Brewland: An Adventure in Craft Beer Filmmaking

What started as a relatively small project has become an intensive, multi-year effort.

And Michael Sills wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over two years ago, Sills and his crew set out to interview three Vermont brewers that helped turn the state into one of the meccas of American craft brewing: John Kimmich of The Alchemist, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead, and Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids.

Over 40 interviews later – with another 20 or so planned – Brewland is in the works. The documentary seeks to define the craft beer movement – no easy task – directly from the unscripted words of brewers, beer writers, bartenders, restaurant owners and retailers (including Craft Beer Cellar co-founders Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow).

“This was something that was really ambitious, and I knew it,” said Sills. “But, I felt passionate about it because I think there’s a cool story there.”

Sills, brother and co-producer Chris, and producer Matthew Parola are aiming to have their film complete for this fall’s film festival circuit, with an ultimate goal of having it shown at next year’s South by Southwest festival.

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From there, Sills said they are aiming for limited theatrical release and availability via video on demand.

You can donate to the film here.

Before that, though, there remains a series of interviews with some of the heavy hitters in the craft beer movement. An upcoming trip to the midwest and west coast will see the crew talk to Fritz Maytag, former owner of Anchor Brewing and one of the founding fathers of the modern craft beer movement.

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Also slated for time in front of the camera is Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, Cicerone Certification Program founder/director Ray Daniels, as well as representatives from New Glarus, Hair of the Dog, Rogue, and many others.

Magee is one of craft beer’s more colorful characters, and it’s people like him that Sills said make this project worthwhile.

“The guy has got so much to say, and I love honesty,” said Sills. “When people are passionate about something, it’s much better when they get to say what they want because they’re just trying to make a better industry.”

Petaluma, Calif. is a long way from Vermont, but that broadened scope is indicative of how the film has developed over the last couple years.

“The more interesting story is the entire movement, and what’s going on right now. It snowballed from there,” said Sills. “It’s almost too good to be true, with all the stories and interesting people.

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“Our objective is to try to look at the movement and define it. Our thing is looking at the entire community, what brings everybody together, and what is craft beer.”

Part of the story includes breweries that have shut down. Brewland has already recorded an interview with Alan Davis, founder of now-defunct Catamount Brewing in Windsor, Vermont. Sills said he is hoping to talk to at least a couple more people in the same boat.

“There needs to be the good and the bad to tell the whole story,” said Sills. “We can see, maybe, where the future is going. Is this something that most people have kind of got the blueprint of and are understanding of how to be successful in brewing, or is it something that may affect a lot of other brewers?”

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The filmmakers’ vision for Brewland has been in constant change as they have talked to a such a wide variety of players in the industry. On the brewery side, interviewees have included Kimmich, Hill, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin, Dan Kenary of Harpoon, Kim Jordan of New Belgium and Jim Koch from Boston Beer Company.

Sills said he hopes the film’s impact will register not just within the world of craft beer.

“I think that it’s going to show a lot of people outside the (craft beer) community what it is, and hopefully change some perceptions on it,” said Sills. “Obviously, craft beer has already changed the perception of beer and what it is. So, in the same sense, maybe that’s what this (film) can help do.”

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