A New Documentary Reveals the Truth Behind Opening a Craft Brewery, Worts and All

Christo Brock chats about the making of his new film “Brewmance," an honest portrait of America's brewing scene

Ten Mile Brewing

A scene from the new documentary "Brewmance."

By Tobias Carroll

Look closely at many a craft brewery and you’ll find a homebrewer who was looking to level up and managed to pull it off. For filmmaker Christo Brock, homebrewing also gave him a path into the craft beer world, albeit in a different form. Brock is the director of the new documentary Brewmance, which uses the experiences of two California breweries to illustrate the challenges of getting a new establishment off the ground. (It’s on VOD now, and will be available on Amazon Prime on June 1.) But as it turns out, his inspiration also came from hearing the stories of homebrewers.

“I had this friend who was a homebrewer, and he would tell me about the homebrew club meetings and it sounded awesome,” Brock tells InsideHook. “You brought your beer, you’d share it and everybody would taste it. You’d tell them how you made it, and they’d give you feedback.”

Brock’s friend introduced him to Smog City Brewing, whose co-founder Jonathan Porter had had roots in the homebrewing scene, and Brock was taken — both by the beer and by the scene around it. “I was throttled by how many different types of tastes there were and how good they all were,” he says. “And I thought, ‘This could make a really interesting film.’”

Talking with Brock, he admitted that he was a relative newcomer to this world when he began working on the film. “I always kind of liked craft beer. Sierra Nevada was my Budweiser because it’s just eminently drinkable,” he says. “But I didn’t really get into craft beer until I started making the film.”

Brewmance follows a pair of Southern California breweries as they move from homebrewing to opening brand-new facilities. The two at the heart of the film have, at least on the surface, relatively dissimilar demeanors. Ten Mile Brewing Company is a family operation run by a father and son (Dan and Jesse Sundstrom) who bond over their shared love of beer and for whom religious faith is a big part of their lives. Liberation Brewing Company is the project of a trio of friends, one of whom (Dan Regan) spent many years playing trombone in the ska band Reel Big Fish. Brock’s film also features a host of talking heads from the craft beer world, including Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and Ken Grossman of the aforementioned Sierra Nevada. 

Ten Mile and Liberation weren’t the only breweries initially featured in the film. Brock had originally planned to spotlight a third as well. “They bowed out part of the way through filming,” he recalls, forcing Brock and editor Sonja Schenk to rethink their approach to the film.

“We realized that we had the opportunity to tell more of the big story of craft beer,” he says. “The whole idea is that craft beer is this thing that’s alive, it’s a living organism. And you see that through the personal stories of the two breweries in the film. Yeah. But it’s also this historical story of these legends too, who made this whole movement.”

A scene from “Brewmance.”
Brocklamation Films

Making the film was not without its challenges — including one shot where Ten Mile’s brewery dog Barley decided that the perfect place to be would be right in front of the camera. “We always wanted to bend down and pet Barley,” Brock recalls. “Barley was like, I’m not moving.”

One of the breweries featured in the film also encounters a trademark issue that adds a last-minute complication to the narrative. Further complicating matters is the brewery challenging them — whose owner was also interviewed for the documentary. Brock described handling that conflict as a particularly challenging aspect of the film. “You don’t want to anger anybody, but you want to try to tell the truth,” he says.

What ultimately makes Brewmance compelling is the way Brock and his fellow filmmakers capture a sense of community on film. That community can be homebrewing gatherings, craft brewers working on a collaborative beer or the scenes at the breweries’ taprooms once they’re opened. It’s a film tailor-made to prompt its audience to want to seek out their own local breweries and enjoy what they have to offer.

With that in mind, it’s worth asking Brock how making the film has shaped his own taste in beer.

“Well, I’ve enjoyed a lot of different styles,” he says. “I was a big fan of IPAs for a long time, but I’m finding myself getting a little bit older and not able to drink quite as many IPAs as I used to.”

“So I have to say my new thing is, I still like the IPAs and stuff, but I got really into goses,” he adds. “Sometimes, you’ve got to tamp it back. You want something that’s a little less in your face.”