Today’s guest are an unlikely due of a documentary film maker and a master cicerone.
Doug Tivola is the director of Brewmaster - a documentary that tries to weave together the varied and often dissociated threads in the beer world - like big and small, amateur and pro, nostalgic and new wave —and the results are at times flattering to the beer industry and at time a bit embarrassing to have reflected back. At times both overly simple and complex, naive and incisive. If a documentary serves as a mirror, then this one is perhaps a funhouse mirror that makes us all a little uncomfortable for different reasons.
Alongside him in this interview is one of the documentaries primary characters - Brian Reid - a master cicerone who works for MillerCoors as an educator. The film tracks his journey into failure as he attempts to be one of the dozen or so folks in the wold to achieve master status - which after the shooting of the film he actually does go on to accomplish.
MillerCoors was a sponsor of the film - which began as a sort of ode to Pilsner - specifically Pilsner Urquell. But as the shooting and storytelling commenced, Tivola kept chasing down other storylines - so the results get pretty far from the original intent and capture a collage of sorts - featuring moments with Urquell’s Vaclav Berka, Brooklyn Brewery’s Garret Oliver, Chicago’s Randy Mosher and Cicerone’s Ray Daniels, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, among other sort of founding fathers of the craft beer narrative we’ve heard form so often. And that is maybe my biggest critique of the film - and full disclosure, I appear in the documentary for a few moments myself - but the talking heads in this story are perhaps a bit predictable and lack the diversity of opinions and experiences from the wider set of folks that work in and help shape the craft brewing world today. So the documentary is perhaps already a bit of a time capsule that way.
But Brian’s story in the film is the one I enjoyed the most, largely because it was real struggle, playing out in front of the audience in real-time. It wasn’t someone reminiscing about the glory days with a marketing narrative - in fact, most of what Brian goes through in this film objectively sucks. It’s brutal. And the film doesn’t capture much int he way of success - as I mentioned, obtaining the level of master happens after the film concludes - so it’s a great portrait of how difficult and unrewarding working on beer can often be despite all the hard work that goes in to it.
And for that reason - I think having these two together for the interview is the best way to chat about the film.