Review: Brew Dogs – Esquire network’s new brewing adventure

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I am no entertainment critic. I am barely a beer critic. But I decided after watching a recent episode of Esquire Network’s Brew Dogs that I would like to share my thoughts.

Brew Dogs is a show on the newly formed Esquire Network hosted by James Watt and Martin Dickie, the founders of BrewDog brewery in the United Kingdom. While BrewDog is a UK company, they have more in common with craft breweries in the US, than they have in common with many of their European counterparts. BrewDog has a history of setting records, and extreme brewing methods that have never been done before. Not all of the beer that they produce is a winner though. But I guess that goes with the territory with experimenting in extreme brewing.

It also seems that when a television producer sets out to make a show that involves brewing beer, extreme is very attractive. A few years ago, the Discovery Channel had the only other modern television show I can remember about brewing. That show, Brew Masters, used the extreme brewing methods of Sam Calagione to bring brewing to the living rooms of America. Unfortunately Brew Masters never completed its first season. There is a lot of speculation about why Brew Masters was pulled, ranging from something as simple as ratings, to elaborate conspiracies involving major advertisers (ahem Budweiser) pulling ads because the show featured a popular craft brewer. Both are possible, I would like the latter to be true, only because conspiracy stories are lot more interesting.

Courtesy Esquire
Courtesy Esquire

Common sense says that the show was pulled because of ratings. In a recent conversation with David Padrusch, VP Production/Development at the Travel Channel he helped me understand some of the troubles Brew Masters had, and what trouble Brew Dogs might have. “Networks are afraid of shows about brewing and booze,” Padrusch stated. He continued, “Shows about food you can see everything. Cheese melting, things oozing, but with booze, it’s just a brown liquid in a glass.” He went on to say, “I am not saying that a show about booze can’t work, it’s just that no one has figured it out.”

Brew Dogs hopes to make their show succeed where others have failed. Mostly by being more inventive than previous shows about beer, and bringing things to a smaller, more personal scale. Brew Dogs seems to pull from shows like Top Gear, Myth Busters, and a little Three Sheets. They use challenges, experiments, and connections with people to drive the show.

Each episode has a similar formula. James Watt and Martin Dickie arrive in the host city, and introduce themselves to a local brewery owner. They drink a few of the locally brewed favorites while discussing how they are going to brew a beer that has contains the spirit of the host city. Putting the spirit of an area into a beer can be tricky, and that is where science and crazy challenges develop. After making an initial plan for their brew they venture out to convert some craft beer virgins. Here they feature some of the best of local brews and give it to people that claim to have little knowledge of craft beer. The beer that they use to educate the craft beer virgins with are some wonderful brews too. A few I have certainly salivated over.

Each episode they travel around the local area to take part in activities that highlight their location and they also meet with local restaurants and provide pairing examples. The standardized format, and having the show be as much about the city as it is about brewing makes it very engaging. James and Martin are also great hosts. They are extremely knowledgeable about brewing and beer, but still manage to engage people with their humor, and down to earth personalities. There is only one problem with them. They can be a little hard to understand. And when I say a little hard to understand it may be a significant understatement. A Scottish accent, while fun, can at times be near impossible to understand.

Accents aside the show is really well done. The experiments are often a little silly, but add both humor and adventure to the show. This past week’s episode they were attempting a beer that would encompass the spirit of Colorado and the Wild West. They decided that the best way to do this was to brew a Meat Smoked Pale Ale with Prickly Pear Cactus. To top it off this beer would be brewed by only using the power of the sun. Anyone that has made a cup of tea knows that boiling only a small amount of water would be difficult using only the sun. Now imagine trying to boil 5+ gallons of water only using the power of the sun. Oh, and no solar panels either. Of course to make this a little easier you could raise your elevation to reduce boiling temps. And that is exactly what they did. James, Martin, and their team traveled to the summit of Mt. Evans to an elevation of about 14,000 feet to brew beer from the sun. I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, so I will stop here. The complexity in their creations make the brewing that much more compelling. And they are also brewing at a homebrew scale, which feels much more attainable.

The end of each episode is a tasting party thrown by The Brew Dogs, and the host brewery to sample the beer they just brewed. The attendees are then asked to raise their glasses, and announce if they liked or disliked the beer in unison. And of course they like it, it’s television. As for the show? I like it. I raise a glass each week while watching James and Martin. I hope this show sticks around for a little while. With the variety of substance in the show I have a feeling it can make it.

Brew Dogs season one has a two episodes left this season. A quick conversation that I had with Executive Producer Steve Stockman revealed that they have enough ideas to keep them going for many more seasons. So if you want to see more of Brew Dogs, watch, and get your friends to watch. This is the best beer focused show I have seen to date. As many said when Brew Dogs debuted, if this show can’t make it, none can. While that might be a bit of an over statement, this is a well produced and entertaining show that should remain on the air for at least a few years.

Make sure to check out next week’s episode from Portland, Oregon where they will be brewing an Unhopped (Gruit) Berliner-Weiss on a raft. Sounds awesome. Brew Dogs can be seen each Tuesday at 10pm on the Esquire network. If you can’t have the Esquire network full episodes can been seen on YouTube!

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