One of the things we did during our recent period of Covid isolation was to work our way through the Amazon reality show Beer Masters. It wasn’t a difficult task – there are only five episodes.
Ed Wray’s neat review has prompted us to add a few thoughts.
First, kudos to the producers, Electric Robin, for coming up with a way to make the Bake Off format work for a product which is slow to manufacture.
Our tongue-in-cheek post about TV formats from more than eight years ago was really intended to make the point that we couldn’t see how this could be done.
But, in the end, they found quite a clever mechanism: by keeping all the contestants in until the end, it simultaneously solves the issue of maturing time, while making for a gentler and what feels like a fairer format than the weekly elimination model that we’re all so used to.
This could lend itself to other crafts, too – The Great British Knit Off?
We also really liked that the final challenge required the contestants to make the same beer twice, testing their ability to deliver consistency.
The international cast was also a selling point, despite some occasionally awkward attempts to make the contestants banter in English.
It almost felt like a travel show at times with sequences at homes in France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as filming in breweries in Belgium and Holland. In these sequences, the visuals switched to the slick Netflix documentary style, all drone shots and depth of field.
Jaega Wise made an excellent presenter, not mincing her words when the beer wasn’t up to standard, but always feeling kind and constructive.
Her co-host, James Blunt, filled a thankless role adequately, making the odd joke and asking daft questions on behalf of the layman viewer.
Some commentators have argued that the format removed all tension from the show, and indeed, it did feel at times as if drama was being contrived around, for example, a stuck sparge, or a slightly leaky tap.
Each episode also includes an on-the-day challenge, too. None of these were as interesting as the brewing but did provide a race-against-time quality and allowed the contestants to gather round and look nervous while being judged.
We wondered several times who this was pitched at. As (very) occasional homebrewers, we didn’t feel patronised, or out of our depth. The obvious wasn’t stated too often and there were some interesting insights into other people’s home brewing setups. And there were some extremely relatable moments, such as when one team lost their hop filter in the boiler.
Perhaps, however, they could have spent less time on the somewhat laboured descriptions of what makes an Abbey beer, or a pilsner, and told us a bit more about the contestants’ kits. We could see some interesting gadgets and arrangements that were never really discussed.
If the aim is to spark a home-brewing revolution, as was suggested at a couple of points, then this probably won’t do it.
Of course, you could say that who it was pitched at was the general beer consumer, in a clever piece of stealth advertising by AB-InBev.
All of the commercial beers featured are AB-InBev products, with carefully managed stories designed to highlight their ‘authenticity’ (Camden Hells, Tripel Karmeliet) and/or consistency (Stella Artois).
Some of this was interesting in itself, and it’s hard not to be impressed by professional brewers being professionals. In fact, we thought the explanation of how global quality control was enforced from the Stella Artois mothership was one of the most interesting nuggets in the whole show.
But, ultimately, the presentation of the stories of these beers was downright misleading at times.
We understand why the producers would work with AB-InBev: instant access to a whole raft of brewers and breweries without having to juggle multiple commercial partners. But it was a bit weird that the parent company wasn’t, as far as we noticed, mentioned even once.
Overall, the fact that we’re still talking about it suggests it’s got something about it. Concerns about transparency aside, we hope there’ll be a second series, with some tweaks to the format.