standard Film Review: A look at the ambitious craft beer documentary Blood, Sweat, & Beer

bloodsweatbeer

Craft beer has reached its people-make-documentaries-about-it phase. The latest, Blood, Sweat, & Beer, follows two East Coast US craft breweries through their particular existential struggles.

Blood, Sweat, & Beer won’t do for craft beer what The Endless Summer did for surfing or Easy Rider did for drugs, but it is a well-made and intriguing look at the booming industry. This documentary about the business side of brewing, directed and written by Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin, takes a snapshot of the current state of affairs.

Interestingly, they use two little-known and new breweries, Danny Robinson’s Shorebilly Brewing [spoiler alert: don’t click that link] and The Brew Gentlemen run by Asa Foster and Matt Katase, as a lens to look at US craft beer. Foster and Katase face the proverbial problem of the new entrepreneur: How much instant ramen can they handle while they work their asses off to open their business. In Robinson’s case, he’s faced with a trademark lawsuit over the name of his business from a company that markets souvenir t-shirts.

Robinson’s segments are beautifully shot (plenty of wide views of the Jersey shore at sunset) and I like that he is a tough-to-cheer-for hero. To that end, Hiden and Irvin did a good job of holding his feet to the fire by interspersing clips of him telling his staff that everything will be okay and that lawsuits be damned they’ll keep the Shorebilly name with straight-to-the-camera monologues of him sharing his fears that he’ll have to do the opposite.

The brilliant anti-crux

Blood, Sweat, & Beer briefly hit gold when talking to Marisa Selvy of Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. about the challenges of operating a craft brewery as a woman who also happens to be a visible minority. I wanted to hear more about this (and from others) — she’s often mistaken for hired help when working her brewery’s booth at festivals and has trouble attracting female candidate for her internship — but we were quickly sent back to the two main story lines.

Even then it would have been possible to examine whether craft beer, as an industry, excludes women and minorities. After finishing, I wanted to know more about Braddock, Pennsylvania, the former steel town near Pittsburgh that The Brew Gentlemen chose as a home, so it was off to Wikipedia. The fact that two-thirds of Braddock’s population is African-American jumped out at me because that definitely isn’t represented in the clips of them greeting enthusiastic neighbours. That’s not to say The Brew Gentlemen aren’t doing enough to be inclusive, but if so much of their half of the documentary is about how the town has welcomed them, I want to know if that includes the 66% who aren’t white.

Review in a nutshell

I took away two critical lessons from BS & B: craft brewers, make sure that your trademarks are clear and do whatever you can to hire a solid brewer, possibly with macrobrewery experience. In a film full of earnest nice guys, The Brew Gentlemen’s Brandon Capps stands out as the one I’d most like to have a beer with, if only to pick his brain on what it takes to go from being a “process engineer” at Anheuser-Busch to head brewer at a startup. From the driven and serious persona he shows the camera (not to mention his highly rated beers), I’m not terribly surprised that he was already off to Colorado to start his own brewery by January 2015.

Blood, Sweat, &Beer isn’t quite at the point where it is going to be an ambassador for craft beer and explain it to those who aren’t already interested. But it will be an excellent portrait in time for what craft brewing was like in 2014-15 and if you’ve thought “I can make and sell this for a living” while sipping on your favourite double IPA, this documentary should be mandatory viewing.

The best where to get your hands on Blood, Sweat, & Beer is through iTunes.

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