Christo Brock want’s his new film Brewmance to tell the American story of craft beer through the lens of three Long Beach area brewers and their efforts to open up brick and mortar production sites. Photos: Brewmance
Home brewing has come a long way in the nearly 40 years since it was legalized by the United States Congress. Scores of people have taken the opportunity to make their own bubbly beverages in the comfort of their own homes, leading to non-traditional brewers adding non-traditional ingredients and resulting in beer flavors that now range from coffee to hibiscus.
In his new film, Brewmance, Christo Brock, director and writer of the 2014 film Touch the Wall, hopes to capture the essence of home brewing and the journey three men are making in taking their production sites out of their homes to full-scale production breweries.
Brock, a Long Beach resident, has already spent considerable time traversing the country to meet up with some of the most successful craft brewers in the game. Jim Koch (Samuel Adams), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) and even Julian Shrago (Beachwood) all make appearances in the film, sharing their own stories of building breweries from the ground up.
But Brock chose to train his focus on three soon-to-be breweries in the Long Beach area—Liberation Brewing Company (LBC), Long Beach Beer Lab and Ten Mile Brewing (Signal Hill)—to showcase their struggles, joys and passions displayed on their paths to becoming beer entrepreneurs.
For Brock, the story is much less about beer as it is about the art of beer making. He explained that the United States has very few things that it can claim as its own in terms of culture. There’s jazz, the supermarket, and McDonalds, he said, but with the proliferation of craft beer you can now order “American-style” beer when traveling abroad.
“This is a uniquely American story. There are very few uniquely American products. There’s the musical, jazz, supermarkets, McDonald’s, but this, what’s interesting about this,” Brock said. “The point I’m making is that craft beer is now our export to the rest of the world. And it’s a unique product of American ingenuity, resourcefulness, out-of-the-box thinking and kind of breaking boundaries.”
After finishing Touch the Wall, a film detailing Missy Franklin’s road to the 2012 London Olympics, Brock knew he wanted to do something different. He had floated the idea of focusing on wine or weed or even country music songwriters.
A beer lover himself, he felt that he would take his swing at “getting to the nut” of what the craft movement has been and the soulful people creating the beer flowing from taps across the country.
“I have no problem with corporate America, it’s one of the things that makes this country strong,” Brock said. “But it’s very dehumanizing to have corporate beer. Everything is done very well, it’s very efficient, but it doesn’t have the soul that a family-run business or an owner-operated brewery does.”
His quest started by attending meetings organized by the Long Beach Home Brewers Association incognito, posing as a novice brewer while he sought out his subjects.
It’s been over two years since the Long Beach City Council voted to amend the city’s municipal code in favor of drawing craft beer producers into its orbit. At the time, brewpubs like Beachwood BBQ, Rock Bottom and Belmont Brewing were about as close as city residents could get to a brewery experience.
As soon as the land-use restrictions were eased, applications to the city for brewery permits began to trickle in. In the past few years the city has seen establishments like Great Society (mead and cider), Beachwood’s Blendery and Ballast Point Brewing move into the city.
Dan Regan, chief executive officer at LBC, was one of those who put in the initial applications. As Regan puts it, there clearly is something about Long Beach as a beer destination. He pointed to Ballast Point, which was recently acquired for a $1 billion by Constellation Brands, as proof, adding that they have the resources to “open a brewery on the moon” but they chose Long Beach.
Regan, the former trombone player in the Huntington Beach ska punk band Reel Big Fish plans to open his brewery in the Wrigley area in early 2018. He says the film is important because it not only shows the “garbage” brewers have to go through to open up shop, but it will serve as a sense of pride for Long Beach as they try to play catch-up with more established beer cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.
“It’s [Long Beach] a very geeky sort of town, there are so many great bands that come live here because the rent’s cheap but it also fosters creativity,” Regan said. “I think the same thing is true with the beer community. We’ve always had a great home-brew club…plus we’re a bunch of drunks. It’s the perfect storm.”
How the three brewers found their way to the center of this storm are about as similar as the styles of beers they plan to brew.
Sundstrom being interviewed for the Brewmance film inside the Ten Mile facility still under construction at the time.
Regan, like his trombone playing, figured that if he was good at something “why can’t I just do it.” Levi Fried, owner of LB Beer Lab, started brewing his own beer in anticipation of the lack of variety he would have while studying medicine in Israel.
Dan Sundstrom, the elder of the father-son duo heading up Ten Mile in Signal Hill, was inspired by a trip to Oregon nearly a decade ago where he tasted his friend’s homemade beer motivating him to craft his own. Prior to his efforts, the city of Signal Hill didn’t have a law on the books governing breweries and had to craft one to allow his operation to exist. Their being featured in Brock’s documentary was a bit of beer-world serendipity.
“We were right at the spot where he would like to pick up to begin his story. It was really just uncanny timing and we’re just thrilled to be part of this,” Sundstrom said. “Christo was with us from groundbreaking when we were digging holes in the ground, pouring concrete, all the way through now where we’re ready to do our first brew this week, so that’s really important to us. And to just get the word out that it can be done, with a lot of hard work and sweat equity, other guys can do it.”
The decision to finally “do it” is not something that all home brewers grapple with. Sundstrom said that most of the brewers in his circle plan to stay as home brewers, making small batches and avoiding the red tape associated with opening up a facility with the required permits from the city.
Fried said it was a simple production equation. He kept getting better and better at making beer and thus kept making larger and larger quantities of it. LB Beer Lab, what will soon become the city’s first production brewery, will also include something special to the Frieds—Harmony’s bakery, isolated inside the brewing facility.
“An opportunity came up in Long Beach and since I’m from here and all my family is here my wife and decided to move back and build a business,” Fried said. “We always wanted to do something together so she opened up a bakery and I opened the brewery and collaborated on everything. It’s really two passions coming together and aligning at the right time.”
If the aim of Brock’s film is to showcase the community found in the craft beer industry he couldn’t have found a more Brewmantic trio than Fried, Regan and Sundstrom. The three have hashtagged their relationship the #lbBeerBrotherhood, emblematic of their all for one and one for all attitude when it comes to their three establishments.
Need a part? Call Levi, Sundstrom said. Out of hops? Yeast? The #LBbeerbrotherhood will be there.
The #LBbeerbrotherhood (from left) Jesse Sundstrom, Dan Regan, Levi Fried, Harmony Fried and Dan Sundstrom.
Regan said the pact made between the three was made with the understanding that one day they may be in direct competition with each other, but regardless of economics, they will strive to always make the best beer for their communities.
“We’re not going to be naive about that. What we’ve pledged is that we’re always going to serve great beer,” Regan said. “That means dumping out the bad beer, not just serving it because we can make money. As long as we have our sights set on making great beer for the city we love, then we’re going to be in the right headspace.”
The film is expected to be finished in the fall, but could be pushed back depending on the timelines of the individual breweries,. Ten Mile and LB Beer Lab are set to open in the coming weeks, however, Regan’s outfit at LBC has run into more hiccups and is expected to open in 2018.
Brock is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help with the financing of the remainder of the film, including the editing, mastering and distribution once it’s complete. He noted that even if the Kickstarter campaign is successful, he’ll most likely have to raise more money to complete the film.
For updates on the film and its Kickstarter efforts follow the film on Facebook.