More Than Just Drinking: A Review of Brew Dogs

Posted: 14th October 2013 by Brian in Beer, Television

© 2013 Esquire Network

It’s no secret to listeners of the Podwits Podcast that I’m a craft beer guy.

I wanted to be a wine guy. The way wine was always spoken of in magazines and on TV made it sound like an exciting world of flavors and experiences that I’d never finish exploring. Sadly, though, no matter how much I read or how many different wines I tried, in the end most of them kinda tasted the same to me. I still enjoy a glass of wine, but not the way I always wanted to. (There’s mounting evidence that I’m not alone in this.)

I found what I was looking for—that experience of variety and discovery of flavors and aromas—when I discovered craft beer. In the ever-growing number of small- to medium-sized breweries operating outside the giant industrialized mega-breweries that most people are familiar with (like Anheuser Busch or Coors), independently-minded folks are adding creativity and passion to the traditional ingredients of malted barley, hops and yeast. They’re not only exploring the rich traditions of the ancient art of brewing but, in some cases, boldly blowing those traditions away (Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, anyone?)

Now there’s a show that expresses all the varied pleasures of the craft beer scene to a general audience: Brew Dogs, airing Tuesday nights on the new Esquire Network (a/k/a “the network formerly known as the Style Network”).

In the three weeks it’s been on the air, it’s quickly become one of my favorite shows.

© 2013 Esquire Network

© 2013 Esquire Network

James Watt and Martin Dickie have well-established bona fides with the beer geek crowd. As the founders of the Scotland-based BrewDog brewery, they’ve spent the last six years earning a well-deserved reputation for being controversial, outrageous and even confrontational. Between their headline-grabbing activism, their ongoing rivalry with Germany’s Schorschbräu brewery to brew the world’s strongest beer ever, and their strange experimental “Abstrakt” beers identified only by a number, Watt and Dickie embody a spirit of fearlessness that is evident in their brewery’s product—or, as they have put it themselves, they brew beer with a punk-rock attitude.

They’re not just brewers, though, as their new TV show makes abundantly clear. They’re fans too, and now they’ve brought their boundless enthusiasm and irreverent attitudes to the United States.

In each episode of Brew Dogs, Watt and Dickie travel to an American city known for its craft beer scene. (So far, they’ve visited San Diego, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, with Seattle coming up on this week’s episode.) While there, they do four things:

  1. They meet with a well-known brewer, and through conversations with that brewer they educate the viewer on what makes that city’s craft beer idiosyncratic and/or unique.
  2. They set out to brew a beer that encapsulates the city and its craft beer identity, deliberately doing so in the most experimental and challenging way possible—for instance, in San Diego they brewed on a moving train to represent that city’s railroad history, and in San Francisco they brewed with water condensed from SF’s famous morning fog.
  3. They meet with a well-known local chef and attempt to find interesting ways of pairing craft beer with the city’s local cuisine, again as entertainingly and outrageously as they can—in San Francisco, they stole beers from a brewpub’s patrons, only to return the beers a short time later accompanied by food from a nearby fine restaurant; in Philly, they went to the famous Federal Donuts to pair local beers with donuts whose glaze was made with the paired beer.
  4. Whenever they have a break in their other antics, they pursue a self-announced mission to “convert one million craft beer virgins.” They’ll visit a nursing home, for instance, or a train station, and try to teach the folks they find there the joys of strange brews.
© 2013 Esquire Network

© 2013 Esquire Network

Based on their reputation, I’d have expected the BrewDog guys to be snarling anarchists ready to spit on people and start a fight at the drop of a beer glass… but Brew Dogs reveals them in fact to be quite an amiable pair of guys, possessed of disarmingly self-deprecating senses of humor and genuine sweetness. They’re great at making friends with beer folks and the “craft beer virgins” alike, and in their cockamamie brewing schemes and hilariously truculent “Beer School” segments (in which they talk about the featured beer style or technique of the week, with maximum attitude) they prove to be adept showmen as well.

My favorite thing about Brew Dogs, though, is that it focuses on all aspects of craft beer culture in ways that are entirely accessible to audiences who aren’t yet fans. They explain the brewing process, not in esoteric or industrial terms, but in ways that make it clear why millions of people see brewing beer as a fun hobby to be done in one’s own home. When Watt and Dickie are endeavoring to convert craft beer virgins or introducing enthusiastic crowds to the mad concoctions they brewed for that episode, they always talk about involving the nose as well as the palate (something that has greatly enhanced by own beer enjoyment over the years).

Put simply, Brew Dogs informs and entertains the beer geek in me in exactly the ways I want it to. I won’t guarantee that it will make a craft beer guy (or gal) out of you. But watch this show, and you will learn not just that craft beer can be fascinating and fun, but why and how it is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got a West Coast-style IPA to go experience. “Hello, how are you…?”