As one might venture to guess, Discovery’s latest reality series “Brew Masters” is about one thing: beer — lots and lots of beer.
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The series centers on Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head, a craft brewery that specializes in custom beer. From 2,700-year-old Turkish recipes to a St. Patrick’s Day formula that incorporates pond scum to turn beer green, this Delaware-based brewery will go to any length to achieve the desired product. Its mission, as emphasized by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that hangs prominently within its factory, is to create something that’s never existed before. And yet with a subject matter as narrow as beer and only beer, there’s little room in the show for a compelling story, making this brewery a decidedly dull one to watch.
The premiere begins in a somewhat promising manner. Sony Records calls with a job for Dogfish Head: create a beer commemorating the 40th anniversary of the legendary Miles Davis album “Bitches Brew.” From here, Calagione and the Dogfish Head employees work to create the perfect beer to coincide with the re-release of the jazz album. This takes them through the subsequent steps of purchasing ingredients, the science behind brewing, the factory work (and yes, this means all the not-so-fun nuts and bolts of an assembly line) and a meeting with Davis’s nephew, who has the final say on any drink that puts his uncle on the label. The end product fuses honey and gesho root, a combination of African and American ingredients to mirror the music that Davis played so famously.
However, “Brew Masters” fails to show any of the onscreen camaraderie and banter that made the other Discovery series like “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs” so successful. Calagione, who also serves as narrator, seems awkward and stiff outside his comfort zone as head of the brewery. His jokes, like “Beer is quintessentially American, I mean, that’s why they landed on Plymouth Rock,” fall flat and appear out of place in the larger context of the show. Additional attempts to prove their entertainment worth are just absurd — Calagione and his partner Bryan Selders unfortunately feel compelled to demonstrate mediocre rap skills with clips from their hip-hop group, the “Pain Relievers.”
The show finds footing only when depicting the process of brewing quality craft beer. The few scenes describing how to design this new drink in a matter of weeks are intriguing and educational. Additionally, craft breweries are independent of “Big Beer,” which Calagione says pulls in 95 percent of beer-drinkers nationwide. The economics behind this dynamic give Dogfish Head the romantic air of the little guys struggling against the corporate machine. In this sense, “Brewmasters” becomes a metaphor — it uses a privately owned brewery to parallel the modern American Dream.
Unfortunately, this idea is only glossed over. The series as it stands needs major reconfiguring. At the moment, we have a jumbled assortment of historical beer tidbits, unnecessary narration, hip-hop performances and a factory full of workers who seem a bit puzzled as to why cameras are all of a sudden following them around. We, the audience, are equally puzzled.