Beer has a complicated relationship with television. It’s often used as comedic fodder, to represent drunkenness or excess, often appearing sloshing around in red plastic cups at wild parties. It’s a far cry from the refined treatment reserved for wine, which, by and large, is depicted as a mark of sophistication. Spirits and cocktails often get a similar treatment, imbibed in chic settings. Even when they’re not, spirits are frequently used as a prop to establish tough guy dominance. Beer? Not so much.
But with the rise of craft beer, local breweries and dedicated bottle shops, we think it’s time to change the narrative of beer in television.
The difference between the ways wine and beer are depicted in scripted television is perhaps most jarring. Take the example of Grand Crew, which premiered in 2021 and airs on Peacock. Set in a wine bar, the sitcom holds an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Venerable comedian Garrett Morris serves as the narrator and sets up the male cast members as multi-layered people whose characters go beyond traditional masculine stereotypes.
The show spends its first episode setting up character quirks and story arcs. It auditions several bars before settling on one—a wine bar called Cru—that serves as its Friends-like Central Perk for full cast conversations. There, the characters gather to chat about love, relationships, dating and marriage, all the while committing to learning more about vino.
Then there’s Netflix’s Brews Brothers (2020), which holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rather than exploring the intricacies of life over a pint, the first episode opens with a “joke” about a sex toy. A minute and a half later, we’re introduced to an alcoholic dog. Over the course of its eight-episode run, the show plays into every trope that goes along with crass beer drinking, from bodily functions to chugging to general sloppiness.
Admittedly, the Netflix series contains hints of what makes for good beer television, such as a brewer’s passion for their work, discussion of beer styles and flavors and the difficulty inherent to running a small business. But anytime the show could have gone high, it chose to go low. It was not renewed for a second season.
Even unscripted television isn’t immune to sullying beer’s good name. In cooking shows, wine reigns supreme (thanks in part to healthy advertising budgets), while beer, if it does make an appearance at all, is often shown during “pub food” segments or is treated to the standard beer-guzzling jokes.
Just take a look at this Emeril Live clip from 2002, from an episode dedicated to cooking with beer. On the menu? Pub fare like English-style fish and chips, of course. Even a slightly more elevated beer braised chicken is the subject of a beer-based punch line. When the cooked bird begins to seep juices, Emeril is quick to make a joke. “It’s wetting on my board!” he laughs. “Then again, it had six beers!”
Yes, these are only a handful of examples, however there haven’t been many beer-centric shows in recent television. But in this beer-obsessed writer’s opinion, these examples are indicative of how beer on the whole is treated on television.
Exceptions to the Rule
One exception that continues to endure is The Beer Hunter, a show that premiered in 1989 in the United Kingdom and then on Discovery in the United States. It followed writer and journalist Michael Jackson as he explored beer traditions, flavors and creators. It elevated the beer conversation on television in a way that has not yet been repeated.
There have been a handful of other beer-themed documentaries released over the last 15 years or so, which often center around craft beer’s rise in popularity, entrepreneurship and struggles. For instance, Bottle Conditioned, released in 2023, gives beer the spotlight it deserves. An exploration of lambic and Belgian brewing traditions, there is dignity in the film that beer rarely gets on the big screen.
Beer TV Moving Forward
What stands out about Grand Crew is that the drinks play an important role in a positive way. While wine is the focus, the cast also sips kombucha, tequila, mixed drinks and beer from a pitcher. When tasting notes are offered, there isn’t mocking, but rather admiration and acceptance. Elevated charcuterie, not bar fare, are on the table.
The show approaches drinks in a friendly, approachable manner, mirroring Hollywood’s positive approach to wine while also leveling the playing field.
There are currently more than 9,000 breweries in the United States. And while it’s true that there are beer snobs, insufferable hop heads and plastic cup enthusiasts alike, beer still deserves a show like Grand Crew or a modern take on Jackson’s show.
Morris ends the first episode of Grand Crew with a wine glass in hand, talking about the characters and the wine. Hollywood would be smart to take his words and apply them to beer: “We got layers, ya’ll,” he says. “Our multitudes got multitudes.”