Minnesota's craft beer boom is the focus of new documentary film

Categories: Interview

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Bala Sivakumar

Remember a time before weekly brew updates and brewery crawls? A time before Minnesota passed the Surly Bill and opened up a world of taprooms and destination breweries? It feels like a distant memory, but it was really just a few years ago, in 2011, the same year local filmmaker Dave Okar set out to capture Minnesota's changing craft beer scene on film.

The end result of Okar's quest, Crafted to Last: Minnesota Beer Blossoms, premieres next month at Parkway Theater. In it, Okar visits 16 breweries and brewpubs from across the state, from August Schell's in New Ulm to Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company in Rollingstone.

See also:
Olvalde's Ode to a Russian Shipwright: A tart, sweet porter worth cellaring

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Hot Dish: Are there other beer documentaries that inspired you to make this film?

Dave Okar: Actually, it is the other way around. One of the things that convinced me to make a feature-length documentary about craft beer was the relative lack of such films in late 2011. The main impetus was to document the impacts of the Surly Law with video as they were unfolding. The question of how to present that material to the public was secondary. My first thought was a web series, but a few minutes with a search engine relieved me of that notion because there are a lot of web series, podcasts, blogs, and TV shows about beer brewing, and I wanted to do something different. Documentary film was a logical next choice.

How is the film broken down?

The film presents current events in historical, legal, political, and personal contexts. Most of the discussion is about current events, but Ted Marti (Schell's) gives us the history from Prohibition onward, including his experience of the consolidation during the '70s that set the stage for the rebellion against "macro light beer" that is unfolding right now. Then the Hoops Brothers (Mike and Dave) and Tim Nelson (Fitger's and Town Hall) fill us in about brew pubs and pioneering craft beer in Minnesota in the '80s and '90s. Then there's the current era discussions about changing laws and readjusting (or not) the Surly Law.

Is there anything you learned from the film that you didn't know about when you started production?

I learned that there are almost as many ways to grow a local brewery as there are styles of beer. I didn't really have a storyline when I started. I had ideas about which topics I wanted to discuss with the brewers, but my intention was to let their stories determine the narrative of the film. After all, it is their story not mine. What changed as I began to collect more and more footage was that I began to understand the breadth of the narrative and this allowed me to start diagramming how I might weave all these stories together into a film that could work with a narrator or outside interviewer to guide the viewer.

Was it difficult to pick a cutoff for what would go into the film?

August 2013 was the last location shoot for audio content. Most of my effort and time has been spent in the editing suite squeezing about 40 hours of raw audio content into a coherent and engaging narration track. Then piecing together a video track that works with the discussion and the score. It's still not quite finished, but that's a benefit of being a home-brewed film -- I can work to the last minute.

Is there anything you wish you'd been able to include?

The film portrays many aspects of building a brewery, but not the business and planning sessions that precede establishment of the brewhouse. The closest I came was to shoot the conversation between Sarah Bonvallet and Rob Miller in the building that would become Dangerous Man Brewing Co. when it was still an empty shell, then recording a time progression as the brewery was installed and finally opened in January 2013. The hardest part of stopping at 16 breweries was turning away other breweries willing to participate.

You have a nice mix of urban and rural brewers interviewed in the film. How much travel went into this?

Quite a bit -- a minimum of two visits to each featured brewery. Shooting the time progression of the barley field on Olvalde Farm over the summer of 2012 was the extreme.

Is it a documentary for beer nerds or something that crosses over to a larger group?

My intention was to make a film for everyone, not just beer lovers. The passion, humor, and excitement of the featured speakers is palpable and something that speaks to anyone. That said, it is the only beer documentary that captures the earlier phases of an expansion such as the one Minnesota is experiencing, so it does have a place in the beer community, too.

What beers are in your fridge right now?

Some Divine Oculust from Harriet, a 750 of LSD from Indeed, and a couple of Firebricks from Schell's.

Crafted to Last - Beer Styles Trailer from D. Okar on Vimeo.

Though they've yet to announce their selections, Parkway Theater and Pepito's restaurant are working with the Minnesota Beer Activists and the breweries involved the film to come up with the beer lineup for the July 19 premiere. Click here to purchase your tickets.

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