Ahhh the library…shrine of knowledge and source of free erudition whether it be in book or video form. A few nights ago my lovely wife checked out “The American Brew” from our local library. I have come to discover that not all books and films/videos are created equally. In fact, like a few ill made beers I’ve tried, I’ve found myself unable to finish a few. American Brew, in my opinion, was not only finish-worthy, but a great all around fifty minute representation of the history of beer in America. The film subtly makes the case that America would not be the America we know and love today had it not been for our buddy, brewski. In fact, the Denver Post sums up the ethos of the film quite well:
“To understand America, one must know beer, not baseball. The American Beer explains with wit and insight our infatuation with beer and its infinite variety.”
Sorry baseball fans.
The film was balanced. Now, an overenthusiastic beer geek may not find the film as balanced as I did, as the film does not focus on the craft beer industry; though it does explore and aggrandize the movement, both at the stylistic level, and industry (i.e. disintegration of monopoly) level. The film rather explores the history of beer from Christopher Columbus, to the Thomas Jefferson, to Adolfus Busch, to Fritz Maytag, to Garret Oliver. The producer/director–Roger Sherman–is not a one trick pony. The fact that his portfolio contains films on Divorce and the environment and not just beer speaks volumes for the integrity of The American Brew.
I have often felt that the craft beer community at times unfairly regards lagers/pilsners much the way early Salem regarded the black arts. That is; they treat it as a blight on the overall beer population that need not be associated with. I get it. Some big brewers use too much corn in their lagers. However, Sherman fairly shows that German immigrants did not bring cheap fizzy yellow beer into the US, rather, they brought a rich brewing history, and a more difficult method for brewing. In the same breath, Sherman is fair and also reveals that many of the establishments that brought the lager to the US also brought an insatiable desire for market control.
Sherman’s treatment of the Prohibition is both historically accurate, and amusing, as he slyly reveals the plebeian nature intrinsic to American/human political pandering. He demonstrates that the temperance movement was made to be a polarizing and singular issue: Americans disregarded EVERY other issue of a political candidates platform and focused ONLY on whether they supported tolerance. I can’t disagree with the documentary’s supposition that this idea exists today. Sherman shows us that prior to prohibition there was a raucous public outcry to banish beer and all other alcoholic beverages…just 14 years later the same America was filled with a raucous public outcry to legalize beer and all other alcoholic beverages.
The film explores many other beer avenues worthy of your exploration, and I would hate to spoil it, so please, rent the documentary and let us know what you think!