The Creators of "The League" Made the Great American Beer Comedy With "Brews Brothers"
Comedy veterans Jeff and Greg Schaffer offer up some necessary escapism with their latest
With their eight-episode Netflix show Brews Brothers. TV and film veterans Jeff Schaffer (Seinfeld, co-creator of The League, Curb Your Enthusiasm, EuroTrip) and his brother Greg Schaffer (the original Mad About You, The Goodwin Games, That ‘70s Show) want to make people laugh during this trying time.
The show follows estranged brothers Wilhelm Rodman (played by Orange is the New Black’s Alan Aisenberg) and the self-described beer snob Adam (Mike Castle), who thinks “drinking Bud Light is the most shameful thing I’ve done in my whole life.” They attempt to launch a Van Nuys-based brewery named, aptly, Rodman’s Brewing Company. Along with manager Sarah (Carmen Flood) — the only female lead — and jack of all trades Chuy (The League and Curb’s Marques Ray), the brothers cope with naughty Trappist monks (one is played by comedian Flula Borg), gay Nazi bikers, urine beer, freeing East Belgium, a pushy beer distributor played by The League’s Steve Rannazzisi, dildo-shaped beer bottles, a joke-gone-wrong about quad beers and people with disabilities, a monk who refuses to wash his hands, and a social-distancing nightmare beer initiation. So what’s it like to debut a show during a global pandemic?
“We certainly wanted an audience, but we didn’t mean to start a pandemic to get the audience,” Greg Schaffer, the showrunner and writer of a few episodes, jokes. “It’s a little weird.” Brews Brothers probably won’t spark the kind of online conversation that Tiger King has, but it offers something we need right now: escapism.
“I think it’s great to be able to let off steam for a half-hour or an hour and get back to real life,” Jeff Schaffer, director of a few episodes and executive-producer, tells InsideHook. “Everyone’s so isolated right now. It’s nice to have shows that people can actually talk about. This show is built now to drink alone together.” The brothers hope people will watch the show “together” while drinking their favorite beers and reminiscence to the before times, a month ago, when people could socialize inside breweries. “There were times when we were setting up shots to make a nice sexy beer shots and make people thirsty, but we didn’t realize that the brewery itself would make people jealous,” Greg says. “I think there will be a lot of ‘Oh my god, it’d be so cool to see someone else besides my dog.’”
Because of the current crisis, most breweries across the nation are either closed or only open for carry-out orders. The show’s actors and Netflix have teamed up with Untappd to help promote local breweries and to encourage people to drink their favorites beers while watching the show.
Both of the Schaffers are avid beer drinkers — Greg said he’s a fan of Anderson Valley and Rogue — and when Greg pitched Jeff the idea for the show, Jeff jumped onboard to create his first show with his bro. “I was instantly interested and just not because the asshole brother was an homage to me,” Jeff says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this seems like a great idea.’ For me, it was the next logical step from The League, because what’s more popular than football? Beer.”
Infighting between the Rodmans stems from how Wilhelm wants the brewery to be the “perfect hang” while Adam is intent on brewing “the perfect beer.”
“I consider myself more of the Wilhelm character, who kind of likes all beers,” Greg says. “But at times I catch myself becoming the people we’re trying to make fun of in talking about certain notes and hints of vanilla.”
“Everybody starts as a Wilhem and ends up an Adam,” Jeff adds
To make the show as authentic as possible, they tracked down different styles of O’Doul’s (non-alcoholic beer) and filmed at downtown L.A’s real Iron Triangle Brewery, which was still functioning during filming last summer but went out of business soon after. Other actual L.A. breweries, like Van Nuys’s MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. (an influence for Rodman’s) and Angel City Brewery are featured in the show alongside L.A. Beer Hop and L.A. Beer Fest. The writers had fun with naming Rodman’s punny beers, from Stout Stout Let It All Out to Johann Sebastian Bock. (The chalkboard menu changes every episode.)
The League’s improv style influenced Brews Brothers, but the struggling business structure is similar to Silicon Valley, with a dash of It’s Always Sunny and plenty of slapstick and scatological humor. In terms of casting, the Schaffers picked actors who were “real value-added performers — really good improvisers,” Jeff says. “It’s not enough that they were just good on their own. For Alan and Mike, their dynamic together was as important as how they performed alone.” And the cast had to attend beer school, where they learned how to pour beer, clean the taps and become comfortable with beer terminology.
Every actor except for Alan drank the non-alcoholic beer on camera. “We called Alan to say you got the part, and he said, ‘This is such good news. I have some news for you,’” Jeff said. “We’re like, ‘What?’ ‘Two days ago I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I can’t drink beer.’” Apparently gluten-free non-alcoholic beer is difficult to come by, so Alan’s always seen drinking “beer” from an opaque stein.
The season ends on a somewhat happy note, with Wilhelm and Adam making amends while unmoored from their namesake brewery. Though the focus of Brews Brothers is the volatile craft-beer industry, the heart of the show is the brothers’ relationship. “I actually enjoy making beer with my brother,” Adam tells Wilhelm in the season finale. “You’re an acquired taste, like a Framboise Lambic.”
“You may not have ever stepped foot in a brewery, but everyone has family, and you don’t get to choose who your family is,” Jeff says. “They just follow you around like a bad credit score. It’s a show that everybody can relate to.”
Even during a pandemic.