The Guy Who Visited 80 Craft Beer Breweries In 1 Month Explains How To Turn Beer Into A Career

Every guy wants to own a bar. At least that used to be the case. I specifically remember my friends and I drawing up plans to take over my father’s tavern and turning it into a hang out. Then we grew up and realize running a bar is hard work.

These days, guys don’t usually fantasize about owning a place that sells booze. They typically aim bigger — making their own beer. The number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2014 totaled 3,464, with 3,418 of those considered craft, demonstrating that craft breweries make up 98 percent of all U.S. operating breweries. Those numbers don’t take into considerations the thousands of amateur brewmasters cooking up beers in basements, garages and kitchens around the country.

Craft: The California Beer Documentary follows director Jeff Smith on a one month road trip visiting 80 of the top breweries in California, including Lagunitas, Stone and Sierra Nevada, to discuss the microbrewery movement. The film just launched on DVD and VOD after receiving an endorsement from The California Craft Brewer’s Association, who are also featured in the film.

The documentary explores the exciting world of craft beer told by the brewers that are setting the standards.

Director Jeff Smith took some time to talk to us about the boom time for craft beer, how to turn a passion for beer into a career and some of his favorites brews.

Throughout the documentary you interview a large assortment of brewers representing all walks of life. Besides a passion for beer, do you think there were any common qualities that were shared by the majority of brewers?

The family aspect was very evident and very cool. the fact that they all are in it for the greater good against the big guys was very cool and surprising. what other industry do people actively share info and band together? None that I’ve ever heard of.

In the movie, you touch on the politics that separates “Craft Breweries Vs ‘Regular Breweries.” How did you personally define a craft brewery before making your documentary and how did you view it after?

There is a definition from the Brewers Association that says any brewer that makes over 1 million barrels per year isn’t considered craft so I steered clear of those. But, since filming some things have changed. Golden Road was purchased by AB InBev, and Ballast Point by Constellation. So, now they aren’t considered craft even though they are in the documentary. But at the time, they were which is why I decided to keep them in it.

Your interviewees state that an IPA is more or less essential for any up and coming microbrewery and I was curious as to why you think that’s the case?

It’s by far, the most popular style. Not just in California, but nationwide. I personally think that if you were opening a brewery, it would be a mistake to not have at least one available.

Which other areas of the country have an up-and-coming craft scene?

I’m from western Massachusetts and along with Vermont, there is some highly recognized beer coming out of there.

In the documentary a lot of the brewers discuss how they got involved with brewing, but what would you suggest to someone who wanted to get involved that knows nothing about the subject.

Whether it was Julian from Beachwood Brewing starting as a home brewer and meeting professional brewers along the way, Jacob starting Humboldt Regeneration after previously working at Bear Republic Brewing or most of the guys from The Rare Barrel learning how to perfect sour beer at The Bruery, they all have one thing in common — They didn’t just jump into opening a brewery. They learned a lot from the people who had already done it.

The craft brewing industry is one big and open family. Whether it’s how a specific beer is brewed, a specific ingredient is needed or how to wade through the painful details of the financial side of things in dealing with local government, the brewers are there for you. A phrase that I was told over and over again was “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

IF I was to open a brewery, especially in California, I wouldn’t start in a well populated area. In San Diego alone there are almost 130. There is so much good (and some bad) beer in these places that it would be tough to break in.

If I lived in a much less populated area, other than enrolling in a brewing program like at UC Davis or San Diego State, then there is one way (in my opinion) to open a brewery. Learn from the masters of the industry. Offer to work for free. The hands on approach is going to get you immeasurable experience and access. And who the hell would say no to free labor? Plus bonus free beer!

Short answer — work for free at a brewery. No one will say no and you will learn a ton, absolutely.

Is craft-brewing an art or science?

A lot of the brewers seemed to view “selling out” as one of the worst things that a microbrewer could do, and that really reminded me of an art scene.

One of your interviewees brings up the point that there is an unusual amount of camaraderie in the craft brewing industry. As the industry continues to grow and change, do you believe that this good-natured attitude can continue?

I do believe it will continue. Obviously not with everyone, but yes. Craft really owns about 10% of the market which leave the other 90% to the big guys. IF craft had 50% of the market then yes, I think there would be a change in the camaraderie but that’s a long way off……

How did you decide on the breweries you visited in the film? Had you tried all of their beers beforehand?

I wanted to hit every corner of the state so I first picked an area and then found what breweries were nearby. In my research before the trip, I combed “best beer” lists on Rate Beer, Beer Advocate and others. Along the way, word of mouth also drove us to others. And hell no on trying everything. First of all, most of the beer isn’t available everywhere, especially from the smaller brewers with limited distribution. And secondly, that’s a lot of beer……

Do you think that the current barriers to entry in the craft-brewery industry will make it almost impossible for any craft-brewery that doesn’t already have their foot through the door to succeed?

With 700 breweries currently in the state, it would be tough, especially in populated areas. Shelf space is at a premium and distribution is tough, especially because the big guys have a stronghold on it. But, if you’re in a less populated area, I think it’s still possible. As long as you’re ok with a lot of hard work and not a ton of money.

Name an up-and-coming brewery for us to checkout before they get huge

One brewery I visited in the film, El Segundo, makes killer stuff and are destined for greatness. A brewery that I didn’t interview, but is kicking ass, are Noble Ale Works in Anaheim. Also one of my favorites from the trip, Alpine, was bought by another great brewery, Green Flash.

Craft: The California Beer Documentary is now available on DVD and VOD.