In the opening scene of “Beerland,” Viceland’s new documentary series about homebrewing culture, host Meg Gill finds herself in a bar in Sante Fe, New Mexico. The all-wooden saloon is hand-built by a guy named Cale, who’s a homebrewer by night and certifiable cowboy by day.
“I don’t think I’ve been in a cooler bar,” she tells the camera. “I’m excited to see what goes on here during the daylight and hopefully get a little cowboy in me as well.” After a beat, likely in response to a face one of the crewmen makes, she realizes her gaffe. “Stop, f— you guys!” she yells.
It’s an apt introduction to Gill and to the series. At 32, the founder of L.A.’s Golden Road Brewing is the youngest female brewery owner, according to Forbes. She’s also a Yale grad and former Olympic-bound swimmer. Point is, she’s serious business, but she speaks in an almost stoner Cali drawl (maybe the hops from all those IPAs?) that makes her instantly disarming. From what we’ve seen of “Beerland” so far — a lot of drinking, talking hops, and generally shooting the s— with amateur homebrewers — Gill has the perfect temperament for it.
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In the hybrid travel and competition show, which premieres April 27 on Viceland, Gill travels to six cities around the country, meeting local homebrewers, tasting their recipes and ultimately selecting a winner who will have their beer bottled and distributed by Golden Road Brewing.
“I knew Vice wanted to do an authentic show and would let it be more about the homebrewers and the experience of drinking beer and the community, and less about me, “ Gill, who also serves as a producer on the show, says on a call from L.A. “I’m able to be on camera but then be more like a journalist in a lot of ways.”
In each city she visits, from Sante Fe to Brooklyn, the beer infuses something about the local culture, she says.
For example, “in New Mexico, the Neomexicana hops were so different from any hops out there that I’ve ever tried,” she says. “The aroma was so different from the flavor. Those hops grow in the wild in New Mexico, you can’t buy them like that.”
In New York, the “think differently attitude” of the city, as Gill pegs it, expresses itself in the recipe of a Brooklyn-based anarchist and homebrewer she’s christened “Dailey, the log brewer.”
“Dailey’s brewing with wild yeast — not that you buy, but that you find outdoors,” she says. “He had taken a log out of a park in Brooklyn and had a hunch there’d be yeast in it, and put it in his beer.”
(I was too skeeved out to ask if it tasted any good).
Beer has been a love for Gill ever since she was little. “When I was a toddler I would go down to the basement and grab my mom a beer while she was cooking dinner and she would give me the first sip as my reward,” she tells me.
Right after college, Gill headed out to Boulder, Colorado, to train for the Olympic trials in swimming. She supported herself working a sales job at a microbrewery called Oskar Blues, but when an accident derailed her training, beer replaced swimming as her main calling. “I saw that this funky, young, very exciting craft brewery in a one stop sign town in Colorado could have a big impact on community,” she remembers. Four years later, in 2011, she founded her own brewing company in L.A.
She describes Golden Road Brewing as “an ambitious, young, sunshine brand that barks at that creative love for the sun the Southern California has through beer.” The beers are flavorful but sessionable — the kind of brews that taste strong, but won’t knock you out if you have more than one. Her go-to beer? “A fresh, fruit-forward pale ale,” she says.
The conversation is inspiring me to drink more beer, but also, to switch it up, do better than grabbing the same craft bottles I find at my closest bodega. How can I learn myself?
Not surprisingly, her advice leans towards cultivating an experience of beer, rather than, say, reading a book about it.
“One of my favorite things to do is go to a local craft beer bar where you know there’s fresh beer on tap,” she suggests. “Bring a few friends and sit down and ask for tasters. The bartenders are likely certified cicerones and will be happy to teach you about beer.” In New York, she names Blind Tiger, the Ginger Man and Astoria Bier and Cheese as favorites.
Although I know it's not the first time she's been asked, I'm wondering, what’s it like being a female entrepreneur in such a male-driven industry?
“I don’t have a great answer, I’m not gonna bulls— you,” she tells me, in what I’m gleaning is typical, straight-shooting Gill fashion. “I was a tomboy growing up, and I’m around a lot of dudes now. It fits my personality. I can deal with it, whatever kind of insensitivities come. There have been times when it hasn’t been easy but now I kinda have more fun with it.”
I’m tempted to categorize her as a “cool girl,” but who am I to assign her a label? Before we get off the phone, she says we should grab a beer next time she’s in New York, and I have no reason to believe she’s being disingenuous. (After all, this is the woman who takes a moment to give me a serious answer when I ask her what's the ideal shower beer. A double or triple IPA, she suggests, because "when the water gets in there, it's OK if it gets diluted a little bit, whereas if you're drinking something super light then you're like, ehh, this is kinda gross.")
As far as what folks will get out of watching "Beerland," Gill just hopes the show will make viewers inspired to learn and imbibe more. “The people who have seen it so far, the one takeaway is ‘Wow, I want to go drink beer. I want to taste beer and I want to learn about beer,’" she says. "It’s pretty cool that it makes people excited about beer, and that’s kinda what we’re going for.”