The Perfect Ingredients for the Perfect Craft Beer Movie

by Mark Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Inspirational stories make great movies. A privileged young man is exposed to the lives of the downtrodden and convinces society to overhaul itself (Metropolis, 1927). A young lady overcomes horrific injury to return to the sport she loves, just don’t try to give her a high five while she’s holding her board (Soul Surfer, 2011). Even fictional movies can be inspiring; a prince returns from the slave galleys to defeat his nemesis in a chariot race (Ben Hur, 1925, 1959, or 2016, written by Hoosier Gen. Lew Wallace). Yes, I watch a lot of movies, mostly very old movies.

Walter (code name for my wife) and I won tickets to see an Indiana beer documentary (Hoosier Brew: The Past Present, and Future of Indiana’s Love Affair with Beer) at Flix Brewhouse in Carmel in September of last year. That got me to thinking about movies, and how many of them involved beer. Naming new beer movies is easy, Beerfest (2006), Beer League (2006), even Smokey and The Bandit (1977), if you consider Coors real beer. In Young Einstein (1988), our hero discovers the formula for putting bubbles into beer, so beer movies don’t really have to be factual to be mildly entertaining. My favorite modern beer movie is definitely Strange Brew (1983). Secretaries are bribed with jelly doughnuts, Max von Sydow plans to take over the world with drugged Elsinore beer, and a dog that later imitates a skunk to save Octoberfest spits out a floppy disc and rolls up a roof. What’s not to like?

strange-brew

Strange Brew was a miracle of modern film-making. In what other movie could you bring together the father from Breaking Away (Paul Dooley), the keymaster (Rick Moranis), Ingmar Bergman’s crusader who played chess with Death (Max von Sydow), and…… and….. well let’s face it, this is the best thing Dave Thomas ever did. Photo credit: dangerousuniverse.com.

As I discern it, beer movies fall into three general categories: farce, crime, or documentary. Sure there are dramatic beer movies like Drinking Buddies (2013) or The Saddest Music In The World (2003), but those are few and far between. Documentary films about craft beer are everywhere these days; all the from Beer in 1985, to Crafting a Nation (2013). Our free tickets to the beer documentary at Flix were at least for a Hoosier craft beer movie, and we learned a bunch. But still – I left feeling emotionally unfulfilled. Documentaries are occasionally inspiring, but none of the non-fiction beer movies I know of leave me feeling proud to be an American or an American craft beer drinker. I want my soul to be lifted by a beer movie, similar to the feeling I have when I discover a bottle of Taxman’s Death and Taxes priced incorrectly at the bottle shop.

Farcical beer movies are decent entertainment – most of them – but again, they leave me unmoved. Sure, the boot flip technique has come in handy multiple times, but I just can’t look at Cloris Leachman the same way anymore (watch the movie, decorum prevents me from elaborating), so Beerfest is only a half win. True, Strange Brew should have won an Oscar or two – at least for best special effects when Bob drained the tank to keep them from drowning. But on the other hand, there was a joke about the beer getting warmer when it was waist high (wink wink, nudge nudge) and yet Bob still drank it all – I imagine it made the beer taste more like Budweiser.

Funny beer movies have been around for a long time. Buster Keaton made a beer movie in 1933 with Jimmy Durante called What- No Beer? Keaton plays a taxidermist named Elmer Butts who, along with Durante’s character, get talked into reopening a brewery in anticipation of the repeal of Prohibition. Low and behold, beer is made legal again and Butt’s Beer becomes a hit in the end, mostly because it is the only beer available.

grapefruit

In the original script for The Public Enemy, Cagney was just supposed to throw the grapefruit at Mae Clark as he left the room. Cagney discussed the idea of smashing it in her face in a second take, although Mae wouldn’t agree. She said they could do it one time, and only if they set up the cameras so that he could fake actually rubbing it in her face with it still looking fairly realistic. He opted for the real thing and boy was she mad! Photo credit: cemetaryguide.com.

This is a slapstick comedy, but one with an edge. Prohibition was on its way out in real life, yet everyone knew that the crime thugs in the movie, and even the murders they commit, were more like life than art. This slots What – No Beer? into two beer movie genres, both crime and comedy. Prohibition-era crime syndicate movies usually dealt with hard liquor – moonshine and the like – but had beer in them as well. Kevin Costner in The Untouchables (1987) smashed some barrels whose contents went down the sewer with a good head, so I assume they were beer. Other Prohibition movies dealt mostly with the criminals, although beer was shown or discussed in several of them, including Little Caesar (1931) with Edward G. Robinson, Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America (1984). Gangsters and bootlegging went together so well that hundreds of these movies were made and often included real life sets and storylines. A scene from Once Upon A Time was shot in McSorley’s Ale House in Manhattan. They were famous for their “near beer” upstairs and their real beer in the speakeasy. It was actually easier to distill decent liquor at home than it was to brew a good beer, so a solid brew was quite a luxury during Prohibition.

Undoubtedly, the best of the Prohibition gangster movie that involved beer was The Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney. A young Cagney is recruited into bootlegging as a beer salesman, making deliveries and forcing stores to carry only his boss’s beer. He and his childhood friend work their way up the crime ladder; at one point they steal an entire truckload of liquor by pumping it into a gasoline tanker. The screenplay was adapted from an unpublished novel called “Beer and Blood” by Kubec Glasmon (not exactly the original James Patterson). They use the book title in the movie when one character says, “There’s not only beer in that keg, there’s beer and blood. The blood of men.” I think the closest any brewer has come to brewing with blood is the occasional blood orange saison or Black Acre’s blood orange syrup that can be added to their beers after the pour, and I really hope it stays that way. However, this is the movie in which Cagney famously pushes a grapefruit in to Mae Clark’s face after she talks on and on and on. I’m pretty sure this was the inspiration for the grapefruit IPA – the Sun King brewers are reported to be big Cagney fans.

hoosiers

In the final game scene from Hoosiers, the payoff is so big that Hinkle Fieldhouse can hardly contain it. If you look carefully, and if you know what she looks like, you can see Walter in the stands to the right of number 23 in the lower section. Walter has led an interesting life. Photo credit: chud.com.

Despite these wonderful movies that include beer in their criminal debauchery, I’m still aching to see a movie in which beer plays a heroic role, quite literally a Hoosiers (1986) of beer. A disgraced brewer arrives in town and shakes the locals out of their Michelob Ultra doldrums. He saves the economically failing ‘burgh by producing a scintillating brown ale that people travel from thousands of miles away just to sample – if you brew it, they will come. I love beer and I love movies, but I don’t just want beer movies to entertain. I need a suds movie that reaffirms that life is worth living, a movie that says that if Warren and Faye (Bonnie and Clyde [1967]) had just encountered a good ESB that they would have seen the light and walked the straight and narrow.

But here’s the problem – I only write nonfiction. I need someone to give me a story of how craft beer saved his/her life, his/her town, or their Friday night. Send your story into Indiana On Tap or comment on this story and maybe we can work on the screenplay together. I see it as an Untappd market and we could make a half-barrel full of money. (See what I did there?)

 
 

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