Last spring, Men’s Journal introduced readers and fans of Vice-owned TV channel, Viceland to Beerland, a show starring Golden Road Brewing co-founder and president, Meg Gill. In the show, the spunky and spirited Gill journeys across America to meet with some of the country’s most interesting homebrewers.
Men’s Journal learned that Viceland has renewed Beerland for a second season (set to premiere this December), and we chatted with Gill in an exclusive interview to learn more about what’s in store. Turns out, things get a little more serious this time (and a little more extreme).
Among the surprising highlights are a heartwarming cast of homebrewers who are overcoming various forms of adversity—be it immigration, illness, or a recent natural disaster—juxtaposed with the “wild and spicy” scenes we’d expect from Vice and Gill, including, but not limited to, “redneck surfing,” DIY ziplining, and a special visit to a strip club in Portland, Oregon. Watch the trailer below.
CW: I hear Beerland Season 2 has a lot of heartwarming stories.
MG: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy because it’s not typical Vice, but we found some amazing stories. [It starts] in Portland with a gentleman who was diagnosed with ALS about four years ago and sold everything—he decided he should just prepare to die—and realized during that process that he sold his brewing equipment and that was one thing he needed to live. Once he realized that, he bought new brewing equipment and [because] couldn't brew himself confined to wheelchair [...] he engaged with a brewing group to find brewing assistants. [He] dictates every part of the brew, and records every part of the brew so that when he can’t talk anymore, he can play back the recordings. His assistants are learning the brewing process but also the how to live process.
Mark’s his name. He says, “if you’re not doing what you love every day, then you might as well be dead.” And that’s how he has chosen to live the last years of his life. That definitely was the story and the person that put things the most in perspective on the Beerland Season 2 journey.
CW: Wow. Was he a hobbyist or homebrewer for many years?
He was a homebrewer and he was in Japan for work [where he] met his wife. They had plans to open craft brewery in Portland, where he was from and had family, and that’s when he was diagnosed with ALS. Obviously, he couldn't do that anymore, but he continued to homebrew.
CW: Are these medical assistants or beer friends who are helping him out?
MG: They have fulltime jobs and they’re just interested homebrewers who want to learn from Mark because he’s, frankly, so brilliant. What they get out of it is his enormous amount of knowledge and experience.
CW: So they’re volunteers?
MG: They’re volunteers, they’re just like buddies that do the actual manual labor of brewing.
There [are] a lot of great stories this season about folks brewing for reasons that are bigger than just a hobby. In Detroit, we found people [father-and-son duo, Sean and Adrian Murphy] using brewing to ignite, or some might call it reignite, the community and help rebuild parts of Detroit that have definitely seen better days.
CW: Tell me more about this father-son duo in Detroit.
Sean is white and Adrian is biracial, and they’re in a pretty heavy African American part of town. The art gallery they rent space from, basically they brew beer there and the gallery is free, so they bring in the artists, they rent space and the only charge is if you come get their homebrew, they ask for a donation that goes back 100% to the artists. They’re trying to bring back life and community work through the arts, and they’re using their beer as a tool to bring people in.
In one of the scenes, they were redoing a whole garden in the middle of the day on a weekday, and they didn’t know I was coming, nothing was planned with producers for this scene. They’re 100 percent committed to community work, that’s all they do, that’s just them in their element.
CW: And the brewer in Alabama, is he a professional brewer or a homebrewer, too?
Willy Bob is a homebrewer in Alabama [who] works with disabled adults using art therapy. He helps engage disabled adults [who are] living in a tiny government housing area and don’t have anything on the walls to start painting and doing arts and crafts. He’s brewing to raise money to do more of that. There’s a lot of community engagement this season, and a lot of pretty heartwarming stories of the brewers themselves.
And then, I met another woman named Miki who [immigrated] from Japan and has been living in Alabama. She’s an engineer and she brings lot of Japanese culture into her homebrewing group and their parties. We were in the middle of total suburban Birmingham, like through these back country roads into a neighborhood, and in [her] backyard is this Japanese garden, and a sushi bar, and Japanese barbecue, and all her homebrewed beers. [There were] over 100 people there and everybody was what you would expect of white suburban Alabama...She was the only other ethnicity there, so it was pretty entertaining.
CW: So why shift to a more serious season?
I think it’s just the casting talent that we found, it just happened that way, that so many more stories are more serious and more heartfelt. But there still is that fun element to what we’re doing, [like] red neck surfing in Alabama [paddle boarding behind a jetski]. We made a homemade zipline in the Oregon mountains.
I think we had a little more time than Season 1 and a little more direction in that we knew exactly what the format of the show was, so we could spend a little more time with the homebrewers and making sure that their full stories came to life. We also had homebrewers that were willing to share more of their personal stories, which we love.
CW: Do you think it was inspired by the election at all, or the current political climate?
MG: I think everybody and everything is inspired by the current political climate because it’s so in your face, what’s out there every day in the media. Certainly, one could assume that talking about brewing and drinking beer with a brewery owner is bit of a change of pace and a good breath of fresh air for some of these homebrewers in their communities. We’re not trying to be political, we’re trying to bring people together through beer, and all these folks that we met with certainly have that same dream. Beer inspires them and their community, and so I think it’s nice that in a time where we are divided, a tasty beverage can bring folks together.
CW: So what kind of beers is everyone brewing for Beerland Season 2?
MG: It’s kind of all over the place on traditional and innovative styles. I tried a sour beer in Detroit that was made [with] cascara—that’s the shell of the coffee bean that gets discarded—that was made by these two guys who own a coffee roastery outside of Detroit. That was pretty special and pretty innovative. It was a Berliner Weisse base with the cascara added, it gave it kind of a cherry, tart flavor.
In Detroit, on the totally opposite, traditional side I tried a Helles Bock which is a pretty niche-y old traditional German style. It was just phenomenal, all Michigan ingredients, the hops were experimental hops they had, and the beer was just really, really tasty.
[I had] a Tiki Hefe in Alabama, as well as a matcha tea beer from Miki.
In Portland, I was at a commune [where] they found some hops growing in the wild at a local school, and took the hops and put it in a beer to experiment with it, having no idea what the hops were. That was pretty wacky and wild.
CW: Sounds kind of like that crew out in the desert last season.
MG: Less heavy metal and more Burning Man.
CW: You really find some interesting people on these journeys! So, there are four cities this time?
MG: Portland, Alabama, Detroit, and then we were in Florida during Hurricane Irma, so we had to cancel the Miami portion and ended up going to Winter Park, which is outside Orlando, and then to the Sebastian area near Vero Beach. We were doing everything from helping board up houses to going to breweries that were giving out filtered water to people that couldn’t get water because there was no water left in the grocery stores. So that episode is a little different because Irma was a couple of days away. The homebrewers were happy to have us come film, and we put their and the crew’s safety first, but were able to still try two of the groups’ beers. It made for a pretty cool, interesting episode.
CW: I guess that’s something you’ve got to get used to when you’re filming on the road, these unexpected situations can happen.
MG: Yeah, It was a little scary but the homebrewers had been through it before and two of them were lifelong lifeguards who have been lifeguarding on the beach for over 20 years together. They’re EMTs on call and were going into shelter the day after we filmed, and they’re so serious about their prep and educating the public about what to do to get ready that it was.reassuring to be in their hands for a couple of days.
And they put seawater in their beer, so we actually swam out to this reef where they collect water and then dilute and filter it so it’s not as salty. So, one of the beers we made actually had Hurricane Irma salt water in it. And then I shipped some of that water to Golden Road and that Irma relief beer we made, Sunshine State came out couple of weeks later. That was all part of that interaction with those homebrewers. We didn’t market the Sunshine State beer as a Beerland beer because we didn’t want to give away the episode, but those funds are all given to that homebrewing group for an organization that builds houses and finds homes for pets that are abandoned during hurricanes. [100% of the proceeds will go to H.A.L.O Animal No-Kill Rescue Shelter and Habitat for Humanity.
CW: This season really is heartwarming.
MG: I know, totally. There [are] fun moments too. There’s a strip club in Portland where [we had] beers on tap...There’s still wild and spicy stuff in there.
Beerland Season 2 will premiere on Viceland on Thursday, December 7, 2017.