From the moment of touch-down in Denver, the media schedule is packed from early morning to late evening.
This year's side events included a showing of a new documentary produced about the craft brewing industry. The film, entitled "American Beer," is the brainchild of Paul Kermizian and it combines the quintessential American pastimes of road-trips and beer. The film follows the exploits of four friends who endeavor to tour 38 breweries around the country in 40 days. While the movie certainly does not attempt any compelling narrative on the craft brewing industry or impart any philosophy of brewing or life, it is an entertaining romp through some of America's best known breweries. Any such film is going to include some drunken exploits and this film is no exception. It mixes the tried-and-true elements of drunkenness, debauchery, and flatulence, often to comedic effect.
Along the way, however, the troupe manages to interview some well-known individuals in the brewing industry, including Fritz Maytag of the Anchor Brewing Company and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada. The vignettes from the trip include some very personal and compelling moments with some brewers. Early in the film, the group meets with the eccentric Ray McNeill of McNeill's Brewery in Brattleboro, Vermont. McNeill, who once aspired to be a professional cellist, offers up some chilling theme music for the visit. The track plays throughout their tour of McNeill's bare-bones brewing setup. McNeill himself notes that he was probably half-cocked to think that setting up a brewhouse in an old three story house was a good idea. During the tour, he shows the group a mess of tangled tap lines he compares to a mess of snakes, how he runs a hose through a hastily cut out hole in the floor to his 22 ounce bottles at the mind-boggling speed of four bottles per minute, and several dark, dingy areas the group looks afraid of going into. This segment, followed by a rather lengthy tasting session which lasted until 3 a.m., shows the love a brewer has for his craft and art and tells a great story of a classic brewing industry personality.
The film, and the festival itself, lent consumers and brewers alike the feeling that a sense of optimism was building in the craft brewing industry. With stability comes the opportunity for increased creativity, and American brewers continue to push the level of brewing to new bounds. After a few years of downturn, fun has returned to defining the industry as craft brewers look to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of their consumers.
Excerpts from this article appeared in the November 2003 issue of Beverage Business Magazine. For information on reprinting