By Elias Savada.
The film is a light approach to what goes into the process of building a vision: a brewery, a name, a way of life.”
In the world of beer-centric documentaries, Brewmance is the latest and one of the most effervescent salutes to fine craft libations, yet also quenches the thirst that pushes home brewers to greater heights. Those daring amateur braumeisters, many of whom have become part of the mainstay industry, are continuing to be the forerunners to a still-growing market. Despite doom-and-gloom reports that the ever-lingering pandemic would put the kibosh on a large segment of the Independent Craft™ business, reports of the death of craft beer are greatly exaggerated. In fact, over 700 breweries found a way to open last year.
So, setting up this film from producer-director Christo Brock (who also wrote and edited with Sonja Schenk, and photographed it with Damian Apunte) is a slam-dunk. Craft beer is here to stay thanks to the incredible talent and energy of the movers and shakers who came before, and to the adventurers who will be its future.
Fermented down from 600 hours of footage, the froth that’s left offers quick glimpses of a Who’s Who of beer legends, often accompanied by a beer-in-hand. Boston Beer’s Jim Koch starts the bubbly merriment with a Sam Adams Lager, but other heavy hitters (Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo, Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, Anchor Brewing’s Fritz Maytag, Steve Hindy, the retired founder of Brooklyn Brewing, and Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada) wax historical about their lives as brewers. Charlie Parpazian, referred variously as a renegade homebrewer, the author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, or the godfather of homebrewing, is indeed a god in the craft beer world. If you’re ever visiting Washington DC, stop in to see his wooden home-brewing spoon at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Although some of the same celebrities (and what looks like the same shot of hops being harvested in Yakima, Washington) appear in the recent Beer! A Love Story, the doc is more akin to 2015’s Blood, Sweat and Beer (including one of those pesky trademark issues) available on iTunes.
Yes, this is another film made in pre-Covid days (i.e. crowded beer venues). But unlike the worldwide stance of Beer!, Brock looks specifically at America’s romance with the liquid. And for the most part sticks to Southern California, with a side trip to Denver’s Great American Beer Fest, that huge celebration where brewers exchange war stories and the hoi polloi get to sample the best of the craft beer world.
What looks like a storage unit in Long Beach, California, is the starting point for the road to creating what will become the 5-barrel Liberation Brewing (“equal parts Mos Eisley cantina and a Tom Waits fever dream,” according to their website). Mild-mannered award-winning homebrewer Eric McLaughlin espouses the all-consuming need to create a masterpiece. “It just does not end,” he realizes. His partners are Daniel Regan, retired as a ska band rock star from Reel Big Fish, and Michael Clements, who runs things (sorta) smoothly in the background. Jesse Sundstrom and his dad, Dan, a few miles north in Lakewood, are moving their homebrew passion out of the kitchen and into public view with their self-funded Ten Mile Brewing, quite the (extended) family affair. For all of these romantics, Brock mixes in plenty of firsthand and fly-on-the-wall observations.
Family gatherings round out the determination and camaraderie within each brewery’s grouping. The Sundstroms have strong Catholic roots, while the Liberation crew has socialist leanings. Lots of love and admiration no matter how you look at it. And while one endeavor moves along efficiently (for the most part), the other becomes entrapped in shit-hitting-the-fan issues that threaten derailment (and “what’s one more day after four years,” one of the principals jokes, in gallows mode). Yet the passion for brewing will always carry such entrepreneurs through these setbacks, as Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery, proclaims.
The film is a light approach to what goes into the process of building a vision: a brewery, a name, a way of life. For the people who know beer, and those who can’t tell a hop from a malt, there are bubbly graphics (by Pablo González/Smog) to accompany the informational segments presented by the industry’s elder statespeople, with a plucky score that helps along the film’s sidebar guide to brewing. Plenty of time to describe the best things about beer’s ingredients, including the basics: water, malted barley, hops, yeast.
Backstories ensue. Cautionary warnings, too. Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew warns that most homebrewers, even those that make great batches on their home stoves, fail because they can’t learn how to scale up. Will that be a problem here? Well, I’ll let you enjoy the ride without any big reveals.
Pretend you want to be part of brewery (I did, with Rocket Frog Brewing in Sterling, Virginia), but without the fuss, the angst, the crazy hours, and even the legal stress. And, of course, the GABF competition (from 2018, with 8,496 entries and just 306 awards), a stress-filled event for thousands of breweries angling for a bronze, silver, or gold. Get pumped, because Brewmance offers you a quick fix with very satisfying results. Just make sure you have a beer in hand when watching it on any of these streaming platforms.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).