Originally released in 1997, Empires of Industry: Brewed in America is a 50- minute History Channel documentary about the birth and growth of the brewing industry in the United States and the personalities that helped shape the industry and make it what it is today. This documentary covers the history of the industry and the many challenges and victories faced by breweries as they continue compete for market share while facing troublesome regulations imposed by state and federal governments.
Education is the main focus of this documentary. Similar to other History Channel “Empires of Industry” documentaries, this one aims to expand one’s knowledge- in this instance, knowledge of the brewing industry- and it generally succeeds in this area. It offers some lesser- known facts like the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock because their beer supply was running low, along with some better- known facts, like the rise of Anheuser- Busch and its flagship Budweiser as America’s best selling brand of beer. This docuementary offers a quick overview of the important individuals and events that shaped the brewing industry with an emphasis on the big three: Miller, Anheuser- Busch, and Coors. Most of Empires of Industry: Brewed in America is, in fact, a history of these three large breweries with a little bit of information about Yuengling and others thrown in to make the DVD seem a little better rounded.
The historic overview of this documentary is good, and I appreciate the efforts of the History Channel to expand the general knowledge about the volatile industry of brewing. However, I have some problems with this documentary and I am confident others who watch will have similar complaints. The most glaring problem is the lack of coverage given to the craft brewing industry. At the end of the documentary, there is a brief mention of the resurgence of small breweries and there is some talk about a return to localized brewing. But the documentary fails to mention any of these microbreweries or craft breweries by name. Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams (Boston Beer), and others are ignored completely and while I can understand that the documentary is short and cannot possibly offer coverage to all of the players in the craft brewing game, I at least expected some coverage of Samuel Adams. Given the influence and success of this brewery, how can any documentary about brewing in America fail to mention this company? True, the documentary was created in 1997, but Boston Beer was still a major player in the beer industry at this time. To ignore a company with this much influence is inexcusable.
Several individuals speak in this documentary including professors such as Dr. Tony Spiva (he must have a special deal with the History Channel- he shows up on many of its documentaries), Dr. Richard Guy Wilson, and Dr. David Zonderman. There are also some contributions from some of the big names in brewing, such as William Coors and August Pabst. Each of these men is ready offer his perspective on the history and present- day state of the brewing industry. I can’t understand why August Pabst is given so many speaking opportunities, but he does have a famous last name so he is certainly someone who knows the business of beer. However, Mr. Pabst does make one statement near the end of the documentary that is laughable. Asked about the future of the industry, Pabst states that Anheuser- Busch, Miller, Coors, and Strohs are the only companies that will be important to the beer industry in the future. Yes, you heard that correctly: Mr. August Pabst was predicting that lowly Strohs would be a major force in the brewing industry! I started to laugh at first, but then I realized a likely motive. August Pabst, William Coors (and most of the documentary) say nothing about Boston Beer or any other craft brewing operation, even though they obviously know about these companies. I surmise that Mr. Pabst failure to mention them and his laughable prediction about Stroh’s are due to his own bias against craft brewing in general. He is annoyed by them, resents the competition, and doesn’t want to give the craft brewing industry any credit or free press.I like the History Channel and its Empires of Industry series of documentaries offer some good educational overviews of different American businesses and the personalities who shaped their industries. Brewed in America offers a good history lesson about brewing in America from the early days up to about 1970, but overall, this documentary is dissatisfying. Only a handful of breweries get any mention at all and the craft brewing renaissance of the past twenty- five years is ignored completely. I like the educational aspects of this documentary, but taken as a whole, it leaves you wanting more- like sipping a Miller Lite from the tap when you really wanted Anchor Steam.