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"American Beer" DVD
Reviewed by Jay Brooks


Paul Kermizian

Six Hundred Films
DVD Format (NTSC)
Running Time: 100 min
Bonus Time: 80 min

BUY IT HERE – $19.99

I sat down to watch “American Beer” with great anticipation. Scanning the list of breweries, I realized I knew many of the people who would undoubtedly be interviewed. The promotional material hypes the film as a paean to good beer, specifically American craft beer. Certainly the industry could use some good publicity.

The idea was simple enough. Five people drove a van cross-country, visiting 38 breweries in 40 days. The amount of footage they amassed during that Lenten period must be gargantuan. So the real trick, like that of any reality-type film, is what to leave in and what to leave out. The interviews with the various brewers and brewery owners along the way are the most memorable and entertaining part of the film. Those are thoroughly enjoyable, and most do an excellent job of explaining what makes craft beer so great and why it is worthy of respect.

Unfortunately, there are two films here, and they seem almost at cross-purposes. The tone changes from scene to scene. After almost every brewery visit, the following scene involves drinking from bottles in parking lots, drinking in the van itself, being hung over morning after morning and — by far the worst — celebrating Wyoming’s new open-container law (which allows non-drivers to drink in a moving vehicle) as if Prohibition itself had been repealed.

At the risk of sounding like a cranky oldster, these guys acted like frat boys in search of the next party. The only difference between them and other twenty-somethings is they appear to like good beer. But the real disservice here is that they manage to undo time and time again the valuable lessons of what makes craft beer great. If you hear a brewer telling the audience about the quality of craft beer but then immediately afterwards see the same students who were shown listening intently chugging bottles in the parking lot, the message gets muddled. Have that happen over and over again, and the good-beer message is lost entirely.

From the outset, I knew nothing of our five intrepid explorers. Who were they? What had led them on this quest? How would it change them? Sadly, none of these questions are answered, and only the last is even addressed, although rather pretentiously, at the very end of the film. I expected that we would learn about them as the film progressed, but their scenes only served to transition from one brewery visit to the next. Precious little real personality was revealed. I had trouble keeping them straight. I suppose it could be argued that the beer was the star of the film, but if so, why include the filmmakers at all? In the end, they detracted from the message. The result was that this does not show the industry in the best light, despite the interviewed brewers’ valiant attempts to do just that.

I could also quibble with the filmmakers’ choices, though many were excellent breweries. A few, however, were perplexing, and there were several that were sinfully omitted. But that is, of course, a matter of personal taste.

Ultimately a disappointing experience, this DVD may appeal to a younger audience whose knowledge of the beer industry is limited. There is much good information here. Unfortunately, it is contradicted by the filmmakers themselves. The DVD can be purchased on-line at sixhundred.com.

Jay R. Brooks is a cranky oldster who loves film. He is the blind tasting director of the Celebrator Beer News and a former beer buyer. He can be found these days wandering the streets of San Rafael, Calif., with his wife and two children.


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