‘Brewmaster’ Review: An Intoxicating Look at the History and Hierarchy of Craft Brewing

     October 19, 2018

brewmaster-review

If you ever have the pleasure of stepping into a cold-storage room full of hops, or smelling the earthy scents of malt in a kiln, or plucking a fresh hop cone from the vine to rub it between your fingers and inhale the aroma, you might just think to yourself, “This is what heaven must smell like.” If none of that rings true for your or doesn’t sound particularly appealing, then perhaps writer/director Douglas Tirola‘s documentary Brewmaster is not your cup of tea, or pint of ale, as the case may be. But if all that sounds appetizing, you’ll want to check out the Orchard release, in select theaters today and arriving On Demand and on Digital this November.

Brewmaster is an interesting look at the brewing industry, specifically the craft brewing industry, divided up into three approaches: First, there’s a general history of craft brewing in America and Europe, laid out on a timeline by some of the most “beer famous” names in the game. Second, the documentary follows beer enthusiast and educator Brian Reed on his quest to achieve the title of Master Cicerone, a highly skilled distinction that’s essentially a sommelier for beer. The third follow Drew Kostic, a lawyer with a dream of running his own brewery, and whose passion for the craft far outpaces that of his legal profession. Brewmaster threads these narratives together into about a 90-minute run-time that pairs perfectly with a pint or two.

Take a look at The Orchard Movies’ trailer for Brewmaster below, followed by my review:

Douglas Tirola details the rise of craft beer’s popularity and follows two enthusiasts chasing their American brewing dreams.

 

DIRECTED BY Douglas Tirola

FEATURING Garrett Oliver, Ray Daniels, Jim Koch, Sam Calagione, Rob Tod, John Kimmich, Jennifer Kimmich

 

IN SELECT THEATERS OCTOBER 19, 2018

ON DIGITAL AND ON DEMAND NOVEMBER 20, 2018

Before I get into the review, here’s a little primer on yours truly. I hold a Diploma in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing & Distillation, thanks to my preparatory course at the University of California, Davis – Extension program (which gets a shout-out in the documentary, thank you very much). I also have the better part of a decade in microbiology under my belt, all the better to attempt the exam’s daunting Yeast & Beer module. That education helped, but the IBD exam was still a brutally tough one; the top marks in my year went to a literal rocket scientist in our class. And this is all to say that I know how much work, education, training, and experience goes into establishing yourself as a recognized brewing professional, and that the Master Cicerone program is the top of the top, the elite of the elite. That’s something Reed learned the hard way after missing the certification by mere points in his first attempt, though viewers will get to follow along with him, his family, and his educational support team as he gives it another go. (Be sure to stick around through the credits for all of Reed’s story.)

But you don’t have to be a Master Cicerone (of which there are only 16 in the world as of this writing) to enjoy a pint of beer or even the passion that goes into brewing it. For more casual drinkers and home-brewers, Kostic’s story might be more your speed. Fed up with the hectic but well-paying life of a lawyer in New York City, Kostic’s dream is to launch Drew’s Brews (or Droo’s Broos, depending on which stage of his business plan you catch him in) and take the craft brewing craze into the next phase. Kostic is an interesting case for this documentary. He’s a beer geek who knows way too much about different types of beer and what goes into them, a mad scientist in the home-brewing process, and a meticulously detailed planner who goes over numerous drafts of his presentation before sending it out into the world. Viewers will likely see a lot of themselves in both Kostic and Reed, but will also get a glimpse of just how hard it is to make it in this competitive industry.

While the personal stories of Reed, the technically proficient educator longing for a master certification, and Kostic, the hard-working go-getter who wants to make his mark in the industry, are compelling, it’s the wealth of recognizable names and talent in the craft brewing industry itself that anchors Brewmaster. Names like Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, founder of the Cicerone Certification Program Ray Daniels, Boston Beer Company co-founder Jim Koch, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, Allagash founder Rob Tod, Pilsner Urquell’s Vaclav Berka, and The Alchemist co-founders John and Jennifer Kimmich walk audiences through the history of the business, though they keep it in recent history, say the last century or so. Don’t expect a step-by-step process of how to brew here; this is more of a general overview of the craft with little peeks into the production here and there, but it’s fun to see the masters of their craft share some of their hard-earned knowledge and decades of experience.

Brewmaster is a breezy look at the hard work and dedication that has gone into the craft brewing industry over the last 100 years or so, traits that continue to this day as more and more family-owned or sole proprietorship breweries keep popping up. As far as documentaries are concerned, this one goes down smooth.

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