Every so often a movie makes us take a step back and question our direction and purpose in life. The documentary American Beer by director Paul Kermizian is one of those movies that not only makes us question ourselves but provides us with the answers to mysteries such as “where the hell can I get my hands on some of that beer?” and “what is the perfect cure for a hangover?”American Beer follows four friends on a cross-country trek to search out beer across the United States by visiting 38 craft breweries in 40 days. During their jaunt jabs are taken at the big 3 brewers of the world and conversation includes gaining weight while doing nothing but eating and drinking. But this is not a Fahrenheit 911 or Supersize Me of beer. Kermizian’s genius is to provide a simple premise with four men and let their actions and reactions provide the entertainment.
The journey is framed as a classic documentary with no fancy CGI or thunderous surround sound. American Beer is better than that; it is shot to place the audience at the table or bar with Kermizian and his cohorts. Experiencing it puts audiences into the conversation as craft brewers around the country tip pints and share their stories.
The first brewery visited, McNeill’s, sets the tone for this perspective. The camera walks through narrow back hallways and staircases, then subtly tilts to reveal the nuances of the brewery as a tour guide is points them out.
There are no pretentious tasting scenes aimed at beer geeks who often study aroma and nuances of beers. Kermizian and his crew drink to enjoy with a typical review being “this is good beer”. In fact Kermizian is quick to point out he is not a beer geek. He is amused by bar patrons that take temperature readings and extensive notes on beers. American Beer is not about them; it’s a 90 minute celebration of the eclectic individuals like Wall St. ready Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing or the dressed for a Dead concert brew crew at Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing who churn out great beer after great beer.
To get a clearer understanding of Paul Kermizian’s motivation for American Beer, we sat down with the mastermind for a candid conversation about his work and its subject matter, beer.
TMR: Paul, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. To get in the mood I actually have cracked one of the beers from the film. I have a Dogfish Head in my hands right now.
PK: Get out of here! I am sitting here watching the Yankees with a Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA right now.
TMR: That is what I am drinking; a 60! But I am definitely not watching the Yankees. Being a Yankees fan, your distain for Boston must have been further cemented when you got pulled over and ticketed for speeding in the movie by the Massachusetts State Troopers.
PK: That really set the tone for the trip. We were only 6 days out and got a ticket. I was dreading returning to New York with a glove box full of speeding tickets but Boston was the only place in the country that ticketed us.
TMR: I loved how the camera focuses on the helicopter above the van and you guys are convinced it’s tracking your rate of travel. I travel those highways every day. Those are news copters doing the traffic report and not the State Police.
PK: [laughs] Really? Well it made for great cinema.
TMR: So where did you get your start in film?
PK: I studied film at Syracuse in ’97. After that I took a few jobs in the film industry. That led me to do my first film, Calling Bobcat. That was back when there was a huge interest in independent films and it was easy to get backing.
TMR: So why American Beer? What drew you to this subject?
PK: I have always been into good beer. Back in college I tried drinking the typical college brews like Milwaukee’s Best and others. I quickly learnt I wanted a little bit more from my beer and found the world of craft beers.
TMR: That’s cool. So with a crew of friends in tow you set out to find more beer. How did you map out the trip?
PK: We started with a list of 100 breweries. Then we whittled it down to what would fit in the budget. Time was also a factor. We wanted to get down to Pizza Port and Stone Brewing but that would have taken two days of travel and didn’t fit into our time constraints. We were trying to hit breweries during certain events so timing was very important. Our trip was mapped out very carefully but in the film we wanted to give the impression that we just got in the car and drove.
TMR: I can’t think of one guy that wouldn’t take 40 days off from work and go on a road trip like this. The only thing holding most of us back would be getting the time off from work. How did your friends work this out?
PK: The guys in the movie for the most part are all in the film industry. Being in the industry we work from project to project so we cleared our schedules for this mission.
TMR: So were there any other trials and tribulation on the road that we didn’t see?
PK: About 10 days out we almost lost out camera. Sam from Dogfish Head took us kayaking at night and we thought it would bee cool to get some night shots. Just as we were thinking this through the kayak that we were going to put the camera in capsized. At that point we figured we would be better off just leaving the camera in the car.
TMR: I did love the footage from Dogfish Head’s brewpub. They have a great menu – as do most brewpubs I’ve frequented. How did Jeremy manage to gain so much weight with so much good food available?
PK: Most have good food but the majority have pub food: burgers, fries and that type of fare. Add to that we were either sitting in the van driving or sitting at the bar drinking and it was pretty easy to pack on pounds. Rick brought a jump rope with him. His plan was to jump rope during breaks and to do some jogging to stay in shape.
TMR: I can’t see that working out. I can’t imagine jumping rope with a brutal hangover?
PK: It didn’t. He jogged and jumped rope the first day and after that we never saw the jump rope again.
TMR: I did notice Rich at one point was wearing an Ommegang Hennepin shirt but I noticed they weren’t in the film. Did that scene get cut?
PK: It hurt to cut those scenes but the original first edit of the film was over 2 hours which is much too long for a documentary. We ended up with enough footage to make a 9-hour film so the majority of it ended up on the floor. Like at Dogfish Head we got some great stuff from their distillery where they make their vodka but it didn’t fit in the beer theme.
TMR: At least you got to visit there and got a couple of cool shirts. I can imagine with all the brewery swag you got you didn’t have to make many laundry stops. Just for socks and underwear.
PK: We got loads of shirts from the breweries since they knew it would be great promo for them. We really didn’t have to stop to wash socks and underwear much either. You can turn the underwear inside out!
TMR: So what is the most common question people ask you about the film?
PK: Everyone wants to know what is the best beer we tried on the trip. The answer is the first beer we had that day. That was always the most enjoyable.
TMR: One thing we are always looking for in films here at TMR is hot babes. I didn’t see too much babe footage in the film. What’s up with that?
PK: [starts cracking up] We got plenty of babe footage that is also on the cutting room floor. Most of it was a little over the top for the movie. If you come down to New York I can give you a private screening of some of that footage but you have to bring some beers for the price of admission.
TMR: We can get that done. I love New York and it is a great beer city. Where do you like to drink in the city?
PK: I am part owner of a bar in Brooklyn called Barcade on Union Street. We have 25 craft beers on tap some really interesting stuff like Brooklyn’s Scorcher and Weyerbacher Quad.
TMR: I love both of those beers but have never had them on tap. So continuing with the favorite beer theme can you give me four picks from the movie for my readers to search out and enjoy?
PK: That is a hard one but if I had to pick four stand outs I would say New Glarus Wisconsin Belgium Red, New Belgium La Folie, Dogfish Head’s Immort Ale and McNeill’s Imperial Stout.
TMR: Awesome picks that are arguably four of the best beers on the planet. Thanks for stopping by TheManRoom. I have a strange feeling we will be seeing you again when the nominations for TheManRoom ‘I’ll Have Another Beer Awards’ best beer scene in a movie category is announced.
Paul’s beer picks for American Beer fans:
New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
This is one of the most unique fruit beers on the market. In the snifter it looks like a huge pomegranate seed. The aroma is of fresh baked cherry pie with ever so slight spice tones. The mouthfeel is medium with a dry sparkling finish. There is a touch of hops and malt in the flavor but the Belgium yeast is definitely at the forefront, giving very interesting lambic-like tones to the beer.
You hold the marriage of wine and beer. Belgian Red is a tapestry of flavor. This beer is brewed with whole Montmorency Cherries, Wisconsin farmed wheat and Belgian roasted barleys, lagered in oak tanks and balanced by Hallertau hops we aged in our brewery one full year. Over a pound of Door County Cherries in every bottle makes this beer uniquely “Wisconsin.” So unique, in fact, that we applied for a patent. Expect this beer to be ruby red, with a medium body that is highly carbonated and intense with cherry flavor and bouquet. Serve your friends Belgian Red in a brandy snifter or champagne flute and toast life with beer from the land of Wisconsin.
New Belgium La Folie
It pours a rich brown color with a thin white head. The aroma is of sour fruit, mainly cherries, with huge wood tones. The mouthfeel is vinous with an initial malt sweetness that is quickly finished with a sour dry wash of the palette. As the beer warms green apple flavors start to rise. This beer is not for everyone but definitely a treat for the connoisseur.
Funny how when you try to keep a low profile on something, often you get the opposite result. This really is a very tiny project for us in terms of liquid produced, but the splash La Folie is making on the beer scene certainly is exceeding the mere 3,000 bottles we corked. Because we are only selling this beer direct from our brewery and we didn’t want our retailers and distributors to feel slighted, we’ve been rather zipper-lipped on La Folie. Yet, with a beer that has spent one to three long years residing in wood barrels, we couldn’t totally cork our pent up excitement to share La Folie. As well, with La Folie being redolent of Belgium’s Rodenbach Flemish Red Ale, which just happens to be produced by the brewery where our brew master, Peter Bouckaert, hails from, there has been a fair amount of unavoidable buzz. Besides being integral to the production of La Folie, Peter Bouckaert also came up with the name. La Folie is French for “the folly” and when we looked up the definitions of folly we had to laugh that one of them was “an excessively costly or unprofitable undertaking.” We admitted from the day we decided to purchase our wood barrels that this endeavor had to have a much greater latitude than being immediately profitable.
Dogfish Head Immort Ale
This is Dogfish Head’s other Barleywine offering. It pours a hazy orange copper color with a big tan head. The aroma is very complex and can be taken in for hours. At first blush the aroma is of a single malt scotch with huge smoky peat and vanilla aroma and the presence of maple syrup. The mouth feel is full and smooth. It goes down very easily without tipping its hat to its 11% ABV. There is an ever so slight hop finish and a dryness from the juniper berries that balances the sweetness of the maple syrup perfectly.
Vast in character, luscious and complex. Brewed with peat-smoked barley, this strong ale is brewed with organic juniper berry, vanilla, and maple syrup. It is then aged on oak and fermented with a blend of English & Belgian yeasts. 11% ABV 40 IBU available in 12-ounce bottles, 4-pack approx. 348 calories and 34 carbs per bottle. *Note beginning with the April 05 release, Immort Ale is now an annual release. Look for Immort Ale in it’s new 4-packs every April. Dogfish Head Immort Ale was named 1997 beer of the year by The Philadelphia Daily News. Descriptors: Intense maple, vanial, smokey, charred. Food pairing reccomendations: Goat cheese, asparagus, creme brulee, a fine cigar, suggested serving glass: snifter. Comparable wine style: Single Malt
The number one pick for American Beer fans is:
McNeill’s Imperial Stout
This is a great Imperial Stout. The color is opaque black with a tan head as expected but the key to this being a great beer is it is not overly sweet like a lot of Imperial Stouts. The aroma is very smoky with huge chocolate and roasted tones. These aromas follow through the whole drinking experience with anise and mocha washing across the tongue. As the beer warms figs and raisins start to appear in the flavor, it sweetens ever so slightly.
Imperial Stout – This ale is made in the Spring with one yeast (and a whole shitload of malt and hops), fermented and conditioned on dry hops, then blended with a small amount of 1-day-old ale (a technique called krausening) and allowed to age for 1/2 year. the beer is jet black, very bitter with a strong hop character and aroma, and weighs in at about 8%abv. Suggested serving glass: snifter. Comparable wine style: Single Malt Scotch.