A Brew Masters Clarification and the Crazy Beer Week That Was…

With many brewers, bar owners, and writers just settling in from a long week at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco, the week was supposed to be relatively quiet. We of course now know that this past week was destined to be one of the craziest that craft beer has experienced in a long time. It started with the news that Anheuser-Busch InBev planned to fully purchase the Goose Island Beer Company. The consumer and industry hand-wringing that followed closely thereafter was as visceral as it was split.

The increasingly hostile debate was, however, abruptly cut short by a rumor from food writer and television show host Anthony Bourdain, who tweeted that the Discovery Channel program Brew Masters, which follows Sam Calagione and the staff at Dogfish Head Craft Ales, was facing internal pressures by a big brewery advertiser.

Immediately, craft beer enthusiasts lit up Twitter and the beer website forums with angry rants against big brewers, mainly Anheuser-Busch InBev, for their perceived interference with their favorite beer show. A few hours after Bourdain’s tweet was noted, I reported via Twitter while in attendance at the annual NERAX fest that the Discovery Channel had canceled Brew Masters.

I’ll be the first to admit that breaking such news via the 140 character limited forum of Twitter, and in the environs of a crowded beer festival, was less than ideal. So after a busy week and weekend, I now have the opportunity to correct some of my language. I initially had tweeted that Discovery had ‘canceled’ Brew Masters. I then followed it up with the text of an email I received from a Discovery Channel media source which stated that the show was not renewed. In a Delaware business journal, Dogfish Head’s Calagione told a reporter:

“It wasn’t canceled,” he said Friday as he returned from celebrations for Wilmington’s new Queen Theatre. He signed up for six episodes, and six episodes will run into the summer, Discovery Channel confirmed to him Friday. “What happens after that has not been determined,” he said.

As I have now learned from talking with people more familiar with the parlance of the television trade, Brew Masters was not ‘canceled’ but was instead not renewed. This ostensibly means that the final sixth episode of the program will foreseeably be aired at some point in the future. I expect that any confusion, to the extent there was any, was clarified by my posting the text of the email I received from the Discovery Channel on the show’s non-renewal.

Now, with this said, the future of Brew Masters appears to be in dispute depending upon whom you speak with. Calagione and Dogfish believe it may come back in some form. The executives at Discovery Channel, however, were clear. Laurie Goldberg, the Executive Vice President for Public Relations for TLC and Discovery Networks told me in an email on Wednesday:

BrewMasters was launched with a lot of marketing support and garnered widespread media coverage, but unfortunately the series did not find a large enough audience so it was not renewed.

In the Delaware business journal article, Calagione acknowledges that the network was “underwhelmed as far as the numbers,” but noted that the program did as well as many other regular Discovery offerings.

Whether the show was canceled due to less than favorable ratings as Discovery suggests, but Calagione disputes in the Delaware journal article, or due to concern or interference (depending upon your point of view) from an advertiser remains to be flushed out. Despite the near complete absence of facts regarding the decision not to renew the program, loyal craft beer enthusiasts, perhaps still infuriated by the Goose Island news, have been exceedingly quick to lay the blame for the demise of Brew Masters squarely on the doorstep on Anheuser-Busch InBev. I haven’t been able to find anyone who has been able to recall whether Anheuser-Busch InBev even advertisers on the network, let alone on the program. But the script already seems to be written for ABI despite any supporting evidence.

What we do know, beyond not much at all, is that MillersCoors advertised its popular Blue Moon product line on the program. So if MillerCoors was the corporate voice behind the hazy Bourdain-veiled threats to Discovery, this begets the question of why the company chose to advertise on the program in the first place, if such programming was otherwise objectionable. And why would it decide to pull its ads after the near-full run of the program?

Whatever the final reasons, which by contractual obligation we’ll likely never know, it seems a bit of a jump for consumers to conclude that Bourdain’s minimal, 140 character Molotov cocktail should be believed, let alone being able to assign blame to a particular brewery. The whole affair has simply provided those so inclined with the opportunity to slag the larger breweries and to revel in the safe insularity of their respective passions. It has also been a loss to level-headed craft beer fans, consumers who have never seen how a craft brewery operates, and for craft brewers and Dogfish Head in particular.

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Why Big Brewers Are Bad For Craft Beer: The Brew Masters Controversy…

Of course, a day or so after I stick my neck out for the big brewers saying they may have turned a corner, writer and television host Anthony Bourdain sent out a couple of bombshell tweets in which he seems to suggest that the Discovery Channel is either holding back or canceling production of the popular beer show Brew Masters due to pressure from its advertisers, namely the big brewers. Now I disdain reporting based solely on quixotic 140 character stabs but these were pretty disturbing allegations. Now MillerCoors has of course heavily invested in advertising on the program for its Blue Moon product, so it would be a curious thing for that company to be involved. But, as I noted, we have next to no information either way. So, of course, the blog and twitterspheres are up in arms, accepting the tweets as gospel, assuming Anheuser Busch InBev is behind the conspiracy, and telling me how wrong I’ve been. As with the Goose Island story, I’ll wait until we have some more information (which I am trying to get now) until we cast all our anti-big beer stones. I will say, however, that if the allegations prove true, it’s a pretty major form of dirty play by the big guys and I expect an absolutely massive backlash to follow, perhaps even from regular, everyday Bud guys and gals.

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