SXSW 2018: “Brewmaster” Review

“Brewmaster” is a 2018 documentary feature that had its world premiere at SXSW on Friday, March 9. The film was written and directed by Douglas Tirola, who follows brewers of all skill levels, documenting their journeys with beer and brewing.

A brewmaster inspecting hops

The documentary opens with each of the subjects recounting their “first beer” experiences, which revealed that many of these people whose passion and career is beer did not love it at first taste. Featured players in the documentary are Drew Kostic, a Federal Judicial Law Clerk by day and home brewer by night, and Brian Reed, who aims to become one of the few Master Cicerones in the world. A Master Cicerone, as we learn in the film, is essentially the equivalent of a sommelier for beer. As of now, only 16 people hold the title, which is granted after passing a 2-day exam that proves you have the skills and knowledge to be a beer educator. Among the many others featured in “Brewmaster” are Ray Daniels, the founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program; Sam Calagione, the founder and president of Dogfish Head Brewery; and John and Jen Kimmich, the couple who co-founded Alchemist Brewery.

In addition to covering the growth of the American brewing community and the surge in popularity of craft beer, the documentary covers a lot of historical ground. Several of the subjects break down Prohibition’s role in home brewing and in the emergence of mass-produced beer following the end of Prohibition. There are beer commercials from 1950 through 1990 featured in the documentary to show just how mass-produced beers were marketed over time – mostly as refreshing beverages.

Shot from a 1954 Piels beer commercial

One of the film’s subjects pointed out that, while many people look down on big beer companies, those beers are perfect from a technical standpoint: they’re made at such a high volume in different locations and all come out tasting exactly the same. In fact, the film travels to a variety of locations to visit brewers and their breweries as well, including Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Chicago. Footage from inside the breweries shows just how much work goes into making these drinks.

While you may go into the film expecting these brewers to be beer snobs, they all appear to be open-minded about the process and flavors of beer. Kostic loves to experiment, as it is a scientific process, and tries things like adding jalapeno flavor to some batches. Calagione said that Dogfish Head’s willingness to try new things, such as their 90-Minute IPA, is what ended up making them so successful. Not everyone will be able to understand the specific passion these people have for beer and for the brewing process, but watching people follow their dreams is something most will be able to relate to. “Brewmaster” succeeds in being educational, interesting and uplifting.

You can watch “Brewmaster” at SXSW at the remaining screenings: 

Wednesday, March 14 at 7:45pm
Alamo Lamar B
Friday, March 16 at 6:00pm
Sattelite Venue: AFS Cinema
Make sure to follow Shuffle Online for more interviews, recaps and reviews from SXSW 2018!

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