Beer. Craft beer. Glorious stuff. When it comes to pairings with one of my favorite beverages, I think food. Maybe BBQ with a nice Black Butte Porter, or a nice spicy, curry dish with a 90-minute IPA. For us beer geeks, the annual arrival of SAVOR here in Washington, DC—two days of American craft beer precisely combined with a great food experience—is heaven on earth. If that’s too rich for your tastes, you can pair beer with film.
The folks at this year’s DC Independent Film Festival, where the locally brewed feature “Blood, Sweat and Beer” is toasting its world premiere, have their own pairing notions. On the final day of the festival (Sunday, March 1), before the film unreels to a perhaps loosely lit-up audience, will be a tasting hour of beers from five regional breweries (Adroit Theory, The Brew Gentlemen, Backshore Brewing, Forge Brew Works and Full Tilt Brewing), along with food from DC’s Pretzel Bakery (“Spreading Joy, One Pretzel at a Time”). Other screenings can be found at the film’s website, here.
At that point, you’ll slide over to enjoy the new film from directors Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin, a talking and drinking head documentary cautionary tale about the joy and despair of venturing into the ever expanding craft brewing world. Their film is a salute to the home brewers, connoisseurs, and fans of sought-after ales and lagers, with coverage of two insanely dedicated 23-year-olds (Asa Foster and Matt Katase, barely-a-penny-to-their-name frat brothers who went to college together in Pittsburgh) as they attempt to break into this well lubricated field. They’re doing it via a start-up brewery (The Brew Gentleman Beer Company) in the once-proud steel manufacturing city of Braddock, Pennsylvania, broken by unemployment and drug problems over the decades. They hire Brandon Capps, a young brewer (now happy, and happily engaged) formerly with Anheuser-Busch, the drink-it-if-you-like-dreck corporate brewery which recently created one of the most heavy-handed Super Bowl commercials attacking craft beer. He works for free. Beer is love.
While over in blue collar, surf’s up Ocean City, Maryland, the older and frustratingly wiser Danny Robinson espouses on the cut-throat antics foisted upon him as the chief honcho behind Shorebilly Brewing Co. This non-traditional brewer (anyone for a maple french toast beer?) laments—LOUDLY—our litigious society that allows someone to sue him for using his brewery’s name on a tee shirt. It’s a horrifying David (4 bar stools and a huge 6-digit legal fees bill) vs. Goliath (suited guys in a glassy DC office building) story. Life sucks.
The directors pace their film along the two basic story lines—the countdown to the Brew Gentleman opening and the tension around the trial (literally) and tribulation experienced by Danny as he awaits the last laugh (or cry). They do a real good editing job peppered with nice tunes by Joel Hunger/Pond5 and a rousing end credit farewell featuring “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. This is Hiden and Irvin’s second feature, after 2013’s “The Dream Share Project,” a road movie documentary that follows two college grads across America.
So, as in that freshman effort, there are brief stops elsewhere around the country in this film, enough for a sampling of wisdom among some of the illustrious names in the craft brewing world. With over 110,000 jobs (and growing) and $3 billion in annual wages/benefits, is it time to take a leap of faith (and, probably, a cut in salary) to live your dream? You get short and sweet testimonials from Zak Schroerlucke of Sweetwater Brewing (“Best…job…ever.”) and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker Brewing (“Pinch me. … A dream come true.”). Oh, and you do get a short and sweet look at the 2014 SAVOR (captioned Savor Fest in the film), with all the delectable edibles and great brews. You get enthused. You get thirsty. You get hungry. And slightly ashamed when you learn of the sex disparity in brewery ownership from one of the female owners. Worse, only 2 of the top 50 craft breweries are minority-owned. Compared to the people who vote for the Academy Awards (white, male, 64 years old), the only difference is that brewers are younger.
While fictional features that infuse a craft beer culture don’t always work, as in Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies,” the numerous one-off television or web series (“Brew Masters,” “Brew Dogs,” “The Beer Diaries”) reveal a growing enthusiasm for quenching viewers’ tastes with something much more enlightening than Bud Lite. As for the occasional documentary that fills the cinematic pint glass (2009’s “Beer Wars” and 2004’s road trip “American Beer”), “Blood, Sweat and Beer” is a great how-to addition, filled with salivating factoids that will enervate the dreams of wanna brewers everywhere. Hiden and Irvin make a great statement about how America is enjoying the great craft beer revolution. Drink up!