beer festivals beer in fiction / tv

Watch the 1989 Beer Hunter TV Series at Leeds Beer Week

Michael Jackson’s influential TV series about beer isn’t available commercially in the UK but several episodes are going to be shown next week in his native Yorkshire.

It’s being shown as part of Leeds Beer Week which runs from Sunday 28 August to Tuesday 6 September. We saw a Tweet about the Beer Hunter episodes from Sam Congdon (@greenarmysam) and asked him for a bit of background. Here’s what he sent us with a couple of small edits:

Like many others, I watched the Beer Hunter series when it was freely available on YouTube or Vimeo, with Dutch subtitles, about six years ago, and I loved it. It fitted in perfectly with where I was on my ‘beer journey’, after moving to Leeds from Plymouth and finding North Bar. I think I found it online after watching all the available Zak Avery video blogs about classic beers.

It’s probably best I don’t go into where I finally sourced copies of the six Beer Hunter episodes, but since then I can’t fault Channel Four for being so open and willing to let us use these episodes for the events. I needed the expertise of the Leeds Bicycle Film Club (who put on cinema events at The Reliance) to contact the right people and ask the right questions but all Channel Four want is a credit for them and the production company (Hawkshead Ltd) to be visible at the events.

The inspiration for the events at Leeds Beer Week was that I wanted there to be something to remind people of the classic beers that are integral to the start of this beer scene. I remember when I first got into drinking at North Bar I slowly progressed through German, Belgian and US beer styles. It feels now that easy access to amazing beers tends to result in a lot of classic but less fashionable styles being bypassed, and people heading straight for IPAs and sour beers. I think Michael’s legacy is to share the older classic styles in such an eloquent and enthusiastic way that you’re already excited to try the beer before you finally taste it, and I thought that beer drinkers who’d not had a chance to see this series would be inspired, like discovering a band and then checking out the back catalogue.

The other inspiration for the initial event idea was an event based around the 2014 film Chef that Leeds Indie Food Festival have put on at The Belgrave for the past two years. As Jon Favreau makes dishes on screen the Fu-Schnickens team create and serve you the same dishes. When I went to that event I immediately recalled the beer dinner episode of the MJ series and thought, why couldn’t we do a beer version of this?

However my recollection of that episode was a few years old so I needed to source the TV series to see how easy it would be — were the beers still available? How complex was the food? I soon realised that it was far more grandiose than I’d recalled. MJ had a six course meal made by a Michelin starred chef, cooked with beer as an ingredient, and then paired with other beers. And MJ’s guests were brewing legends like Frank Boon, Madame Rose of Rodenbach and Rene Lindeman!

We’d already chosen The Reliance as the venue for the event. It’s a Leeds institution but also has a little cinema room and great food. But it didn’t take long to realise that although the beers could be sourced, the menu was too high-end to put together in ten weeks and would also end up being really expensive.

So instead I watched the other five episodes to see what we could do as an alternative. Thankfully the series was as great as I’d recalled and I found three episodes that could easily fit into an event and also linked into beers the Reliance had been serving for years. So now a beer it’s a beer and TV matching event, taking place on Friday 2 September.

We kept ‘The Burgundies of Belgium’ episode in as it was not only about food and beer matching but also the wonders of wild ales of Belgium, and The Reliance serves classics like Boon Gueuze. Starting the event is the episode ‘Californian Pilgrimage’ where MJ looks at the fast-growing West Coast scene, and takes a beer crawl, via loads of microbreweries and pubs, along the Californian coast with Fritz Maytag and the Anchor team to visit the farm harvesting their annual Christmas Ale crop. The Reliance has Anchor Steam on tap so that linked in well but the episode also highlighted how young the US scene really is and how early MJ was in showcasing it to the world. ‘Our Daily Bread’ explores the Trappist beers of Holland and Belgium, visiting the monks at La Trappe and Chimay as well as looking at the influence these Trappists have had on microbreweries in the Lowlands. It includes a visit to a young Brouwerij ‘t IJ that is definitely on the ‘crafty’ side of the scene nowadays. Orval is one beer that The Reliance has always had on offer, so that fits the Trappist theme.

In the ‘Best of British’ episode MJ explores Real Ale and CAMRA by visiting The Great British Beer Festival. What I’d forgotten until I rewatched it was that GBBF toured back then and, in 1989, took place in Leeds, which fitted perfectly with Leeds Beer Week. We had already planned to put on a historical pub crawl for LBW16 so thought this needed to be shown in a pub linked to real ale and the history of the beer scene. The ideal candidate was the start of the pub crawl, The Grove Inn. Compared to the others on the crawl it’s the youngest (c.1929) but still has its a lot of charm — loads of little alcoves with fitted wooden benches that have been shaped overs years of being sat on and a number of genuine regulars always perched at the bar ordering the same reliable pint of ale. So we’re now showing this episode all day on Saturday September 3 in the back room, on constant rotation from 12-6, so people can just pop in when they want.

If we lived a bit nearer Leeds this would certainly draw us in. If you’re in the area don’t miss the opportunity to see the first superstar beer writer in action.

One reply on “Watch the 1989 Beer Hunter TV Series at Leeds Beer Week”

I am still puzzled as to why this ground-breaking series remains blocked on YouTube. I am equally surprised as to why Channel Four won’t release commercial copies of the series.

Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter was the series responsible for making me want to visit countries like Belgium and cities like Bamberg and Prague. It is criminal that the tapes to this masterpiece should lie gathering dust, somewhere in the vaults at Channel Four, as despite being nearly 30 years old now, the series could still inspire a whole new generation of beer enthusiasts.

Fortunately, I’ve got a copy of the complete series on DVD; not exactly the highest quality, but still perfectly viewable and still very enjoyable.

Here’s to a ground-breaking, and much missed pioneer.

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