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    The filmmakers enjoy some palate bruisers with brewmaster John C. Maier (right) at Rogue Brewery on the Oregon coast. in American Beer
    The filmmakers enjoy some "palate bruisers" with brewmaster John C. Maier (right) at Rogue Brewery on the Oregon coast.

    Good for what ales you

    "American Beer" is not just a documentary about the exotic and wonderful beverages being made by small breweries around the country — it's about real characters pursuing the same American dream in 38 original ways.


    "American Beer" is a documentary that seems to be about the second word in the title but it's really about the first. The world rightly thinks of America as the land of brainless Hollywood movies, inedible McDonald's cuisine and watery Budweiser beer — but there's another side to us as a people, and that's what this film captures beautifully.

    Directed by: Paul Kermizian.
    Produced by: Paul Kermizian.
    Featuring: Jeremy Goldberg, Paul Kermizian, Jon Miller, Robert Purvis, Richard Sterling.
    Cinematography: Jon Miller.
    Edited by: Paul Kermizian.
    Music by: Bob Gilligan.

    Related links: Official site
    NY/Avignon Film Festival Roger Smith Hotel 501 Lexington Avenue @ 47th Street Wednesday, April 21 at 9:30 pm Sunday, April 25 at 4:00 pm

    NY/Avignon Film Festival
  • Overview

  • American Beer
  • Easy
  • Evergreen
  • Haute Tension
    Anderson Valley
    Bell's (Kalamazoo)
    Bert Grant's
    Boston Beer Works
    Cricket Hill
    Dogfish Head
      Full Sail
    Great Lakes
    Hair of the Dog
    Hale's Ales
    Left Hand / Tabernash
    Long Trail
    Lost Coast
    Magic Hat
    New Belgium
      New Glarus
    North Coast
    Red Hook
    The Shipyard
    Sierra Nevada
    Snake River
    While three corporations dominate 80 percent of the national palate, the country is also full of small groups of independent brewers pursuing dreams. Call them visionaries, eccentrics or just bravado-filled drunkards, but these are the people who really embody the American spirit, making quality, innovative products because they love doing it. If only 3 percent of the market is buying their brews, well, fine, that tells you the market value of the American spirit these days.

    Five friends from New York set out with a van and a camera on a dream road trip — a 40-day, 38-brewery quest to find, and liberally sample, some of the most interesting craft beers and microbrews in the country.

    In general, their trek leads them to three different kinds of establishments. First, there are medium-sized companies, many of which go back to the 19th century. Yuengling proprietor Dick Yuengling remembers the once-respected tradition of local brewing in Pennsylvania: "There were so many large regional breweries — Ballantine's, Schmidt's of Philadelphia, Iron City Brewery of Pittsburgh — they were up over a million barrels. They're all gone. We are today where they were back in the '50s and early '60s. You have to be very careful in this business that the big guy from St. Louis doesn't go out and gobble you up."

    Larry Bell of Kalamazoo Brewing Co. in Michigan shows the film crew a good time in a local bar that couples beer with local favorites like pickled eggs, pickled baloney and pork rinds. in American Beer  
    Larry Bell of Kalamazoo Brewing Co. in Michigan shows the film crew a good time in a local bar that couples beer with local favorites like pickled eggs, pickled baloney and pork rinds.
    Second, there are the little microbreweries and brewpubs run by guys who just plain love beer. These give the film some of its best characters, like Ray McNeill of Brattleboro, Vt., who gave up his dream of being a cellist and opted for his secondary dream of running a pub instead. "This building was originally a fire station and a police station, and this floor where we are now was once the jail," he explains to his visitors. "So my standing joke is that the village drunks used to sleep here and now they all work here."

    And third, there are imaginative makers of a wide, frontier-pushing variety of craft beers. Brewers in Delaware and Oregon experiment with high-alcohol beers (anywhere from 8 percent to 20 percent) that one owner describes as "palate bruisers." One couple in Wisconsin tells of the long development process that went into developing some Belgian-style fruit beers. (Their cherry beer requires almost a pound and a half of cherries per bottle.) A Hood River, Ore., brewer makes a "Fresh Hop Ale" from hops straight off the nearby fields. "We're about the only ones who can do it," he boasts.

      American Beer
    There's quite a bit of good humor in the film, as you might expect from a movie about beer and the people who glug it for a living, plus bits of local lore and unexpected history. And there's also the joy of seeing real American characters living out the ideals that we unthinkingly refer to as the American dream. You could make the same kind of movie about artists, poets, collectors, communes or the slow-food movement — but of course it would be missing one key ingredient.

    Because not least among its virtues, the film has an undeniable beer-porn quality. No matter how deeply you may love the familiar old beer that's in your own fridge, you'll still find yourself lusting after some of the hot, sexy, young brews on naked display in "American Beer." These are truly pints to pant over.

    My free advice to the filmmakers is this: Until you have distribution, organize screening-slash-tasting parties in selected cities where guests can sample some of these exotic elixirs while they watch the stories behind them. You'll promote the movie and you'll also give people an experience they either won't forget — or won't remember.

    APRIL 20, 2004

    Reader comments on American Beer:

  • American Beer   from The Double You Bee, Mar 28, 2005
  • Definitive Beer Film   from BeerGod, May 15, 2005

  • Post a comment on "American Beer"