And We’re Back

This blog started out as a way for the three of us to keep notes on our brewing, keep recipes, and try to get better as aspiring home brewers. As we continued on drinking, brewing and blogging, this site grew, actually had some good content and maybe one or two readers.

A little over a year ago, I got really busy working full time while taking grad school courses, Nate was working a lot of hours out Vail and Tim had lost his two brew-mates. The content wound down, and one thing lead to another… all of a sudden there was a gap from May 2011 to May 2012. Whoops.

There are a lot of things that have changed in our worlds and the beer world in the hiatus. I’ve still been drinking and brewing, now I’m going to try to get back to the third word of the slogan.

Cheers

Cheers!

What Killed Brew Masters?

Brew Masters on Discovery Channel

Brew Masters

“The Dogfish Show,” as most people I know called it, had a very brief run on The Discovery Channel, as the network chose not to renew the show after its first season. The conspiracy theorists are out in full force, with accusations that Big Beer (those are scare-tactic capital letters) killed the show. Of course, there have been retractions and/or clarifications of that accusation, and even some denials by Big Beer.

So what if they didn’t kill the show? Maybe it was canceled because, quite frankly, it wasn’t a very good show. And if I, as a beer lover (at least enough to write a blog about the stuff, right?) didn’t think the show was very good, what does the average American think about it? Perhaps advertisers simply pulled their ads because they weren’t reaching a wide audience.

Was the show unsalvageable? No. But if it’s going to develop into a worthwhile piece of television, it needs to take fewer than 6 episodes to “find itself.” I saved all the broadcast episodes on DVR, and in the name of clearing space, watched them one final time. That inspired this post, obviously, and also made me think about what could have made Brew Masters a much better show:

  • Everything felt like the “first episode.” A little exposition for new viewers is fine, but every episode felt like I was watching a pilot. That may be because the first two episodes seemingly aired out of order (“Punkin and Portamarillo” was certainly intended to be the pilot, but it aired after “Bitches Brew”), but the problem didn’t get much better as the first season went on. Breaking chronology throughout the season–we saw the treehouse in the first several episodes, then it suddenly arrives, brand-new, at the facility–only added to this effect.
  • Too much focus on artificially-created (or just uninteresting) drama. If a batch of beer has improperly fermented, that’s interesting, and is making the plot revolve around beer. If a machine breaks and drops a component into a mystery bottle, or (ugh) a factory worker spills glue, it is crap. YOU ARE NOT MAKING COMPELLING TV if you’re focusing on such facile and shallow storylines. You ordered the wrong bottles. Great. What in the world made you think I’d watch an hour of TV revolving around that plot point? That’s Factory Drama X, and takes the show away from beer – its raison d’etre.
  • Didn’t let Sam be Sam. A big part of the reason Dogfish Head is so well-known (aside from the beer, of course) is the cult of personality that Sam Calagione has. He’s a personable guy, and just watching him in, for example, Beer Wars, you wanted to befriend the guy. Let him show his personality in the show. Having him narrate was a gross miscalculation, because it took him from “guy the show is about” (good), to “guy who makes the show” (bad, removes his personality). Using testimonial-style narration with the employees – and even Sam – would have been a much better choice. On the same note, have one of his brewing experts – Brian and/or Floris, for example – talk about the science and process behind the beer, not Sam himself.
  • This one might directly contradict the previous point, but I don’t care, because it’s super-important: Don’t rap. The Pain Relievaz sequences were painfully awkward.
  • Personal drama is alright. However, it has to revolve around interesting points. “Sam is kinda neglecting his family on vacation” is not interesting. Sure, it warrants a mention, but not an entire sequence. Same with “OMG THE SCHEDULE IS SOOOOO CRUNCHED!!!” Mention it, and move on. You aren’t creating a true sense of urgency with that; if you couldn’t finish the beer within your timeline, you wouldn’t have an episode about it.
  • This problem would be solved be resolving some of the above, but… too many storylines at once. Jumping around with no cohesion to the episode was a consistent problem. Of course, if we don’t have OMG SPILLED TEH GLUEZ plots, this problem disappears.
  • Lastly (and this kind of ties these points together), the storylines need to be not only about the beer (see above), but also interesting. Sam’s trip to Peru to study Chicha was a very interesting story. His trip to Egypt was also alright. The inspirations for these beers should be 50% of the content of the show, not 5%.

At the beginning of each episode, Sam Calagione said, “Every great beer starts with a great idea.” That should be the purpose of the show – and at times it was.  Too frequently, however, it was about day-to-day drama that was unrelated or barely related to the beer. If I want to watch “American Workplace Reality Drama,” I can do that in a myriad of places. If I want to watch “well-made show about the production of craft beer,” well… that show hasn’t been done yet.

Book Review: The Homebrewer’s Companion

The Homebrewer's Companion

The Homebrewer's Companion, by Charlie Papazian

Most of my issues with this book are really not Papazian’s fault at all. It was included as part of a beginner’s brewing kit by a local store – and it definitely is not a beginner’s brewing book.

That’s not to say it’s difficult to read, or even to understand, but it isn’t organized as a step-by-step process to completing your first brew, and then advancing from there. Though Papzian hits basics at various points in the book, a general understanding of how to brew a batch of beer is probably required unless you want to read the whole book multiple times before you can even get started. Each section covers a different aspect of the brewing process, and does so from the basics to some of the more advanced homebrewing techniques within that category.

Still, some of the organization issues persist even when the reader has a better understanding of the brewing process. Tangents abound, and sometimes there’s an abrupt change of subject that even this now-experienced (this was the first brewing book I read, but that was over a year and 20-some batches ago) finds tedious, or even scatterbrained. And scatterbrained might be an important part of the Cult of Personality that Papazian has built his homebrewing reputation upon. Still, too often “I could continue explaining this to you, but wouldn’t you rather be drinking?” is dropped, when the reader is obviously interested in finding out the details – hence picking up a brewing book, dude.

The final hundred pages or so contain recipes for various brews that Papazian has crafted over the years, often with creative nicknames (“dfhdgh” is one of my favorites). Those recipes are reference points more than anything for advanced brewers, though, continuing with the theme of Papazian not picking out an audience (experienced or beginner) and sticking to it. There are very few all-grain recipes, a source of frustration for those who are branching out a bit.

At the end of the day, this book is a fun read, a relatively easy read, but certainly not an essential one. Don’t pick it up if you’re trying to learn how to brew for the first time – go with one of Papazian’s other offerings. Don’t pick it up if you’re trying to take your brewing to serious new levels (though his breakdown of various all-grain mashing techniques is very good), either. However, as part of a more complete brewing library, or just as a fun read about homebrewing, it’s worthwhile.

If you’re interested in purchasing, do so through this Amazon affiliate link: The Homebrewer’s Companion

Michigan Liquor Laws a-Changin’?

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

J-Grans Hates Beer

Election season has been past us for over a week now (and this news item is slightly older than that), but as a Michigander and beer lover, it’s relevant nonetheless. Jennifer Granholm, the outgoing Governor of the State of Michigan recently vetoed a change to the state’s liquor control laws that would have allowed Sunday morning liquor sales. She didn’t agree with a trio of provisions also included in the bill:

  • Allowing package liquor stores to give free samples of beer and wine, up to 9oz. in size.
  • Allow restaurants to provide their own alcohol to off-site catering events (presumably purchased at wholesale). They previously had to buy from retailers.
  • Allowing culinary arts programs at universities and community colleges to apply for a limited liquor license. Granholm said this provision may have been unconstitutional.

All three provisions seem reasonable to me – though I’m no law-talker, and if the reason for prohibiting the third provision listed is unconstitutional, then so be it. I also understand if retail liquor outlets pushed back against the second provision, unfair though the current state of affairs may seem.

My biggest issue is with the first taboo provision, about in-store sampling. As regular readers may be aware, I recently returned from a trip to Pennsylvania – a state notorious for its unfairly puritanical liquor laws (you literally cannot buy alcohol in a grocery store. What the hell?). Even in the Quaker State, sampling in stores and bars is allowed, and for it to be prohibited in a state that is supposedly beer-friendly is ridiculous. Granholm stated that 9 ounces was too large a sample size, but this is political posturing. The sampling itself, and not the size, was her issue – and that ain’t right.

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Fortunately for denizens of (and visitors to) The Great Beer State, a new version of the Sunday Sales bill is close to passing. The 52-page bill includes some of the original provisions – though definitely NOT the culinary school exception – and has Granholm’s support. For a mere $160 a year, outlets can now get an extra 5 hours of sale every Sunday morning.

Merchants without liquor licenses or on-premises consumption can also hold tastings (3oz. samples, and no more than three per customer in a given 24-hour period, a specific “tasting license” must be granted by the state), a step in the right direction.

To read the full text, head to House Bill 6224.