Everybody has dreams. For the dudes in “Brewmaster,” those dreams happen to be about beer.
Happen to be, because while the film does delve into the lives of guys for whom beer and its culture are a calling, you can close your eyes and easily imagine them talking about something other than beer when they say things like:
“Everybody’s got a day job.” (which isn’t necessarily what you love).
“We wanted to create our own jobs.” (to truly do that thing we love).
“You can’t get tired doing what you love.”
This is all pretty relatable stuff for dreamers, but it’s noteworthy that the dreamers in “Brewmaster” are also doers – the guys in this film are ambitious, innovative, passionate, driven and enviably smart in that way that at first comes across as nerdy, but which you know damn well is not. In fact the more “Brewmaster” delves into the science-y aspects of developing flavors and brewing, the better it gets.
As relatable as beer passion is to other kinds of passion, “Brewmaster” is ultimately about guys (and a couple women) who love beer. And being as it’s a documentary, there are a couple dominant threads.
There’s the story of beer educator Brian Reed, trying for the second time to pass an exam that would qualify him as a Master Cicerone (a cicerone is a “sommelier of beer,” according to Ray Daniels, the guy who founded the certification program). It’s virtually impossible not to root for Reed during a scene where his wife, their baby in one arm, grades him on a beer taste test.
(Side note: If a woman agrees to have your baby and regularly pour out little flights of beer to help you pass an exam, hold on to her.)
A Lawyer Who Yearns To Be A Brewer
The documentary’s main through-line involves infectiously earnest Drew Kostic, a New York-based lawyer who really wants to be a brewmaster. We follow him as he brews beer in his kitchen, joyfully engages with other beer aficionados and sits through a job interview in the really nice home of a potential investor. There’s a moment in this scene where Kostic is talking just a little too much (oh how I’ve been there) perhaps out of nervousness but more so from an urgency to tell his story.
And that’s one of the big take-aways, both for aspiring brewmasters and aspiring anyones: Whether your competition is in the beer industry or elsewhere, “you have to be able to tell your story” if you want to break through, Kostic suggested, not in the film, but at a New York screening where he and the film’s director, Douglas Tirola, took questions.
Beer Is About Freedom
When talking about making the film, one of the segments Tirola said easily could have been the basis of a separate movie was when the cast recalled when they had their first beer. “My parents were very strict,” recalls Samuel Adams co-founder Jim Koch, who came from a family of brewers, “they made me wait for my first beer until I was four.”
Believe Koch’s tale or not, it’s not hard to relate to Tirola’s feeling that beer is “about freedom. The act of opening a beer or sitting and drinking a beer takes people back to specific and important moments in their life and when this happens, this feels free.” And what perhaps provides a foundation for all the pivotal moments to come is that many — people Tirola asked on and off camera, and perhaps many of us — had their first beer with their dads.
The movie is in part a tribute to these pivotal beer moments that drive some guys to really want to make beer. And for the rest of us the film is among other things a 90-minute ramp-up to a haunting question: If you’re not doing what you love, what exactly are you doing?
“Brewmaster” will be showing at select theaters (and via digital download) in early 2018. I was invited to a New York screening of the documentary where there was free beer and popcorn, and I know one of the producers, but none of those things influenced the views expressed herein. Though free beer makes things a little bit better.