Tonight on the A&E cable network, they’re airing Roger Sherman’s documentary, The American Brew. The first showing is at 10:00 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific)/9 Central and Mt. and then again on Sunday, April 8 at 2:00 a.m./1 Central/Mt.
I was fortunate enough to get an advance rough cut of the film a little while ago, and have watched it a couple of times, including the excellent bonus features on the DVD. Assuming my rough cut is substantially similar the final edit, which I presume it is, I can heartily recommend watching it. The film was sponsored and paid for by Anhesuer-Busch through their P.R. project Here’s to Beer. I saw about a quarter of it in teaser form last fall at GABF, too. Back then, Bob Lachky jokingly mused that he’d have to answer to Augie for how little A-B was represented in story. In the final show, that has been rectified, and my biggest criticism is that it feels now like they’re a little over-represented. When I spoke to an A-B rep. about that, he replied that it was appropriate given their market share and relative importance in the history of American brewing. Maybe, I won’t quibble about either points, but if the goal of Here’s to Beer is to raise the status and awareness of all beer, than I’m not so sure that’s a valid argument. But that aside, it’s well worth watching, and aside from a couple of the segments that I thought ran a little too long, was nicely done. The production values, special effects and storytelling are all a cut above the usual television documentary and, nothing against A&E but, it certainly would have felt just as right at home on PBS.
The history is well-done, though I thought the older history was dwelled upon a little long while the more recent history given shorter shrift. I would liked to have seen even greater emphasis placed on changes to the industry over the last 25 years, because most beer histories simply ignore this period of recent growth. So while it was great seeing even a little more about the birth of craft beer, the film left me hungry for much more. It was great fun seeing a film in which I knew practically everybody being interviewed. Outside of my own home movies, that almost never happens.
I think this overview of America’s brewing history is ideal for the beginner who wants to learn more. But it’s also great fun for those of us who are already intimately familiar with beer’s story, not least of which because the passions of the people on-screen come through with wild abandon. So despite a few quibbles here and there, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film and a great calling card for the industry. But everyone should really go ahead and buy themselves a copy of it on DVD. Not only is it a mere $5.49 from the Here’s to Beer Website, but for that paltry sum you also get double the fun, with almost a full hour of extra and extended interviews with several beer luminaries.
The poster for American Brew.