Anyone that has spent a few minutes perusing the videos at the website for BrewDogs’ website knows that owners James Watt and Martin Dickie are a bit eccentric. Those very eccentricities are what drew producers Steve Stockman, Chris Burke and Jared Cotton of Custom/Redtail Partners LLC to reach out to them for a new beer-centered television program for the Esquire Network.
“It has to be put into the context of the UK,” Watts said when asked about their image. “The UK doesn’t have anything like the craft beer culture that you’ve got in the U.S. In the UK before 2007, you had two options; you could have industrial generic beer or you could have cask beer. We just didn’t have the excitement, the diversity, or the innovation that was happening in the U.S. So, we wanted to capture some of that.”
According to Watts, the UK beer scene was stuffy and overly conservative; cask ales and bitters and big name brewers who wanted to keep it that way dominated it. Indeed there are legions of cask ale fans led by the Campaign for Real Ale, also known as CAMRA, that shudder at the very thought of changing the status quo. But, throughout the British Isles, there is a growing movement for American-style craft beers.
“A lot of what we did was designed to shake it up,” Watts continued. “How we could sort of cut through that clutter was by doing things that were a bit edgy, a bit provocative and a bit controversial. We had fun doing them and we did them for the sake of getting more people enjoying craft beer in the UK.”
Some of the methods BrewDogs’ founders caught the attention of the UK and the world includes creating some of the world’s strongest beers. It began with a beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which weighed in at an outrageous 32 percent ABV and ended with the almost unimaginably strong End of the World that garnered an ABV of 55 percent.
Brewed through a process known as ice-distillation in which the fermented beer is frozen leaving mostly alcohol and removing the diluting water, End of the World has the distinction of having been packaged in stuffed animals much to the ire of animal groups everywhere.
Long the bane of UK drinks industry watchdog the Portman Group, BrewDog challenged allegations that they had breached the Code of Practice set forth by the group that is mostly funded by large beverage corporations. After successfully clearing their name, Watts and Dickie set out to, “…give them something worth banning us for,” and introduced a beer named Speedball after the drug practice. Portman promptly banned the brew and BrewDog renamed it Dogma, but not after getting considerable marketing mileage out of the situation.
Another way the pair got their story out was via videos they shot themselves and posted to their website. The videos, mostly less than five minutes in length, center on the outlandish personalities of the two friends and their struggles to remain at the peak of the craft beer scene in the UK.
“We just made them ourselves,” Watts said. “The production company saw the video content and quite liked it. We got in touch, then we put together a pilot episode and pitched to a few networks. We were lucky enough that the Esquire Network liked it and so we decided to go ahead and make the show.”
The program set to begin airing September 24, centers around Watts and Dickie as they travel around the US meeting with brewers, beer enthusiasts and passers-by. “We took craft beer out to people and places who might not normally drink craft beer like old folks homes, busses, golf courses. It was all part of our mission. Hopefully people will think it is funny and enjoy it.”
When asked how they arrived at some of the show ideas, Watts replied in characteristic style. “Well, we’ve got a lot of messed up things in our heads. We wanted to do things that were a little audacious, we wanted to push the boundaries, to push the envelope and do some things that had never been done before. “
From a quick look at the episode descriptions, boundaries have definitely been pushed. Currently there are seven episodes, each based in and around a particular city. In each city, the Scots team up with a local brewery to make a beer, often in very unorthodox fashion.
In San Diego, Calif. for instance, the Scots board a train traveling 70 mph up the Pacific coast and brew a beer with kelp and the world’s hottest pepper. In Seattle, they create the world’s most caffeinated beer on the top deck of the Bainbridge Island Ferry. In addition, in Portland, they brew a Berlinerweiss while floating down the Willamette River in a raft made of beer kegs.
However, perhaps the most iconic beer Watts and Dickie made while in the U.S. was the one they brewed in Philadelphia.
“We wanted to make the ultimate American beer,’ Watts explained. “We brewed it on the fourth of July. We found an old recipe and also worked with a DNA expert who encoded the Declaration of Independence 330 million times onto DNA which we added to the beer.”
As a tribute to the US, a beer with 330 million copies of the Declaration of Independence ranks pretty high.
A particularly poignant component to making the show for the brewers from Scotland was that the show gave them the opportunity to visit and participate in the craft beer scene in America first hand.
“We were massively inspired by the new wave of American beers back in 2007 when we started out as just two humans and a dog. The cool thing about the show is that we were able to visit and make beer with the people who inspired us to quit our day jobs and start making beer in the first place.”
Back in the UK, the craft beer scene is just starting to take off. Over the past few years, small breweries have been starting up and making some remarkable beers. “It’s definitely changing over in the UK,” Watts said. “And it’s so much fun to be part of that change.”
“We’re insanely passionate about what we do. We are on a mission to find other people who are as passionate as we are.” Watts said as the reason the show is based in America. “We came out to the U.S. because the whole craft beer movement is so far ahead. There are so many beers and styles. It’s a fun place to hang out.”