Local Documentaries: The Michigan Beer Film - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the documentary about the Michigan craft beer scene.

On a sojourn to Chicago's Music Box Theater, I stopped at Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I came upon this 2013 locally produced and directed documentary about the quickly growing and highly successful Michigan Beer industry, The Michigan Beer Film.  Something of a loving travelogue through a chunk of Michigan's most renowned breweries in the state, The Michigan Beer Film covers everything from Greenbush, Paw Paw, Dark Horse, Kuhnhenn's, Shorts Brewing, and even the Hop Head Farms.  For someone who has experienced the atmosphere, aesthetic and of course the brews in question at some of the breweries shown in the film, it was at once exciting and highly suggestive towards pulling out a beer while watching.  Where everyone else is used to downing Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, Labatt Blue and Shock Top, The Michigan Beer Film showcases the growing interest in alternative brews unavailable at your local 7-Eleven for those who are tired of drinking the same old thing.  More than anything, it shows the Michigan local brewing industry is as big as if not bigger than the automobile industry with more breweries and custom beers cropping up than Rex Halfpenny, publisher of Michigan Beer Guide, can keep up with.  

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Filmed on the Canon DSLR digital camera, the documentary sort of has the look of a Detroit skateboarding based video though with far more professional finesse and polish.  Like the recently reviewed The Dying of the Light, the documentary moves from one guided tour of the brewery to the next with numerous interviews of the people involved including behind-the-scenes footage of the bottles being brewed as well as the managing side of the business.  While it's so easy to buy a beer and drink it, until now there's little understanding of just how much work goes into creating one bottle and there are many moments of troubleshooting caught on camera.  For instance, one brewery's assembling line jams up in front of the camera and in another the bottle labeling system goes down, leaving employees to physically apply the bottle labels by hand themselves.  It just goes to show you the passion these people have for what they do in the beer industry, working through all the impending hurdles undeterred and determined to provide a one of a kind craft beer experience.  The journey towards delivering craft beer clearly isn't always easy with many hardships but in the end it's absolutely worth it.  

While I don't consider myself a beer connoisseur, I've tried enough of the local Michigan breweries throughout the state including a wide range of stouts and sours to know there's more to beer than what's at 7-Eleven.  What's more, as a Michigander it's very exciting to see such a budding industry forming throughout my state, especially booming Michigan staking it's claim as far more than the nation's Auto Industry capital.  As a documentary, I was familiar with some of the locations covered in The Michigan Beer Film but was pleased to see many others highlighted I wasn't previously familiar with and look forward to trying out.  There aren't enough documentaries out there displaying Michigan pride or the now diverse Michigan beer scene which shows no signs of slowly it's growth throughout the state or making presence known in the national or even worldwide craft beer scene.  Though this documentary might be a couple years outdated as the local craft beer industry continues to expand like no tomorrow, it was exciting to have so many more choices presented to me I would have otherwise been completely unaware of.  One thing is for certain, The Michigan Beer Film will make your mouth water for a local craft beer with a unique, distinctly Michigan flavor you won't find anywhere else.  


- Andrew Kotwicki