There could have been no better way for Christo Brock to start BREWMANCE, his documentary love letter to craft beer, than with Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company. It’s not just that he pioneered craft beer as a commercial venture, and that he was so passionate about it that he personally canvassed bars, sometimes selling his beer a few bottles at a time to skeptical bar owners for whom anything other than a lager was not just exotic, but downright suspicious. No, it’s also the way Koch talks about seeing the foam on one of his first batches of homebrew, the dreamy expression on his face, and the way he pantomimes the way it rose. Thus, are we introduced to both the art and the science of homebrewing, as well as why it has an alarming tendency to become not just a hobby, but a way of life.
Using interviews with home-brew pioneers and enthusiasts, Brock traces the history of homebrewing, tying it to the rebellious counterculture of the late 1960s, when baby boomers were throwing off the homogenization of the 1950s. There’s Charlie Papazian, the godfather of homebrewing, who began experimenting with brewing before it was legal, and Fritz Maytag, who took over Anchor Brewing Company and changed it from a struggling concern that took shortcuts into a thriving mircrobrewery that used only the finest ingredients to produce a distinct product. And not only became the model for microbreweries, but also a mentor.
They and other notables in the brew-world discuss the history of the homebrew movement, the characteristics of the ingredients, and the process for turning hops, water, malt, and yeast into a potable as individual as the brewer. This is, however, anything but a, ahem, dry discourse on the subject, Brock has intercut these modules with two case studies of homebrewers hoping to turn pro with their own microbreweries. One, 10 Mile, is a family affair, with a father and son, Dan and Jessie Sundstrom, who healed their sometimes violent relationship over the joys of creating new brews. The other, The Liberation Brewing Company, blends three distinct personalities, Dan Regan, a former musician whose tours centered around breweries in the cities he played, Michael Clements , his childhood friend with a business sense, and Eric McLaughlin, a homebrewer with a gig at a local brewery but with dreams of crafting his own unique brews. It’s that last guy, Eric, who pretty much sums it up. He looks straight into the camera and says simply, “I just want to brew beer.” It explains why people are willing to give up their day jobs, and attendant security, to pour their own concoctions for paying customers. As they discover the hidden perils of scaling up their recipes, smooth over the quirks of their individual personalities, and take on hostel potential competitors as they literally build their businesses from the ground up, you can’t help but root for them to succeed. As the film points out, it’s the American Dream of hard work and ingenuity paying off, which is why when they get knocked down and then get back up, it’s so rousing.
Even people who don’t drink beer will be, further ahem, intoxicated by BREWMANCE. Any substance that inspires such devotion deserves to be celebrated while exploring the reasons for said devotion. Plus, if you’ve ever wondered why you suddenly can’t turn around without stumbling over an IPA, it has the answer.