AMERICAN BEER TRAVELOGUE
Taking a 12,000-mile expedition cross-country to sample some of the USA’s best brewers, director Paul Kermizian and crew assembled the interestingly educational low-budget travelogue, American Beer. Since then, I’ve befriended Kermizian and his trekking buddy Jeremy Goldberg, telling them how I’ve got an upcoming website reviewing thousands of bottled-canned beers and dozens of brewpubs. The brew-some twosome later attended a High Times softball game to drink some Canadian beers I found on a Niagara Falls family trip. Pre-Thanksgiving ’07, I visited Kermizian at his arcade-fueled Brooklyn-based watering hole, Barcade, with renowned Ipswich brewer, James Dorau. Meanwhile, Goldberg’s busy making fine beers under the name Cape Ann Brewery up in Massachusetts. The rest is history.
Leaving behind his production management day job for an informative 40-day excursion across the United States sampling sundry beers and ales, New Jersey native Paul Kermizian sought to enlighten and entertain the ever-growing population of cultivated brew-hounds with his own ‘bockumentary,’ American Beer. Traveling to 38 intercontinental microbreweries and brewpubs over 40 days, Kermizian, Somerset-based Rutgers Prep buddy, Jeremy Goldberg, and three other brave souls, headed for the road in June 2002. Released on DVD by respected small label, Narnack Records, in 2005, Kermizian edited the 100-minute film piecemeal over 18 months from approximately 200 hours of footage, spending $25,000 plus post-production cost.
“We were running on $600 a day, did a year of film festivals, got a great response, and even made a collector’s edition for real beer geeks with one-and-a-half hours of additional scenes and brewery interviews,” Kermizian offers.
A huge beer drinker with a skinny frame, the recently married Brooklynite first directed 2000’s wild narrative adventure, Calling Bobcat, hooking up with Goldberg, Syracuse University film school chum Jon Miller (photographer), Robert Purvis (Miller’s soundman), and Richard Sterling (Kermizian’s former History Channel associate) for American Beer thereafter. Nowadays, he runs Barcade, a Williamsburg pub featuring only handcrafted American beers on 24 taps (plus one revolving cask conditioned brew).
“The ultimate goal was to take a snapshot of the craft beer industry,” Kermizian avows. “At the same time, we wanted to turn people on to craft beers. We didn’t want to be too technical, but we had to find common ground (between connoisseurs and amateurs). Experienced drinkers wanted more about brewing processes while casual observers thought there wasn’t enough road trip scenes.”
Seeming like a great way to convey the state of independent-minded brewing, the quaffing quintet’s drunken journey began at hometown fave, Brooklyn Brewery, going north to Harpoon Brewery (Massachusetts), Mc Neill’s and Magic Hat (Vermont), and eventually heading through mid-America’s heartland to the West Coast, and finally, New Orleans. Though the guys got along well, living in close quarters at mostly cheap hotels caused “waves of hatred.”
“Doing laundry and figuring out where to eat were sometimes problems. But we’d just turn the camera on and get as drunk as we wanted,” Kermizian suffices. “We got pulled over in Massachusetts early on, but tried to be careful. Luckily, we didn’t get into trouble. A car sponsorship was sought, but drinking cross-country didn’t sit well with the auto business.”
One eye-opening scene at California’s North Coast Brewery revealed former ‘70s president Jimmy Carter as the man behind legalizing home brewing, leading to the microbrew revolution headed by Samuel Adams Brewery.
“Carter’s brother, Billy, probably had a great influence on that decision. I’ve seen unopened cans of his Billy Beer for sale. But they’d taste rather skunk-y at this point,” Kermizian chuckles.
Though they could only sojourn to select breweries in such a limited timeframe, some of Kermizian’s preferred beers came from Mc Neill’s (Imperial Stout), Dogfish Head, Hale’s, Hair Of The Dog, and, my premier selection, Rogue.
“We sat down with (Rogue head brewer) John Maier and had a lengthy tasting go on forever. He was a good sport. We drank all night and they put us up at a suite above the bar. The seals in the bay woke us up in the morning,” he says. “The most inspiring breweries to visit were small operations, where it’s like a guy in a garage set up, such as Jersey’s own Climax Brewery. Those guys are basically home brewers.”
Being from the New York vicinity, Kermizian’s annoyed that the anti-corporate attitude amongst civilians hasn’t carried over to the beer market, where better, more interesting beers get shunned for macrobrewed drivel. Instead of supporting local brewers with a regional flavor, the misguided proletariat continues consuming substandard piss water.
“There are beer styles people don’t realize exist (lambic/weiss/porter/stout). They’re drinking shit. There are more possibilities (whiskey, oak, or cedar-barreled) with beer brewing than wine making. There are fruity Belgian beers to suit wine lovers. We tried to educate as many people as possible to show options beyond Coors, Bud, and Miller.” He adds, “Many brewers expressed the ideal situation being working at a brewpub without worrying about bottling. They’d serve satisfied customers with fresh liquid daily.”
THE GOLDBERG AFFECT
During my High Times softball game mid-August, Goldberg met Kermizain and I at Central Park to imbibe a few Wellington beers I’d just brought in Niagara Falls after touring Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Finger Lakes brewpubs along the way. Goldberg, a University of Miami economics major and former Wall Street bond trader, left the financial world to do American Beer, opening Cape Ann Brewing Company in northern Massachusetts recently. He was possibly the heartiest partygoer of American Beer’s unkempt bunch.
“In the movie, the guys bust my balls for wanting to start a distribution company. Then, my brother-in-law had a warehouse I looked at and I saw some brewing equipment on EBay. I wanted to brew in a viable community. So along with my fathers’ financial help, I opened a place in Gloucester,” Goldberg submits.
Along the Atlantic coastline, Cape Ann now bottles the “nicely caramel, hoppy finishing” Fisherman’s Brew, an American amber lager. By the end of October, “a nutmeg-cinnamon-molasses” flavored Winter Double Bock will be available. An admitted gin lover (“Tanqueray 10″), he was happy to find San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewery now dabbling in the juniper berry-spiced liquor. His favorite breweries attended included Hale’s, Anderson Valley, Dogfish Head, and one fabulous Michigan mainstay, Kalamazoo Brewery.
“Larry Bell (proprietor of Kalamazoo) got us intoxicated. He said he’d go out for one beer. But one beer turned into a few. Everyone wore funky hats in Bell’s brewpub.” He forewarns, “Afterwards, we went to a nearby bar. We were so hammered we walked back to the hotel room. Then you find me sleeping in the van with a blanket over my head the next day.”
Goldberg, who put on ten pounds during the first twelve days of travel, was a super trooper, never turning down a beer.
“My goal was to try all the good beers on the trip. I had one bad night laying on top of the toilet bowl. That was in Kalamazoo,” he reiterates before soberly stating, “Strangely, halfway through the trip you forget places you’ve been.”
In conclusion, Kermizian says, “We were pretty beat by Abita Brewery in New Orleans. The idea was to make the film look like we jumped in a car visiting all these breweries. But it was heavily scheduled and getting places to meet people on time was hard. I don’t know if my liver could handle another trip.”