So, you say you want to open a brewery? A new documentary available online today may make you rethink that plan. Filmmakers Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin follow four men (three from The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock, PA, and one from Shorebilly Brewing Company in Ocean City, MD) as they navigate the hurdles of launching a micro-brewery. Or, more accurately, the perils of being a small business owner in modern-day America.
Blood, Sweat & Beer is the tale of two breweries that begins with the worst of times: Shorebilly Brewing’s owner Danny Robinson is facing financial destitution following what appears to be (and eventually—and subsequent to him changing the brewery name to Backshore Brewing Company—proves to be) a meritless trademark infringement lawsuit from a Tshirt company using the same DBA name. A shortcoming of the film is that we never know for sure if Danny is just a bad businessman (he’s also owner of a nearby restaurant, so I’m assuming not) or just someone caught in the cross hairs of a judicial system that hinders small business growth at every turn. For example, Danny worries that he’ll lose his home and personal property, meaning his business structure is not a corporation, which is pretty much Business 101. It’s hard to be interested in him as a brewer when we only really only see him through the lens of his legal woes.
The more interesting story—and where Blood, Sweat & Beer differentiates itself from documentary predecessors American Beer and Beer Wars—is that of Brew Gentlemen owners Asa Foster and Matt Katase and head brewer Brandon Capps as part of a larger narrative about the demise and rebirth of manufacturing in America. Braddock was a former steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh that never recovered from the bust of the early 1980s. While Pittsburgh proper has come back, Braddock is still trying to figure out its recovery. The documentary then visits similar boom-to-bust-to-beer towns across the country, scoring interviews with brewers and politicians and brewer-politicians (Hello, Colorado Governor and Wynkoop Brewing founder John Hickenlooper) and bolstering with statistics on the tremendous growth in craft brewing. The Braddock brewery is the center of a business resurrection, and the support of the town is paramount to the success of the brewers and their dream of being small business owners in America.
In the end, this film shows just how darn hard it is to open a brewery… and also how incredibly rewarding it is. You really feel the love of the craft beer scene and why so many of us love being a part of it. You root for the up-and-comers and recognize the many faces of established breweries. If you are in the beer scene or just a rabid craft beer drinker, you will definitely see a friendly face or six in Blood, Sweat & Beer. And if you aren’t inspired to launch a business, you may be pulling out your homebrew kit by the end of the 70-minute viewing. Or at least polishing off a few of your favorite beers shown throughout the film.
You’ll be rooting for these little guys to win. And to be able to make more great beer.
Blood, Sweat & Beer is available today in regular or deluxe editions on iTunes and other major online platforms or on DVD via the film’s website.