets there fast. Otherwise the non-beer-nerd audience will wander off.

  6. Evan
    November 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Mythbusters and Dirty jobs don’t have much for conflict, and they seem to be doing fine.

    • November 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

      Mythbusters has two leads who quietly antagonize each other and regularly compete to see who can do a better job dispelling a myth.

      Dirty Jobs puts Mike Rowe in awful situations so he can use his flair for gallows humor to entertain us.

      In both cases there is conflict or anxiety that is worked through by the end.

  7. Matt
    November 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    I posted this on your other Brew Masters DVR article, but it deserves repeating here since it’s on topic. I agree with the conflict. If they could put a little more “Beer Wars” in the show I think it would do well to reach the heart of America that sees big business as taking over.

    I had mixed feelings about the show. It was way too much DFH and not enough beer culture in general. The constant DFH glass overflow segue shot was a great example. He did a great job priming the show with how beer is made. He even fit in the Reinheitsgebot! It seems the next show is about his brew where the DFH employees all chewed corn to get the natural enzymes to break down the starch. What I wanted from the show is for Sam to travel the world to see craft beer perspective in other regions. What we’re getting in the first two shows is how awesome DFH is.

    You know those people that have to constantly verbalize how awesome they are? They point out every awesome thing they do. They have to share about the amazing places they have been or the great people they know. That’s Sam and crew in the first episode. If you go through life needing to point out that you’re different or innovative it comes across as just needing attention. You just know that he was pissed when they didn’t include his rehearsed sound bite about how he drives his old truck because it’s different and reflects true America. He did manage to fit in that his truck has a top speed of 58mph. Oh, you’re so quirky, Sam! *barf*

    • November 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      I agree. I wish they would let you figure out what DFH and Sam are all about without having to say it out loud. Let the story roll and folks will get it.

      I’m hoping that this was a one time shot, and the future will be about beer, not DFH and not Sam. And if it is, show us how awesome you are, don’t tell us.

  8. November 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    Well, I didn’t watch it.but only because I ditched Cable a long time ago. I used to be a discovery channel junkie before, and in my experience, all these shows have a limited life span. I mean…remember orange county choppers? Sure, it had a decent run, but nothing is forever (besides a diamond).

    I think the fact that beer knurds are a extreme minority doesn’t hurt the show…I’m not a mechanic but I used to love me some Monster Garage. But, I think your first point is extremely well made. Beer looks like beer even if Sam throws monkey nuts into the wort.

    • November 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

      I think Monkey Nuts is episode four!

      I agree that you don’t have to be into the topic to enjoy the show, but it better grab you somehow or it won’t last. I’m hoping things spice up once Sam hits the road.

      And American Choppers might still be limping along, seven years after it launched. And Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters continue to be a draw as well. But you’re right – most of these shows have a limited lifespan or fail outright. I just hope that’s not the case with Brew Masters, because we’d like a shot at a copycat show!

  9. Dave
    November 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I bypassed The Walking Dead to watch the premiere, and couldn’t agree more with your review. The show as constructed doesn’t seem to have mass appeal,which it will need to survive. As a beer geek I would’ve enjoyed it more if they talked a little more in depth about how they formulate a recipe like Bitches Brew, why they thought (or knew) that the combination of flavors would result in an amazing beer. How long did that process take? Who has final say? What would they have done if their test batch was a clunker?

    I’ll continue to watch but I don’t have high hopes for it longevity. The encore presentation of Walking Dead was equally flawed, but at least a bunch of people got eaten at the end. Talk about tension!

    • November 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

      I had to take Walking Dead off of the DVR, as Top Gear USA premiered last night as well. I love the British version of Top Gear, but last night was like watching high school kids play act like TV presenters. Still, there were a couple of moments where I thought “this could turn into something.”

      I had none of those moments during Brew Masters, and that was scary.

      I’ll be watching Walking Dead on demand. like you said, plenty of conflict there. 🙂

  10. DavidO
    November 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    I hope it lasts, but not sure it will. When the episode was over, I had a hard time trying to understand who they were trying to appeal to. It wasn’t home-brewers, and it wasn’t really directed at craft-beer drinkers either. For it to appeal to those groups, they can’t just show a beer and say, “Mmmm that tastes good!” They have to give them information that they can use. New hops, ingredients, recipes, techniques and so on. Sure, they talked about a good amount of things, but it felt really watered down. And, of course, they have to since most people don’t brew beer, but even for non-beer-brewers, I think talking about ‘brewing’ more could spark interests.

    They broke things down very basic visuals, which was cool, but I got the feeling that the show was a bit over done on the visuals. Brewing beer is a dirty, but very rewarding job and I think had they shown the work side of it more, rather than the talking, odd jokes, and general goofiness (rapping, really?) I’d have found it far more interesting.

    What I’m afraid of though, is that they are going to become ‘a reality show’ where the drama/conflict is engineered and completely predictable. There’s plenty that can go wrong in brewing, but they shouldn’t try to make drama, it only degrades the show.

    Look what happens with “axe-men”. A log rolls down hill and they have 15 shots of people diving out of the way, zooming in and out the whole time. Come on, we’re not that dumb.

    Let brew masters be about brewing and leave the stupid reality show elements out of it.

    • November 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

      I’m sure there’s plenty of drama and tension happening at Dogfish Head, I’m just not sure they want to share it. It could certainly add a lot.

      When you look at No Reservation (the show Discovery used as inspiration), Bourdain manages to travel, explore cultures and be very entertaining while doing so. I hope this show finds a way to entertain, inform, and survive.

      Of course, if Don and I had a show, it’d be all sorts of “manufactured” drama, because we couldn’t walk through a brewery without one of us locking the other in brew kettle. This is documented fact. 🙂

  11. November 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    I didn’t watch it (dumped cable like Nate) but they are really pushing the show with ads and such- even online.

    Based on your critique, it sounds interesting but I don’t think I would tune in weekly (if I could). My suggestion, as always, is explosions and gratuitous female nudity. That cake show would be even better if the cakes exploded at the end. Know what I mean?

    • November 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

      I’m with you Scott, especially if the naked lady jumped out first. Otherwise, it’s a god awful mess (and it ruins the frosting!).

  12. Scott
    November 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    I didn’t really care for the show all that much, to be honest. I’m a home brewer and a fan of craft brews (DFH specifically) and was really looking forward to the show… but what we got was a relatively boring infomercial that was almost like a bad episode of American Choppers. (Big company X has project Y that they want a custom [bike/beer] from [DFH/OCC]. Will they get it done in time, will it live up to their standards?)

    I’ll give it another try the next couple of episodes… but if the first show is a sign of what’s to come, I doubt I’ll stick with it very long.

    • November 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

      At least with OCC you could see and hear the final product. With Brew Masters all you see is a glass of beer. Plus the Tuetels fight with each other, which spices stuff up. Not saying I want to see that with Sam, but right now American Choppers is actually a better TV show in some important ways.

  13. November 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    I agree with the conflict thing as well. I like DFH but it would have been nice to hear someone criticize the beer other than Sam. At times it felt like a long Sam Addams commercial where everyone just loves every sip. Also it annoyed the hell out of me that the show was all about bitches brew, a beer that I tried to find since the release date and have failed miserably. It woke up dormant feelings of anger and disappointment.

    • November 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

      Nothing worse than pimping a beer you can’t get. They should have redistributed it for the show so you could actually get some after the infomercial…er…show.

  14. November 22, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    Has anybody had the bitches brew? Does it do the album justice? is it tasty?

    • November 22, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

      We reviewed it on our podcast s couple of months ago. It’s nice, a sweet and mellow stout with earthy notes of honey. Not life changing, but nice.

      You should give a listen, eps pally to hear Don’s redneck take on jazz. It’s classic.

  15. Paul Brown
    November 25, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    My problem with the show, and if it will last, is the beer itself. As a retailer I have had dozens of customers come in to purchase a bottle or two of teh Bitches Brew only to hear that I have none and have no idea if I will be getting any as the amount is very limited on Long Island, NY. We have a big problem getting ANY Dogfish products at all!!! I can only imagine what it will be like in most of the country where even the 60 Minute is totally unavailable. Basically do you want to watch a program touting a brewery that offers the viewer no way of tasting what is being talked about?? Thanks

    • November 26, 2010 at 12:09 am #

      Hey Paul, I agree 100%.

      I didn’t think about it, but since the debut, I’ve received a bunch of inquiries about where folks might pick up some Bitches Brew. Besides the one I may have in my garage, it’s been a tough question. I imagine it’s hell for a beer retailer.

      Maybe point them to another (better) stout. Got Yeti?

      • Paul Brown
        November 27, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

        That is what I am doing with the Bitches Brew situation right now. Thanks

  16. mihcael harris
    November 27, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    If the show needs conflict how about more battles with the big 3 which made Beerwars so good. Oops, never mind, the sponsors would squash that idea. I do think it has a good chance. Everyone I’ve spoken with that watched the show liked it and said they would continue to watch.

    • November 27, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

      I sure hope they figure it out, because I want the show to last. I know beer nerds will watch, but my wife and mother in law both turned it off because they got bored. Too much beer, not enough entertainment. They need to tweak the recipe.

  17. November 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    In what will become one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, my brother, father, and I huddled around the TV at 10:30 or so on Thanksgiving morning to watch it, as my brother had saved it on his DVR just for that occasion. And we each had an O’Fallon Pumpkin (and then after the show, a Buffalo Bill Pumpkin) as the show went on.

    We all thought it was great but bear in mind that my father was far more interested in the mechanics of making the beer and less so with the actual product (he’s a whiskey guy). My brother and I are beer nerds so our enjoyment of it really doesn’t mean anything in the big picture.

    • November 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

      I saw the chicha beer episode last night, and it was a lot better, as Sam traveled to Peru in search of a recipe he liked. It’s a lot better with a moving background.

    • November 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

      BTW, that sounds like a lot of fun. My dad is in Wisconsin and Don’s in Idaho, so it’d be tough for us to gather in front of the TV for anything.

      And if we did, it’d be Fox News, because our dad is part of Glen Beck’s army of scared senior citizens.


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