This film was viewed at the 49th Seattle International Film Festival
Synopsis: Following three lambic breweries in Belgium, this documentary takes a look at how their operations have changed over the years and how tradition, along with new creative choices, influences their craftsmanship.
As someone whose never had the pleasure of trying a lambic beer I was captured by the idea of a documentary around the various brewers of the style and the process involved. Bottle Conditioned is an exquisitely intimate journey into the lambic tradition, the long-lasting pursuit of excellence, and the beautiful community of those that celebrate the craft.
Director Jerry Franck opted for, in my mind, one of the best filmmaking motifs of a documentary I've seen in recent times. This film is full of incredible commentary from the numerous people interviewed. Lambic brewers of new and old who love the craft, the style, and the long tradition that comes with brewing and mixing lambics into gueuze (a mix of differently aged lambics). Through this commentary Franck is able to drive the narrative of the film, engaging the viewer, without the presence of the ubiquitous narrator.
I thought that choice, while probably daunting and possible confusing at some points, was the perfect decision for this film. Throughout the film lambic brewers and icons such as Jean-Pierre van Roy of Cantillon Brewery mention that every barrel of lambic being brewed is impossible to mimic. Every batch is so unique in its flavor, its complexities, that you're forced to tinker and take new approaches to new brews. Coinciding with this idea of bucking the trend while also respecting tradition, is Franck's unorthodox un-narrated documentary. If you're looking for additional context you'll have to find it from the incredible people on screen. Unlike other documentaries in a simply beautiful way, Franck is able to focus the viewer on the subject at hand, instead of relying on the omnipotent narrator to explain and direct attention, much like the explorative nature of lambic brewing.
The footage in the film is wonderful on top of the aforementioned point. Views of old brewing establishments, the plans of future expansions, and of course piles of aging lambic bottles showcase the storied tradition of the brewing craft and also serves as a compass to guide into the future. While bits and pieces of the editing were difficult to follow or distracted from one story to another, I found the human element of the documentary to be gorgeous.
Placing the ever-growing trend of wannabe foodies taking pictures of their food before they eat, or the increasing desire of quality food and drink, next to the process of lambics was a powerful choice. In a world where everything needs to be faster, and better, the slow craft of lambic brewing that takes years, the side-by-side of the two perspectives is fantastic. Jean-Pierre's son and brewmaster Jean van Roy (a fifth generation owner of Cantillon) tells a heart-shattering tale of spending years meticulously crafting a lambic that you're attached to. You've spent so much time pouring yourself and your craft into a lambic that takes years, and a customer tells you it's the worst beer they've ever tasted. It's an early moment in the film but it highlights the fragility of craft or the human spirit in being proud of something you've created. Another wonderful example is the lacking understanding of the lambic style. Of course this points to why Franck made the film, but the idea that to not understand lambic is to not fully appreciate it is incredible to realize when watching these people talk so passionately about their craft and tradition. Ringing true even more, this idea of understanding in an industry that's become increasingly homogenized in taste and appearances. The industrialization of the beer industry has been the creeping decay of lambic, but lately the resurgence of demands in quality and new flavors has been the spark that lambic brewers needed.
Beautifully orchestrated and intimate in nature, Bottle Conditioned is a fantastic glimpse into a world where tradition and change coalesce. I loved the crisp runtime, the craft being shown along with Franck's craft of filmmaking. Accompanied by a solid score that elevates varying points of the film along with not distracting, and avoiding the pitfalls of narration I truly enjoyed (and learned a lot) this tale of lambic tradition.
Of course the perfect pairing for this film would be any of the lambics or gueuzes shown in the film. But alas, they were nowhere to be found near me as these are increasingly rare beers to find in the states. However, if you're able to procure any of the fine lambics from 3 Fonteinen, Bokke, or Cantillon Brewery I'm sure you'll be in for a treat! Especially with watching the brewers talk about their love of the craft, and the time and tradition that has been poured into lambic brewing.
Seeing as I didn't have a lambic on hand I went a different route. I was recently in Long Island for a wedding and had the opportunity to check out Lost Farmer Brewing for a few of their brews. While there I was able to have a quick chat with the owner and even though it was brief, it was clear that similar to these lambic brewers, the level of care and craft put into their beer is astounding. One of my favorites I had there was the Stable Shaker American Lager, which would make a stellar pairing here as well. Bursting with light, crisp flavors, the Stable Shaker is a wonderful and refreshing lager that could easily become one of your staple choices.
I also had a few other of Lost Farmer's beers and they were all fantastic but for the sake of this article I'll just shout out the Stable Shaker.
So shouts out to the Stable Shaker, you kick ass.
Lost Farmer Brewing's ethos is to celebrate the hard working farmers that provide the very ingredients necessary to brew beer. Much like Bottle Conditioned's homage to lambic tradition, this brewery celebrates the behind the scenes action that isn't in the forefront of our minds when drinking beer. Both, of course, doing so in wonderful ways that stick with you for some time.