Watch the 1989 Beer Hunter TV Series at Leeds Beer Week

Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

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

  1. 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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