SXSW Doc Brewmaster Takes a Sip of the Heady World of Craft Beers
Douglas Tirola puts a human face on those labels in the liquor store
Beer is as old as civilization, but it's easy to forget that craft beer is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back in the Eighties, there were fewer than 100 operating breweries located in the country; by 2017, that number had jumped above 5,000, with some estimates suggesting that two new breweries are opened every day in America. In Brewmaster, filmmaker Douglas Tirola (Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon) does his best to put a human face on each of those anonymous labels in the liquor store. Sure, they may only be "beer famous," but their stories are worth sharing with the world at-large.
"People care about the history of beer," Tirola said, offering some insight into why the story of the craft brewery boom – a phenomenon that frothed up over the decade – is now ripe for the telling. "People care about doing something with their hands, and then being able to put it in front of someone and actually watch their reaction."
This isn't the first time the filmmaker has explored an aspect of the alcohol industry. Back in 2013, his Hey Bartender, a documentary about the resurgence of the cocktail scene across the country, had its world premiere at SXSW. Much like that film attempted to bring an element of cachet to an industry sometimes treated with disdain, Tirola felt that people obsessed with making their own beer deserved a moment in the sun. "Bartenders are the new rock stars," Tirola explains. "Beer is something that, I think, is a very similar story."
Brewmaster is the story of two struggling beer lovers: Drew, a New York lawyer who hopes to open his own brewery; and Brian, a Milwaukee brewer studying to become a Master Cicerone – beer's answer to the wine sommelier. The film's real power, though, comes in the parade of influential brewmasters and brewery owners, which was a testament to the generosity of the global beer community. The more brewers Tirola spoke with, the more he would be introduced to other influential names in the industry. "That's what led us to Jim Koch and Sam from Dogfish, Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery, and then the stories that they told us about other people as well."
It's an industry populated with American success stories of a decidedly modern bent. Many chose to turn their back on more lucrative careers and create something tangible and drinkable out of what they loved. "For these brewmasters, they love making beer," Tirola says. "Which is different from just saying, 'I want to own a brewery.' They love the process of making beer."
Tirola took a holistic approach to the industry, balancing the artistic requirements of any great beer – the unique ingredients and flavors that help shape their products – against the mathematical precision and entrepreneurial spirit needed to replicate and sell the final product. "There's something about the process of making beer that requires so much attention and so much patience," Tirola explains when asked about the renaissance quality of craft brewers. "Even if people fail to talk about it as an art, I do think those brewmasters see themselves as artists."
Similarly, while Tirola hopes that Brewmaster will introduce new people to the global community of beer fans, he also has a more practical goal in mind. If nothing else, the filmmaker hopes his audience will walk away with a newfound respect for the skill that goes into creating and maintaining a successful craft brewery. In his eyes, it's a valuable educational tool for parents who don't understand their kids' decision to pursue beer as a career after college. "I hope they watch this and go, 'Now I get it,'" Tirola says. "'Now I get it. I get why beer.'"
DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHTFriday, March 9, 5pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 10, 6:45pm, Rollins Theatre
Wednesday, March 14, 7:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Friday, March 16, 6pm, AFS Cinema