Someone asked me recently, "what's your favorite beer movie?" The question is as depressing as it is easy: none. Beer is ubiquitous, but capturing anything interesting about it on film seems impossible.* TV shows seem no more successful. I have despaired of every seeing something that captured the essence of beer culture--entertainingly--on screen.
In late 2009, Phil Parkin released his indie production called Beertickers, and finally managed what his predecessors could not. The difficulty is telling an entertaining story that allows a filmmaker to peel back the layers of beer culture in the process. So Parkin's movie, ostensibly about quirky obsessives called "beer tickers" (akin to trainspotters), is really about the nature and history of British pub culture.
Beer tickers are a strange variant of cask ale enthusiasts. Their goal is to "collect" beers by tasting and recording them ("ticking" them off). They go around to pubs and festivals, trying new beers and recording them in loose-leaf notebooks. Amateurs record hundreds of ticks a year; the real competitors do more than a thousand. We watch as "Brian the Champ," Britain's king ticker, records his 40,000th tick. Unsurprisingly, he's been doing it for decades.
The ticking is ultimately just a device to tell the real story, which is Parkin's deep appreciation for the institution of the corner pub and the art of cask ale. As he follows tickers around, Parkin tours English pubs, brews his own beer at Thornbridge, and learns about the history of British brewing. As you're watching, you begin to see that the tickers aren't the center of the show; rather, they're a consequence of a country so in love with a nice pour of real ale. Americans are proud of our burgeoning good-beer culture, but it's nice to be reminded, as I was when Parkin visits a 12th-century English pub, that we have a long way to go.
The story is entertaining enough that when Sally walked by my computer as I was screening it, she was instantly engrossed and sat down to watch it with me. It's a low-budget movie that neither looks or feels low budget (although you do see a boom mic in one shot). I could live without the chirpy music, but that's the kind of quibble I have to dredge up to find anything wrong with it.
Beerticking will not be getting a theatrical release in the US, but Phil is trying to get Americanos to watch on iTunes. You can watch it for a buck or own it for fifteen. The link is here, but if you might find it easier just to boot up the program and search for "Beertickers." Below is a trailer that focuses more on the ticking side of things--but gives you a sense of the piece nonetheless.
Definitely spend the buck and watch this movie.
*Strange Brew is of course, nostalgically entertaining, but it's about drunkards, not beer.