It is a thankless task to make a documentary about craft beer. On one hand, there are non-drinkers or people who are ambivalent about the beer they drink. The other, more divisive group are lovers of craft beer, myself included, who already have strong opinions. The documentary Blood, Sweat, and Beer attempts to appeal to both groups, with mostly positive results. Directors Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin follow two small brewers: Danny Robinson in Ocean City, Maryland, and two former frat bros in the depilated town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The brewers face challenges, either in the form of legal trouble or simple logistics, and the film follows their stories while it also provides a snapshot of the craft beer scene.
The most interesting stuff in Blood, Sweat, and Beer is tangentially related to the story the directors want to tell. They speak to someone at Victory Brewing, for example, who talks about a craft beer boom in the late nineties, without explaining that detail further. Robinson has insight into the economy of a beach town, yet the directors choose to repeat his problems with legal fees (it’s strange and kind of hilarious that he and the filmmakers choose to ignore Dogfish Head Brewery, a mainstay of the Delmarva Peninsula, in order suggest there’s no market for craft beer in the area). We only hear about Robinson’s maple beer, which sounds gross, and he rationalizes beer snob hate by saying his drink is for Ocean City’s beer proletariat.
The frat bros, on the other hand, hire a young man from Anheuser Busch as their head brewer, yet there’s no interest in exploring his qualifications or the quality of his product. With one interview after another, it’s taken at face value that the beer they make is excellent. There’s no context for the Braddock brewery in the larger proliferation of micro-breweries, so it’s as if the documentary sometimes has an identity crisis.
Hiden and Irvin drag out the documentary to feature-length through pointless statistics and way too much B-roll footage, yet their film is a compelling account of the difficulties of entrepreneurship. Without any scientific detail about brewing, beer is almost incidental to what happens to these businessmen. They’re just the latest example of how soul-crushing institutions get in the way of the American Dream.