Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Beer Hunter Movie

This past weekend I was lucky enough to take part in a unique beer experience at Republic in 7 Corners:  the special screening of the newly released Beer Hunter the Movie.  Here is my impression of the movie and the event.

Using my classic Beer Hunter glass to show off the wicked event poster!

For those unaware of who Michael Jackson was (living in a beerless cave in Outer Mongolia maybe?) I'll start with a little background.  Jackson was truly one of the first serious writers to tackle the subject of beer in print, and was responsible for the publication of The World Guide to Beer in 1977--the first book of its kind.  Nowadays there are many sources for beer information from books to magazines to internet forums (and blogs of course), but back then the craft beer world was virtually non-existent and even classic beers like London Porter were nearly extinct.  Jackson raised awareness of these unusual beers and was one of the first to organize them into distinct styles.  He is often credited with saving styles of beer from obscurity and I wholeheartedly agree with this opinion.  Over time he had a hand in educating the public about old and new breweries, embracing the fledgling craft beer movement in the 1980's and giving some legitimacy to the early pioneers like Pike, Summit, and Anchor Brewing.

In the 1990's Jackson hosted a short-lived but very popular BBC series called The Beer Hunter, which strangely never warranted more seasons.  I remember seeing one of these episodes on PBS in the mid-90's and found myself watching it despite the fact that I didn't like drinking beer, and was underage at the time!  I had brewed a few batches of homebrew with my mom, however and enjoyed the science behind the brewing process.  Learning about the variety of styles and flavors on the show was intriguing to me.   At the tail end of college I was re-introduced to craft beer and began to homebrew again--learning what I could from Charlie Papazian's books and an old beat-up copy of the revised World Guide to Beer that I picked up at a used book store.  Again Michael Jackson had direct influence on me and my new interest and hobby.  He wrote a wonderful piece in that book about my favorite local brewpub Sherlock's Home, where I would eventually hold the rehearsal dinner for my wedding.  I remember them having signed copies of all his books proudly displayed over the bar that featured possibly the only hand-pulled beer engine in the US. 

The Beer Hunter movie began as a Kickstarter to publish some of Jackson's lost film footage and increase awareness of his life and influence on world beer culture.  Most of the footage used in the movie was taken from 2004-2007 during filming for a DVD for his Rare Beer Club that was never released.  As such the majority of the film involves his later years.  Several sponsors helped get this movie made including local beer giant Summit and The Four Firkins Beer Store.  Ian Finch and Michael Wagner (of the Firkins) were instrumental in bringing together this special screening of the movie at Republic and deserve a special thanks for their hard work, but all the guys from the store were certainly involved as well.  The back room of the bar/restaurant was used for the event, with a small screen placed up the stage for viewing.  There was a cheese plate to share (darn you lactose intolerance!) and we were served a small glass of Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout--one of Jackson's favorites and featured in the movie!  Republic had made a small menu with special menu items paired with beers from the movie as well--a nice touch.  The classic English beer Fullers London Pride was available with all the proceeds from that particular beer going to Parkinsons research.

Silent auction!

This screening was actually the second of the day, with the earlier show having finished just before Sarajo, Dave and myself arrived.  My friend Rob Wengler of Limited Release fame saw that show but wasn't able to stick around.  We also ran into Al Boyce and Doug Hoverson at our showing--always cool to run into friends at beer events!  Included as part of the festivities was a silent auction (proceeds also going to Parkinson's research) for each showing, including cool gift packages from Summit, The Firkins, Samuel Smith, Surly, A Perfect Pint, and many more.  Before the film was shown, Mark Stutrud, founder of Summit, gave a short and heartfelt talk about his own experiences with meeting Michael Jackson.  To see how much it meant to Mark to have his brewery featured in the Second Edition of the World Guide to Beer in those early days of his brewery was impressive and emotional.

Mark speaks about MJ as Ian looks on!

The movie itself was mostly footage from the last few years of his life, following him to The Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, California and of course England.  It was very interesting to see him still so involved in the then-growing beer scene: epic tastings at Dogfish Head, lectures, beer dinners, TV interviews, tours of breweries, etc.  The movie did a great job of capturing his life in those years and his subtle but strong personality.  It was a good documentary, but I would have appreciated a bit more from his earlier life and times.  There were a few moments when Jackson's personality shown through and the entire room laughed out loud, but overall the feel was somewhat melancholy.  I also felt that the long spots of silence in the film could have been relieved with some music, voice-over or editing down a bit.  What really struck me about the film and the screening was the event itself.  This was how Michael Jackson would want to be remembered--a group of beer-savvy people meeting over a few pints and being sociable with each other.  A lot of love went into the making of the film and to organizing this event, taking the whole thing to a higher level than simply watching a movie.

After the movie was finished the silent auction was finished up and we all had a toast to Michael Jackson with our freshly served Summit Great Northern Porter.  It was easy to get a bit choked up from the sad finale of the movie but again...hoisting a pint to the great man relieved a lot of that sadness.  This experience helped me personally to look back at the beginnings of my favorite hobby and realize just how far we have come since the 1970's when craft beer didn't even exist.  This blog only exists because of the groundwork laid long before I even cared to drink beer.  As humble as Mr. Jackson was, I think that his contribution to the craft beer revolution can not be understated.  I feel that he would be proud and excited to see the beer culture change so dramatically in the last few years.  I would recommend the movie, but if you watch it, get a bunch of people together, have a beer tasting and enjoy the moment. 

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