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by Joel Smith & r & American Beer & r & The premise has been done before. Five thirtysomething guys go on a road trip across America searching for ... something. The meaning of life? The roots of rock 'n' roll? The downtrodden underclass? Nothing so lofty, this time. They're looking for beer.


Armed with a video camera and some rudimentary sound and lighting equipment, director Paul Kermizian steers his buddies to 38 micro-breweries in 40 days, ranging from Brooklyn to Yakima, from Santa Cruz to Milwaukee. They never really explain why they're doing it. High jinks naturally ensue. Their roof rack blows off a half hour from home. They live in a perpetual state of beer-drunkenness and road-drunkenness, both resulting in myriad morning-after motel-room hangover scenes.


This could all be a terrible bore. Though the travelers seem likeable enough, viewers are told little about their backgrounds, their motivations. There's little insight into their characters, so they become one-dimensional travel guides.


But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the story is not about these unshaven, perma-drunk louts. It's about this class of iconoclastic American brewers who, in the late 1970s (when there were fewer than 50 breweries nationwide), organized a quiet revolt against mass-produced establishment swill, throwing all their energy, capital and sweat into handcrafting bold, traditional, experimental and delicious microbrewed beers. (There are now more than 1,400 breweries in the country.)


Consider Larry Bell of Kalamazoo Brewing in Michigan. He fought against bankruptcy to open his brewery and, in the middle of a drought year, was saved when a railcar full of malted barley practically fell into his lap. Or Sam Calagione, whose Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware started as the country's smallest commercial beer operation and is now one of the most innovative and well respected on the Eastern seaboard.


These are computer geeks, chiropractors, cellists, who were so intoxicated by the idea of what beer could be -- and so frustrated with the way in which the corporate American beer industry slumped into a formula of watery, corn-fed, tasteless brews -- that they gave up their old lives to pursue their dreams. It's a real blue-collar, bootstraps story about the relationship between a country and its favorite beverage. And that's a story even hop-phobes can find palatable.

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