There have been enough films that romanticize the wine world—“Sideways” and “Bottle Shock,” anyone?—but when it comes to beer there are few that treat the beverage as anything more than fuel for frat boys and disheveled sad sacks. But writer/director Joe Swanberg is looking to change that with his new film, “Drinking Buddies,” a heavily improvised indie romantic dramedy set in the craft brewing world. The film stars Olivia Wilde (“Tron: Legacy” and TV’s “House M.D.”) and Jake Johnson (“Safety Not Guaranteed” and TV’s “New Girl”) as Kate and Luke, two highly compatible co-workers at a Chicago brewery—the real-life Revolution Brewing Co., which retained its name in the film—who are both in relationships with other people (played by “Office Space” star Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, Oscar nominee for “Up in the Air.”)
What sets the film apart from other relationship movies is its attention to detail within the business of brewing. Swanberg tells Beverage World how he achieved that.
BEVERAGE WORLD: What made you decide to make a film set in a brewery?
JOE SWANBERG: I started home brewing about five years ago and was just a huge beer geek myself. I got really excited about the beer scene in America, especially the microbrewery and local craft beer scene. I hadn’t really seen anything set in that world...I had friends in Chicago who worked at different breweries, so over the years I’ve gotten to know the world a little bit. There’s an aspect of it that was selfish for me: getting to spend a couple days in a brewery. But also I thought it was a cool, interesting thing that’s going on right now that’s kind of underrepresented in the movies.
BW: You filmed the brewery scenes at Revolution Brewing, but didn’t fictionalize the brewery or change its name. Why?
SWANBERG: A big thing for me as we were scouting locations and starting to do this movie, was that all the beer in the movie had to be beer I actually really liked. And Revolution happens to be making some of my favorite stuff in Chicago right now, so I was happy to keep it as ‘Revolution.’ I think if we had found a brewery that was amenable to us shooting there and I didn’t like their beer, I probably would’ve created a fake brewery. I stand by the quality of Revolution beer, so I was excited to actually use that.
BW: How did Revolution react? Was the brewery part of that decision?
SWANBERG: They were great. I don’t think they insisted or anything like that…My wife owned an ice cream company in Chicago for a couple of years and she made a stout-and-brownies ice cream and she used Revolution’s beer. She’d gotten to know some of those guys from doing that. So when we came to talk to them, I already knew them a little bit and knew they were cool. It was all perfect, it worked out in a really nice way.
BW: The beer-centric imagery and dialogue came off as authentic. How’d you pull that off considering the fact that much of the dialogue was improvised?
SWANBERG: The first thing I did when Jake (Johnson) and Olivia (Wilde) got to Chicago was bring them to my basement and brew with them. The next day I took them out to [Munster, Ind. brewery] 3 Floyds so that they could go into a brewery. My friend, Andrew, who’s been my friend since high school is a brewer at 3 Floyds so he sort of gave them a little boot camp about brewing and then my friend, Kate, who works at Half Acre brewery in Chicago and on whom Olivia’s character—at least Olivia’s job—is based also worked with Olivia and was on set a lot of times as a sort of beer consultant to give Olivia and me a sense of what’s entailed in that.
BW: What are your 5 favorite beer styles?
SWANBERG: I’m big into really hoppy stuff, so IPAs are the first thing I go to. And then lately, I’ve been really into pilsners, which is weird, because, there was a period of time where I just thought lagers were really a waste of time. But now, especially in the summer, I’ve really gotten into them…A lot of the craft breweries in Chicago have started doing them. It’s hard for a small brewery to do them because they take much more time and they can’t turn them over as quickly. And then I like Belgian stuff, that’s sort of the next category that’s interesting to me. I’m rally into Belgian IPAs, Belgian stuff that mixes the hops in. I also like trippels a lot… Then I go dark after that and depending on the time of the year, I’ll get really into stouts—not really porters; if I’m going to go dark, I go all the way dark.