Microbrew Madness, the Travel Channel’s new craft beer webseries, certainly meets its objective of showcasing the breadth of the nation’s finest fermented product. But like after any night on the town, you come out feeling like you’ve had much too much of a good thing.
There’s an arms race among craft breweries. Across the country—from the Pacific coast, through the mountains and Midwest and down to the sunny southeast—there is a relentless drive among brewers to try and outdo one another in creating quirky yet frankly horrible-sounding beers. Anyone for hemp ale? Pizza beer? Something made with beard yeast? Or Texas Hill Country prickly pears?
Of course not. You may well see people pretending to enjoy them—you may even have done this yourself—but secretly they’re all pining for something a little bit more ordinary to wash the taste of mustard or chocolate syrup out of their mouths.
But it says something that craft breweries feel the need to resort to these gimmicky concoctions. Not that long ago, the mere sight of any amber nectar that hadn’t been pumped out of Milwaukee or Golden, Colo., was worthy of comment. But with craft beer now verging on ubiquitous, mere existence isn’t enough; you need to pull out all stops.
And it’s that ubiquitousness that becomes numbing repetition in Microbrew Madness. While the geographical scope of the series cannot be faulted—16, seven-minute episodes, each featuring a different microbrewery in a different city—you’d have hoped that the threat of every episode being exactly the same would have prompted someone into mixing up the format.
But no. Every brewery seems to have been founded because “there was nowhere to get good beer around here,” they all have a 20-second anecdote about where their name came from, and all offer similar food to match their beers.
This isn’t the fault of the brewers. Although some may think so, none of them are reinventing the wheel. Beer is beer, and by its definition, its creation is pretty standard.
But any differences between the different microbrews are unlikely to be teased out by the four different presenters; none of whom are seemingly articulate enough to describe any of the beers beyond “clear,” “clean,” or “citrus.” Knowledge isn’t everything in these sort of programs, but passion or interest, lacking here, is a necessity. Case in point: George Motz’s Hamburger America, an investigation of a similarly omnipresent subject.
So while it’s great to see all these businesses featured, Microbrew Madness comes across as something of a disservice. Instead of providing some sort of insight into what makes each of its subjects unique, it treats them as if they are all part of a single chain. It makes for a repetitive spectacle and turns the viewing experience into something of a blur—a sensation which, in my drinking experience, is usually followed by a hangover.
Photo via Joel Olives/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)