The Beer Jesus from America, a documentary from Matt Sweetwood, tells the story of Greg Koch, one of the founders of the Stone Brewing Co., and his efforts to open the first American craft brewery in the heart of the beer world, Berlin. The film chronicles the massive engineering and construction feat of converting a football field-sized industrial space, once a gasworks plant, into a state of the art brewery and beer garden. Along the way, we get an education in the culture and bureaucracy of the German beer industry, as well as an inside look at the trials and tribulations of an entrepreneur undertaking his biggest endeavor yet.
Stylistically, Beer Jesus belongs to the participatory mode of documentary, though Sweetwood is a decidedly less obtrusive or, frankly, charismatic character as a Michael Moore figure. The film opens with avid beer lover Sweetwood, an American expat in Germany, coming across an article about an eccentric American brewer, Koch. He is setting out to shake up the German beer world, and his hippyish demeanor and admittedly Christ-like appearance have him dubbed, “the beer Jesus.”
“…his efforts to open the first American craft brewery in the heart of the beer world, Berlin.”
But as we see when Matt ventures to the outskirts of Berlin where the new brewery is set to open, the Jesus comparisons are more than superficial. Koch is a true proselytizer of craft beer, a preacher preaching what he cares about, often taking to a stage or literal soapbox and calling out to his “brother and sisters,” fellow beer lovers, to fight the good fight against the tyranny of homogenized, passionless, mass-produced beer.
Much of the film is a profile of Koch, who is a charismatic, if not confounding figure. Despite his distinct style and manner, when you get to know him and learn his history, Koch truly belies your snap impression. For one thing, his whole yogi-hippy look — he oversees the fully active construction site in shorts and sandals — is not necessarily his natural persona. In fact, when looking at photos of the start of Stone Brewing just a few years prior, he is almost unrecognizable with short-cropped hair and a smart white collar look.
"…the film is a profile of Koch, who is a charismatic, if not confounding figure."