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Discovery gives us another reason to miss Michael Jackson

A couple of minutes into watching Discovery’s Channel’s “How Stuff Works” show on beer last night I was wishing my mother-in-law had Internet access to I could read what was being typed on Twitter and comment myself. Did he really just say Sierra Nevada produced 750 barrels a year (rather than 750,000)? When did Germany and the UK discontinue brewing?

Oh, how the times have changed.

Our family watched the show with particular anticipation because when we were in Prague last month Evan Rail had Sierra nearly falling off her chair in laughter by telling stories about the filming process when he joined the Discovery production team at nearby Pilsner Urquell. It was exciting to see that Evan didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

But ten minutes into the show Daria announced she was exhausted. Watching the footage at Pilsner Urquell made it quickly apparent how different television is in the Twitter era from twenty years ago when Michael Jackson devoted one of his half-hour Beer Hunter segments to the brewery. What last night’s program lacked in fact checking it tried to make up for with glossy magazine production.

How many times did we see Jim Koch of Samuel Adams sticking his face into freshly rubbed hops or at a brewing kettle? Or footage at Yuengling? Or mugs of Budweiser Budvar being poured? Or Steve Dresler of Sierra Nevada at work? Maybe I got lost in the blur &#151 everything kept moving so fast, I figured if there were a test I was screwed &#151 but I don’t think any of them was ever identified.

Perhaps that’s what happens when you try to do too much in an hour. Or when you are producing for 140-character attention spans. This was Beer 101 and more (“We talk to the experts, brew masters and beer connoisseurs about how they’re innovating new ways to make beer”). It made wish I could haul out my tapes, also from Discovery and packed away at our New Mexico home, of Jackson’s epic series. It’s hard to believe it consisted of just six half-hour segments, because he sure packed in a lot of information. And because, in retrospect, of its impact.

The production quality was plenty hip for the late ’80s — Michael took a particular pride in that — but the pace certainly was different. Maybe it was just Michael’s British accent, but his presentation seemed not only authoritative but educational. And pretty much from the time it aired in the United States until his death he was asked when the next series would come out.

He answered the question at his website in 1999, indicating he was ready to take on the task if somebody offered.

The Beer Hunter meanwhile achieved very respectable ratings, was positively and widely reviewed, sold extensively overseas and won a Glenfiddich Award for Television. Since then, there have been endless discussions with assorted networks, including Channel 4, Discovery, several strands of the BBC and A&E. As none has dismissed the idea, each discussion has lasted for many months before finally fizzling.

Watching the show last night I realized they’d probably never give Michael the freedom he had back then, for instance to devote minutes or even seconds to Anchor Brewing employees sitting around a campfire during a company outing. He’d likely be an on-screen star, but a producer?

There’s a thought. Imagine how he’d present Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds Brewing or German Reunification Day in Neuhaus. Think about how he might “mash up” footage from Pilsner Urquell shot in 1988 and 2008. Or . . . I’ve got to quit, because it ain’t gonna happen.


Dang. Dang. Dang.


3 Responses to Discovery gives us another reason to miss Michael Jackson

  1. SteveH December 19, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    “It made wish I could haul out my tapes, also from Discovery and packed away at our New Mexico home, of Jackson’s epic series.”

    Makes me wish I could remember who I leant my copies to… who didn’t return them. >:(

    As to why the Beer Hunter seemed so cool to us at the time, maybe because no one else had ever done it? It was like he brought his World Guides to life and we were seeing our passion on-screen, where it had never been shown!

    Figures that Discovery dropped the ball somewhat. No one really has that early passion Michael had, that jump-started we old fogies!

  2. Kristen England December 19, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    I watched that thing last night also. It was a trainwreck but I couldn’t look away.

    That home brewer with his dirty hands all over the business end of the racking cane. Their BS facts. It was news to me that if a brewery made under TWO MILLION barrels a year are considered craft brewers. The best was the straight crap about Dogfish heads Theobromawtfever. Wow, what a POS recipe. The dude was standing dumping paprika into the thing. “It would have been red!” Sure buddy. This was also the first time that I’ve ever head Sam C talk in real person. I’ve read both of his books (meh). Man the dude has one of the BEST meathead accents/vernacular I have ever heard. ‘If we can catch up to it and run it over, we’ll put it in beer.’ Keep reaching for the stars sammy…

  3. Robbie Pickering December 30, 2008 at 7:01 am #

    I still know bits of that commentary off by heart. “Brewers everywhere else think [Pilsner Urquell] should throw the lot out [wooden fermenters] and get something a bit more modern – preferably in stainless steel. The people at Pilsner Urquell say they won’t.” Sigh…

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