THE NEW documentary “Crafting a Nation” spends about an hour and a half fussing over exactly what makes America’s craft beer so special.
It’s hard work by small businessmen.
It’s all-natural ingredients.
It’s fresh, locally made and produced with care for the environment.
It’s about overcoming the odds and the local building inspector.
Apparently, though, it’s not about actually drinking the stuff.
Well-researched, beautifully photographed and set to the meaningful strum of an acoustic guitar, “Crafting a Nation” nevertheless manages to almost completely miss the key attraction of craft beer:
It tastes good.
Outside of a quick, passing background image, it’s not until 73 minutes into the version I previewed that we actually see someone raise a glass to his mouth. The money shot comes courtesy of Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, of California’s Russian River Brewing. Only, to be accurate, I think Natalie fakes it and just sniffs her glass.
While the screen is filled with artsy, glistening goblets that are filled, held and admired, the act of beer love is never consummated. It’s like hiring a hooker so you can listen to her talk about her job.
Still, there’s a lot to like about this film, particularly the Miller brothers, of Denver’s Black Shirt Brewing. The film follows the do-it-yourselfers’ hardship of turning a raw space into a working brewery. Anyone who’s ever hired a plumber can imagine their frustration when they discover that the city water-supply line – the very source of their beer – is punked.
Though the two likely could’ve saved themselves a lot of heartache by bringing in deep-pocketed investors, they opt to cash in their savings because, Chad Miller says, “These people wearing suits, all they saw was . . . how many dollars are we going to make them, and not about the heart and soul we want to create in this business.”
You’ve got to respect the Millers’ determination, so it’s easy to buy into the well-deserved bashing the film lays on corporate types. After all: The entire American microbrewing renaissance began as a counteraction to big business.
We’re told that, in just 35 years, small brewers have built an entire new industry employing 100,000 people nationwide, despite holding only a 5 percent market share.
Big Bad Bud gets its share of ridicule, though, ironically, at least two of the film’s heroic characters, founders of a St. Louis startup, are former Anheuser-Busch execs whose careers presumably were once devoted to crushing the little guys.
But that’s easy to overlook as the film interviews quite a few entrepreneurs who’ve put it all on the line to build small businesses. For the most part, they’re young, unfamiliar faces who are pushing craft beer into new territory, in Texas and Minnesota and elsewhere.
Notably, almost everyone interviewed is a white male (with requisite scruffy beard).
Possibly this is an accurate reflection of the industry’s demographics. But that hardly explains the film’s shoddy treatment of Carissa Miller, Chad’s wife and one of Black Shirt’s co-founders.
She’s properly introduced at the start of the film, then completely ignored for the next hour as the men whine about the bankers. Carissa, who is described on the company’s website as its chief financial officer, might have had some insight on this matter. Instead, she reappears late in the film – but only to dutifully carry in the couple’s baby.
So, we’re left with a bunch of identical-looking guys spouting the same platitudes about being bootstrap underdogs chasing dreams as American craftsmen, while that soulful guitar strums over gauzy scenes of steaming kettles and shiny tap handles.
I swear, you could take any 30 seconds of this film, add Clydesdales, and you’d have a Budweiser commercial.
Even the film’s quirkiest character – old, barefoot, hippie brewer Brian Hunt, of Moonlight Beer & Ale, in Sonoma, Calif. – reaches for that hoariest of beer slogans, advising us that craft beer enables us to “live life to the fullest.”
Ugh. Where’s the editor on this film? Better yet, where’s the bartender?
“Crafting a Nation” will screen during Philly Beer Week at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St., June 5 at 5 and 9 p.m. and midnight. And, yes, they’ll be serving beer. The film is available for download at CraftingANation.com.