Brew Masters Puts Craft Beer in the Spotlight

Categories: The Critic
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Sam Calagione hosts Discovery Channel's new show about craft beer, Brew Masters.
All I have to say is, boy, am I thirsty.

Update: Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought the Blue Moon commercials were ridiculous.

Brew Masters, a new television show starring Dogfish Head Beer owner Sam Calagione, debuted last night on Discovery Channel. And it was everything I hoped it would be and more. The first episode was a huge success. It was both fun to watch and informative, opening a portal into the inner workings of a world-class craft brewery in both the day-to-day operations and the process of developing a new beer from start to finish.

The episode began by explaining a little bit about craft beer, as well as what Dogfish's role is in the craft beer revolution. For beer nuts, it was little more than a refresher course. But for craft-beer neophytes, the show handled the difference between Big Beer (read: Bud, Miller) and craft brewers in a way that was easy to understand and down-to-earth.

From there, it launched into the meat of the episode: the creation of an innovative new beer from start to finish. In this case, Calagione visited with an executive from Sony Records to create a new beer to pair with the 40th-anniversary rerelease of legendary jazz musician Miles Davis' seminary album, Bitches Brew. Since the name was already an easy match, it was up to Sam and his head brewers to come up with a blend that would illustrate the creative fusion at play in the eponymous album, all while making sure it tastes damned good. The catch: With the rerelease of Bitches Brew only ten weeks away, Dogfish had to move at light speed to get the beer to market on time. 

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Calagione (middle) and his brewing team put their heads together on how to craft a new beer.
What Brew Masters really excelled at was showing just how Calagione and his madcap brewers start with an idea and end up with a fully functional product. With Bitches Brew, Calagione traveled to Ethiopia Town in Washington, D.C., to stock up on traditional African ingredients like gesho root and unfiltered honey, which would then become the African half of the beer's black and white fusion. In a pretty cool scene that showed how brewers tweak their creations, Calagione sampled a test batch of Bitches Brew at a beer and food pairing event in D.C., then modified the recipe to match the results. By the end of the episode, it was really clear what kind of passion and know-how goes into creating a product like this. You couldn't help but walk away thinking, "Why in the holy hell would anyone drink a Bud when this stuff is out there?"

Brew Masters also put a lens on the inner workings of the Dogfish brewery in Milton, Delaware. We witnessed brewery workers scramble to find a missing valve piece that somehow found its way into one of a thousand bottles of 90 Minute IPA and struggle to clean up a crazy glue spill. We learned that each little problem that arises on the line creates a domino effect that trickles all the way down to the brewing process, creating bottlenecks in packaging and even fermenting. It really gave you a big appreciation for the organization it must take to operate a brewery like this, one that operates with zero inventory and continually churns out more than 20,000 gallons of product per day.

What can we expect from Brew Masters in the future? Well, Calagione and company will travel all over in pursuit of beer throughout the season. They'll take us to Aukland, New Zealand, to co-create a beer with Epic Brewing Co. and to Egypt, where they'll research ancient formulas to craft a new-age beer. Also expect the same tasteful dose of beer history, politics, and background that appeared in the first episode. I personally can't wait to watch more. Beer in hand, of course.

Brew Masters airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. on Discovery Channel.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB

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