What happens when a passion for beer leaps from a hobby to a professional capacity? Brewmance follows two homebrewing teams who take their deep love of beer from their respective garages to opening their own breweries, along with all the excitement, frustration, heartbreak, and triumph of the journey along the way.
Brewmance is beautifully shot and produced. Even non-beer lovers will appreciate the time and talent it took to bring this project to fruition. Director/producer Christo Brock and his team rounded up some of the biggest heavy-hitters in the beer world to fill the audience in on the facts of one of America’s favorite beverages and the lineup is impressive. Interviews include chats with Fritz Maytag (of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing), Ken Grossman (founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing), Vince Cilurzo (creator of the world-famous Pliny the Elder), and Charlie Papazian (the “godfather of homebrewing”), amongst many others. It was fascinating to get insight from some of the main players who’ve helped create the world of microbrews as we know it, and it would’ve been great to get even more time with some of these titans (especially the elderly Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman, who I’ve never seen interviewed before).
But, of course, the focus of the documentary is on homebrewing and the majority of the film reflects that goal. We spend most our time with father and son duo Dan and Jesse Sundstrom of Ten Mile Brewing, as well as friends Dan Regan (of Reel Big Fish), Eric McLaughlin, and Michael Clements who founded Liberation Brewing Company. The interviews with the industry professionals are slotted in between the stories of Ten Mile and Liberation Brewing, as we watch what it takes to join the ranks of “real” breweries.
Father and son duo Dan and Jesse Sundstrom of Ten Mile Brewing, creating with malt.
Anyone familiar with the restaurant industry knows that this endeavor is not for the faint of heart. What fuels one’s passion at home as a hobby can turn sour under the weight of permits, financial stress, and endless delays at the hands of others (contractors, the city, pesky landlords and so on). Liberation Brewing Company definitely takes the brunt of some of these hassles and it nearly derails their goal – especially when they run afoul of another local brewery for having too similar of a name. It’s a cautionary tale for many – but, happily, nothing can beat the moment when that first brew finally gets poured.
This is a fun watch – the leads are affable and it’s pretty easy to root for all involved (save the tussle with Liberation Brewing Co. – more on that at the end). However, after a while, I was wondering why the focus seemed to continually narrow from the broader perspective of the homebrewing and beer industry to just these two camps. It’s somewhat of a long runtime to spend with them, and I felt a bit tricked in the end. Did I just watch a documentary, or one long ad for two breweries from Long Beach, California? I’m still asking myself this question.
Liberation Brewing Co. founders and friends Michael Clements, Dan Regan, and Eric McLaughlin in their hard-earned new haunt.
Additionally, the lack of representation is baffling. Are there really no women or BIPOC to interview in the industry? In this day and age? That the only perspective represented is all white men across the board is disconcerting and disappointing, at best. There are a fair amount of women on the crew behind the scenes, which is great, but it would’ve been so wonderful to see other people in the mix on camera. (The few women that are in the film are mainly the family members/wives of the Ten Mile Brewing operation – who, somewhat hilariously/ironically, are all sipping red wine at a dinner while the men drink beer. It feels alienating, as it unintentionally reinforces the most basic stereotype that ladies don’t drink microbrews.) Beer is for everyone, but that’s not the takeaway from this documentary.
Also, I was shocked that not one single brewer from Oregon was tapped (I couldn’t resist!) for a talk. Of course, that’s my own personal bias (the microbrew scene in my home state is legendary) – and, of course, I acknowledge that you can’t cover everyone/everything in one film. But I remain surprised that Oregon was completely passed over, especially when the project mainly focuses on the West Coast and the Widmer Brothers are in our backyard. Just saying! (Not to mention McMenamins, who I have a particular allegiance to.)
Overall, Brewmance is enjoyable. If you like craft beer and are curious about what it takes to make it from homebrewer to the big leagues, you will do well by pouring a cold one and spending a bit of time with this documentary.
Brewmance is both engaging and disappointing. Those with knowledge of the beer industry will be thrilled by some of these interviews, but the lack of diversity – as well as the intense mono-focus on Ten Mile and Liberation Brewing – will most likely have you feeling a bit weary by the end.
Nuggets – more film thoughts:
* On further inspection, the focus on Long Beach, California makes sense – the director and the majority of the crew are based there. I’m sure budget was a concern (even though the production is very sleek), so it makes sense to stay based in everyone’s hometown. That said, a broader inclusion of one more brewery would’ve alleviated the stuffiness of spending so much time with just the two homebrewing teams (as lovely as they are).
* To that end, I wondered if Ten Mile and Liberation Brewing were involved behind the scenes, or possibly contributed to the making of this financially? It really did feel like a long advertisement by the end.
* Speaking of: that nasty scuffle between Liberation Brewing Company and Beachwood Brewing is frustrating to watch. Neither camp comes off all that great, and that it escalated to a cease and desist over the LBC abbreviation is pretty wild. (Beachwood Brewing's flagship beer is the LBC IPA.) Small town, big beer politics!
* Like Reel Big Fish? You’d better – Dan Regan's band conveniently dominates the soundtrack.
* By the way, for the non-alcoholic beer lovers among us, I’d like to take a moment to recommend Partake Brewing. They’re not related to this film, but if you want to sip on something great without the buzz – this is it. It’s some of the best-tasting NA microbrews out there – and, huge bonus – each can is an astoundingly unheard of 5 to 10 calories! Heck, yes.