February 18, 2014

Brewconomy: An Interview with Camden Watts

In North Carolina, a small group of filmmakers are exploring what makes our local beer economy so vibrant. Set for release in 2015, Brewconomy will reveal the people and the passion behind North Carolina craft beer. If you'd like to learn more about the project and meet the filmmakers, there is an information session tomorrow, Feb. 19th at the Bull City Burger & Brewery in Durham, NC. To get a behind the scenes look at the project, I asked producer and director Camden Watts a few questions...

1. Camden, what inspired you to create this film?

Craft beer and I have had a slow-burning romance since Pop the Cap legislation was signed in 2005. This film is essentially a love letter to craft beer and the people making it. I’m a huge fan. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with it.

The idea began at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C., after Ignite Durham a few years ago. I had just listened to Shane Johnston give a talk about craft beer. (Watch the video here.) Since I was wrapping up my first feature-length documentary at the time, we jokingly talked about making a film about North Carolina craft beer. That turned into a few, more serious, conversations after my film wrapped. Now we’re actually making Brewconomy and I couldn’t be happier about it.

2. Is this your first documentary?

This is my third documentary and my fourth film. I keep a list of my films here if you’d like to learn more. I produce and direct, mostly on documentaries and comedies.

Filmmaking is something that makes me ridiculously happy. It’s challenging, complex, and collaborative. I also get a chance to meet interesting people and share their work with the world. My hope is that every film I make will help improve someone’s life a little, through awareness about something I believe in or a bit of comedy.

3. What experience do you have in film making?

I’ve always dreamt of being a filmmaker, even as a little girl. My background is in graphic design, photography, and communications. I’ve also worked in marketing and project management. But I never had a formal filmmaking education.

Much like home brewers testing their beers and improving each step of the way, I’ve been learning more with every film I make. The school of hard knocks is filled with unforgettable teachers. Those lessons aren’t easily forgotten.

Brewconomy is going to be my best film yet. We have an incredible team and very professional crew working on it. So that people can get an idea of what we’re working on, we’ve been posting clips on YouTube. I’m so proud of what we’ve captured and how it’s all coming together.

4. What's so special about local beer in general, and NC beer in particular?

Local craft beer is an incredible thing. It’ll be tough to keep this answer short.

Like a lot of folks, I was used to drinking watered-down beer that had very little flavor. Over the years -- and with a lot of help from friendly brewers and beer enthusiasts -- I’ve come to love the taste of just about any style of craft beer. Each one is so different, flavorful, and delicious.

A lot of breweries source locally, which is what makes North Carolinian beers so distinct. They reflect the area because they’re made from what’s available here. I prided myself on knowing the South well because I was born and raised here. Then we interviewed Sean Lilly Wilson at Fullsteam, and I was schooled pretty quickly. They make beers from fruits I never knew existed, like the paw paw. Check out their forager series of beers; they’re incredible.

We interviewed the folks at Riverbend Malt House who are helping brewers make distinctly Southern beer. They provide brewers with locally farmed, artisan malts. They’re doing such great work. Watch a clip from our interview with Riverbend Malt House here and learn more about their work with New Belgium here.

But, you know, it’s not just the beer, the experience of savoring each sip, or even pairing it with amazing food that keeps me fascinated. It’s much bigger than what’s in the pint. The craft beer industry is having a big positive impact on the state’s agriculture, community, and economy -- and that’s the focus of our documentary.

5. Why should someone support your Kickstarter campaign?

Beer enthusiasts should support the Brewconomy Kickstarter campaign because they believe in local brewers. We do. We want to share their story -- but we can’t do it alone.

The Kickstarter campaign is helping us fund the rest of production (equipment, travel, accommodations, talent, etc.), but it’s also building a community of supporters. That’s really important to us. We want the community to be a part of the filmmaking journey.

By contributing to the campaign, backers will get behind-the-scenes information about the making of Brewconomy in addition to rewards. Our backers will be with us every step of the way. When the film makes it into festivals and starts screening in 2015, our backers will be able to say, “I helped make that film!”

I’m so grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve already received. We’re very close to our $10,000 goal. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing site so if we don’t make the goal, we don’t have that cash to put into the production. Every dollar counts.


We need help. Please become a Kickstarter backer. Tell your family, friends, and co-workers about it. If they’re not familiar with how to use Kickstarter, walk them through the process. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as we continue making Brewconomy. Thank you!

January 29, 2014

A Trip to NH and VT: Hill Farmstead, Heady Topper, lots of snow

I took some time last month to visit a friend who was back in his home territory of New England for a short break. Like me, he's a craft beer fiend, so we made sure to take advantage of as much of the local beer scene as we could. Our adventures included a delicious dinner at the Farmhouse gastropub, a trip to Hill Farmstead, a sampling of the highly sought after Heady Topper, and a massive homebrew day.

Burlington, VT: Farmhouse Tap & Grill

Hill Farmstead Edward
Hill Farmstead's Edward - a fantastic
beer from Vermont
To start things off we visited a beer bar and restaurant in Burlington called Farmhouse Tap & Grill. This turned out to be one of the best gastropub experiences I can remember. I started out with an "Edward" from Vermont's Hill Farmstead (5.2% ABV, 85 IBUs). Even though we were going there the next day, I couldn't wait to give it a try. The beer did not disappoint. A clean, hop-forward pale ale, the epitome of an American Pale. The commercial description of Edward gives some indication of the care the brewer puts into this beer:
Edward (1917-2002) is our grandfather; Hill Farmstead Brewery rests upon the land that was once home to him and his five children. In his honor, this American Pale Ale is dutifully crafted from American malted barley, a plethora of American hops, our ale yeast and water from Edward’s well. It is unfiltered, naturally carbonated, and dry hopped. Aromatic and flowery, with impressions of citrus and pine, this is the ale that I dream to have shared with Edward. 
The food that followed was also excellent, from the local cheese plate to potato croquettes to the locally raised beef burgers. I highly recommend a visit to Farmhouse if you're ever in Burlington.

After several more local beers, a raging metal show, way too many Rolling Rocks, and an attempt (and failure) to kill a keg of Switchback Pale Ale, we called it a night.

Trip to Hill Farmstead

We were saved the next day by one of the most greasy and delicious bacon, egg and cheese bagels I've ever encountered. Rejuvenated, we got on the road for Hill Farmstead, picking up a four-pack of the famed Heady Topper along the way. If you're unfamiliar, Heady Topper is one of those insanely popular beers that people travel far and wide just to try. We would sample it later that night.

Hill Farmstead VT
Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, 
The trip to Hill Farmstead Brewery was about a two-hour drive from Burlington, but it was gorgeous. With about six inches of fresh snow on the ground, we drove through the backwoods of Vermont to arrive at the brewery in the tiny town of Greensboro, VT (pop. 770). The brewery is relatively small (be warned: bring cash!), producing only about 2000 barrels of beer a year. But that didn't stop them from being named Best Brewer in the World by RateBeer in 2013. So even though their beer rarely leaves VT, many people like us are willing to make the trip.

We got there just before closing and went through a quick sampling of their beers. They were excellent across the board, but our favorite was Edward. We picked up a growler of it and a bottle of their port barrel aged Damien, an imperial stout, and hit the road again.

(Hill Farmstead recently made the news by announcing that after their expansion, they would cap production at 150,000 gallons of beer per year -- a very unusual move for craft brewers these days. Read the article in the New York Times.)

Heady Topper

The Alchemist's Heady Topper
That night after the long beer adventure, we opened up the Heady Topper. As mentioned before, Heady Topper (8% ABV, 75 IBUs) has a fanatical following, with people traveling long distances just to try it. Someone was recently arrested for re-selling Heady Topper on craigslist. The brewer who makes it, the Alchemist, made news recently by announcing that they would close their retail shop because they were overwhelmed by people trying to get their hands on it. There was quite an uproar following this announcement, reduced only by the news shortly afterward that the Alchemist would attempt to meet demand by opening a second brewery. There must be something in the water in Vermont, because people are going crazy for these beers!

For us, we were lucky to grab a four-pack Thursday morning about 10 minutes after it was delivered to the convenience store. In another ten minutes we might have missed our chance. The can instructs the drinker to drink from the can itself. As soon as up open it the hops aromas explode out of it. It's one of those Double IPAs that just sticks to your teeth. It's pale in color, leading me to believe that the caramel malts are restrained so as not to take anything away from the bitterness. This beer is probably the biggest showcase of American hops I've ever had. Would I drive 600 miles just to try it...maybe.

Big (Cold) Brew Day

Over the weekend a number of homebrewers got together to brew. Despite being 10 degrees outside, it was a great time. We drained the Edward, a couple of beers I brought from Asheville, and dozens of different homemade beers and meads. Needless to say, we warmed right up.

I brought two of my favorite recent beers from Asheville, including Green Man's Harvester (an amber ale made with Riverbend malt and German hops) and Firebreather, a Belgian Strong Ale aged in rye bourbon barrels, a collaboration between Asheville's Burial Beer Co. and Hi-Wire Brewing. I believe the northerners were pleased with the southern representation.

For those of you interested, here is the recipe we ended up using for the brew day, an imperial brown ale.

Imperial Brown Ale
(10-gallon batch, all-grain)

Ingredients
25 lbs. Maris Otter
2 lbs. Riverbend Appalachian Wheat Malt
2 lbs. Chocolate Malt
.5 lb. Crystal 80
.5 lb. Aromatic Malt
.75 lb. Biscuit Malt
2 oz. Kent Golding @ 60 min
1 oz. Kent Golding @ 15 min
1 oz. Fuggles @ 10 min
2 oz. Fuggles @ flame out
Ringwood Ale Yeast
*batch divided between two fermenters, one to get oak chips, one to get oak chips with bourbon

Stay tuned -- I hope to review it soon! Big thanks to Milo for a great weekend!

November 14, 2013

Hard Cider Takes Off in Western NC

As with the rest of the United States, the craft cider scene is exploding at an impressive clip. Asheville is embracing this young and exciting movement, with a rapidly developing cider scene of its own. Six months ago there were no local cider companies in the area -- now there are three. It’s a movement that’s well suited given Western North Carolina’s abundant apple production. Two events from the past month, the first annual CiderFest NC and the MALT club annual cider pressing, introduced a number of craft beer enthusiasts to the world of cider.

October 13, 2013

Wicked Weed Brings Asheville a Gold Medal

Enjoying the Gold Medal at the GABF
award ceremony (via Twitter)
Wicked Weed Brewing has made history by being the first ever Asheville brewery to bring home a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival, the top brewing industry event in the country and the largest commercial beer competition in the world.

Despite the fact that they just opened this past December, Wicked Weed has proven that they've raised the bar on the quality of beer coming out of this city. Their gold medal was in the American-Style Brett Beer category for Serenity, a beer formerly known as Transcendence. "Brett" is short for Brettanomyces, a historically wild yeast that today's most adventurous brewers have harnessed to create beers with complex, funky characteristics. In the style category, Wicked Weed's Serenity surpassed 37 other entries, including those of California's Russian River (maker of what is arguably America's favorite craft beer) and Colorado's Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (whose brewer literally wrote the entry on Brettanomyces in the Oxford Companion to Beer). This all bodes well for the New Belgium/Wicked Weed/Riverbend Malt House collaboration beer mentioned in my previous post.

This is only the third ever GABF medal for Asheville breweries. In 2011, Lexington Avenue Brewery won a bronze medal in the Brown Porter category. Prior to that, Highland Brewing Company earned a silver for Black Mocha Stout (2008, American-Style Stout category). Wicked Weed's is the first GABF gold medal for a North Carolina brewery since 2010.

Other 2013 winners from North Carolina include:
  • Silver - Old Ale / Strong Ale category, Irish Walker Barley Wine, Olde Hickory Brewery, Hickory, NC
  • Bronze - Bohemian-Style Pilsener category, Bohemian Pilsner, Mother Earth Brewing, Kinston, NC
  • Bronze - Robust Porter category, Genuine Oatmeal Porter, Carolina Brewery, Chapel Hill, NC
Congratulations to all the winners from GABF!

More results and stats from the Great American Beer Festival can be found in the press release from the Brewers Association.