This weekend saw me not attending the inaugural Rothwell beer festival as it raged a mere 200 metres from my front door. On Friday, the good lady had a night out planned with friends, so I was was on parenting duty. Saturday, the day I had earmarked for trying some of the finest small brewery beers that Yorkshire has to offer, was somewhat marred by my unexpected attendance at work - staff sickness, with no-one else available to cover. So rather than a breathless account of what I drank on Saturday, this is a report of what happened on Friday night.
Happily, I had a couple of beer movies to watch - "Eddies: The Documentary" (IMDB summary here) and "The American Brew" (IMDB page here), along with a quantity of beer to drink. The beers were good - St Austell Proper Job (5.5%abv) hitting the mark as ever, with its combination of biscuity pale malt and tropical fruit-accented hoppiness. The other two beers were homebrewed by a friend, Gordon McKiernan, who frankly needs to make a move to a bigger plant - a pale ale with a lovely spicy East Kent Goldings profile, and a smoked oatmeal stout with a whisper of blackcurrant fruitiness to it. Someone give Gordon a go on a bigger or better plant, please.
So, the movies. "Eddies" is about The Eddies, an annual competition to make a TV advert for the Big Rock brewery. I say TV advert, but the slightly weird thing is that these adverts are never shown on TV. In fact, they're not shown outside of the awards ceremony itself. It's a cult phenomenon, started in 1993 as a publicity stunt by the brewery. The fervour with which fans of the brewery make these ads can't be solely down to the $10,000 prize. Like a lot of niche cultural phenomena, people just want to say that they took part, that they were there. And like a lot of niche cultural phenomena, you either get the joke or you don't. I have to say that I enjoyed it, although it's also fair to say that the film isn't really about the beer - it's about the people and their devotion to The Eddies, which just happens to be connected to beer. It could be cheese rolling, dwarf throwing or badger taming, and the film would be just as much fun. But then I guess beer is really about people, so perhaps it is a film about beer after all.
"The American Brew" is a whole different kettle of boiling wort. It's a fairly thorough and well-made documentary about the history of brewing in America, with lots of cameo appearances from craft brewers, and the seemingly odd inclusion of lots of talking heads from the bigger American macro brewing giants. Well, it seems odd until you find out that this film is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch (as was, now A-BInBev), and part of the "Here's To Beer" initiative. When I found this out, I tried my very best to find something to dislike in it, but failed. It's a really well-made, well-produced and even-handed history of brewing in America.
If I have any criticism, it would be for the prominence given to Budweiser, although that might be slightly exacerbated by having recently had lunch with Josef Tolar, retired head brewer at Budvar. Overall, it's a great romp through the facts and the stories, enhanced immeasurably by great archive film and photography, and I really liked it. To be honest, it's worth it alone for seeing Fritz Maytag do an impersonation of an angry German restaurateur refusing to buy Anchor beers, something it's fair to say wasn't on my list of things to see before I die, but turned out to be strangely satisfying to witness.