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Documenting the Brew Boom

Alum Launches Kickstarter for “Blood, Sweat, and Beer”

By Karen Shih ’09

Beer

For the past 15 months, Alexis Irvin ’09 and her boyfriend, Chip Hiden, immersed themselves in the yeasty aromas and hoppy flavors of the booming craft beer industry. But all the documentary filmmakers were bingeing on was research on what it takes to create those unique brews.

The ales and lagers and casks, they expected. A prolonged legal battle and a “post-apocalyptic” town with trees growing through the roofs of abandoned houses, they didn’t.

Alexis Irvin

“Blood, Sweat, and Beer” tells the stories of two breweries in Maryland and Pennsylvania as they struggle to get off the ground during their first year. To finalize the film, which is 90 percent complete, Irvin, a journalism graduate, and Hiden, a history graduate from Washington College, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000. With just a week and a half left to go, the project still needs about $6,000 to be fully funded.

“It’s been challenging and stressful, but pretty fun,” Irvin says. “We’ve thrived working together in this more entrepreneurial, creative setting. That’s why we were attracted to these startup stories.”

This isn’t their first documentary. In 2010, Irvin and Hiden quit their 9-to-5 jobs and hit the road with just enough money to get through a three-month journey across the United States. They interviewed more than 30 people who had their dream jobs and turned it into a film called “The Dream Share Project,” which led to a book deal. They wrote “Build Your Dreams: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love” to help young people turn their passion into their profession.

They have screened “The Dream Share Project” at more than 175 universities, and while they hit up local watering holes after each engagement, the pair realized there was a story to be told about the beers they were drinking and the people brewing them.

“We started out with a broader focus, doing an industry-based documentary focused on growth and trends, since the U.S. has never seen something like this” rapid brewery expansion before, she says. “But then we realized, after talking to over 100 breweries, beer experts and people involved in the industry, that focusing in on startup stories would be more personal and relatable for the viewer.”

Beer StatLast summer they met Danny Robinson, whose Ocean City, Md., boardwalk brewery has battled a nearby T-shirt shop over trademark issues for more than a year. He’s changed the name to Backshore Brewing Company but the legal troubles continue, and he says he’s likely to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars even if he wins, and millions if he loses. Irvin and Hiden are waiting to see what happens before they complete the documentary.

Earlier this year, they started following the Brew Gentlemen, a trio of 23-year-olds trying to open a brewery in Braddock, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh that’s faced major population flight—the population has shrunk from around 4,000 to 2,000 in the last twenty years—since the local steel mill closed in the 1970s. The 2009 post-apocalyptic film “The Road” was partially filmed in the town, which has been plagued by gang violence and drug problems. The Brew Gentlemen hope to provide the community’s new gathering place, as well as create job opportunities.

“Blood, Sweat, and Beer” is entirely self-financed, and Irvin estimates she and Hiden spent $15,000 to $20,000 on it so far. The couple, based in Silver Spring, Md., makes a living through screenings and workshops of their first film, as well as sales of their book and curriculum kits.

They’re targeting major craft brew cities like Portland, Ore., San Diego and Boston for screenings, and would like to screen at film festivals nationwide, but they plan to market to a wide audience as well.

“We hope people will say, ‘I like this movie even though I’m not a beer drinker,’” Irvin says.

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