Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview with Dave Okar: Director of Crafted to Last - Minnesota Beer Blossoms

For those of you who regularly follow my blog, from time to time, I like to sit down and meet with people who play a role in the craft beer industry. Last week, I got in touch with Dave Okar through a mutual acquaintance. Dave is the director of the upcoming film Crafted to Last - Minnesota Beer Blossoms. 

Crafted to Last chronicles the growth in the Minnesota Craft Brewing industry from January 2012 through August 2013 thanks the changes in legislation which took effect when production first began. The film is scheduled to premiere this Saturday, July 19th at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, MN. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dave for an interview to discuss the film and all the work that was put into it. Dave was also featured on WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and more KUMD right here in Duluth to help promote his film.

Dave, thanks for joining me today. First tell me a bit about yourself, what is your background?

Well I have a Ph.D in Chemistry and I ran a medical research lab at the University of Minnesota at the VA Medical Center here in Minneapolis for about 15-20 years. Then the bottom fell out of that boat so we decided that we'd pick up on my hobby of video making that I did back when I made videos for Public Access and after doing some searching around, we decided that I would pick up on that for the second half of my career.

Before starting this documentary, what was your background as far as film-making goes? Like, what subjects did you cover prior?

I hadn't really made a film in the past. I was on Public Access TV down in Minneapolis and I covered a lot of absurdist, political satire at the time I guess you could call it and we did some vacation footage and things like that and we'd go on a trip that I would make up and pretend that I was a vacation host and do a video about where we were.

When you first decided to make a documentary about Minnesota Craft Beer, where did you get that spark that you think to yourself "This is something I really want to do a production on?"

Well it was Thanksgiving of 2011 and I had been hearing a lot about the upcoming Surly Bill coming into effect on January 2012 and my wife and I spent a lot of time talking because we were driving to Michigan to visit my family so we had a lot of time together in the car. I was talking about how someone should be out documenting what will be happening on the beer scene in Minnesota and she said "Well...why don't you go document it?"

So I got my camera together and went out and started doing it. Mostly just to document what was happening, to make sure someone captured this moment in craft beer and then I decided that "Yeah, this is something worthy of a film."

When you started doing production on this film, what was the biggest hurdle that you faced?

The biggest hurdle was in the beginning when getting people to go along, to let me come in and sit down and talk to them on camera. I guess everyone was very busy and they just really didn't have the time to do it so it took me a little while to convince people to get it. But once that started going, then it switched to have a hurdle of too breweries to talk to.

So what was the first brewery that was willing to say "Yeah, I'll sit down and talk with you?"

The first two to sign on were Joe Pond at Olvalde Farm and Brewery and Jason Sowards and Jesse Brodd from Harriet Brewing. Then there was (Dustin) Brau from Brau Brothers and Greg Smith from Leech Lake Brewing.

What was that like sitting down with these guys who would go on to be leaders on the forefront as far as Minnesota Craft Beer goes?

It was pretty exciting because I heard a lot of interesting information from them in the way that I structured it to get two people from a brewery to sit down and talk to each other. I was also able to capture some of the excitement and the passion between the two of them and in most cases, it was people whose business was working very well at the time so there was a lot of positive energy when I go out and talk to brewer's and that was a really nice thing for me.

During the year and a half you were filming it, what moment stood out to you the most as you were putting this documentary together?

The most interesting thing to me was how many different ways people went about building a brewery. I kind of thought there would be....alot of people went to the same brewing school or the Siebel Academy so I thought "OK, there will be 5-6 different ways to build a brewery and there'll be some version of that." But there is so many different business plans and so many different focuses and passions. For some people, it's about branding, some it's about beer, some it's about the community. So it was amazing to me how many different way there were to build a brewery.

With this legislative session over, how do you see legislation changing the craft beer scene in Minnesota in the next couple of years?

Well unfortunately, I don't see it changing very much based on what happened this last session but I really think that if the politicians and the legislators were serious about building economies and creating jobs, they would look to see what is happening in the craft brewing sector and see what's actually happening there; It is stimulating the economy and it is putting people to work. So they would need to reform the laws to help them: Let us buy beer on Sunday, equalize distribution laws between brewpubs and breweries. I think they could do a lot to help the industry continue to grow to create jobs.

Something I noticed about this documentary is that it has all original music and I noticed there was an IndieGoGo campaign for the music. Could you go into detail about that?

Well my thought with the campaign for music was to try to create a mechanism where the money that I generate from the beer community or people who are interested in a film about beer would get directed right back into another local community of musicians and that's based on those tight economic cycles that you get with local economies. It was the reasoning behind the campaign for music rather than just giving me money to make the film, I thought I could be explicit about that I am just a forum for another community. The campaign for music was designed as that force-multiplier, something to take the money that came in and direct it right back into our community in a way that we can continue to stimulate.

A little off-topic here, what's your favorite style of beer?

Style-wise, I'm at the dark end of the spectrum. I really like stouts and porters. I've learned over the past couple of months to really appreciate Black IPAs; The one from Indeed, their Haywire is still one of my favorite beers and I really like the Olvalde Ode to a Russian Shipwright. I just found some 2012 the other day on sale in the liquor store.

If there is one thing you want people to take away from this film, what would that be?

Just one thing....would be about how small breweries are local businesses. It's not only about a bunch of people who like to get together and drink beer, it's also about your local economies; It's stimulating what's happening in your state. That's part of the title: Crafted to Last. It's so integrated into the local economy now with hop farms and other things like that are being stimulated that it can't really go away, that's why it's crafted to last.

I've noticed that one of the places you interviewed up here was Carmody (Irish Pub & Brewery) and Fitger's (Brewhouse.) What do you think of the Duluth Craft Beer scene? What is your impression of what we have up here in our fair city?

I think that Duluth is really really doing a good job. I mean Duluth kind of had it own culture even before the beer scene came on, so it's natural that they kind of have their own take on craft beer too.

Of all the things you've seen in the Minnesota Craft Beer Scene, which direction do you see that going?

Well we have alot of room to grow when we look at the demographics and the numbers so there is still a lot of room for growth in the craft beer scene in how many people are consuming craft beer regularly. One niche that I think that Minnesota and the Midwest in general moving forward can do is to get into specialty in craft malting in a much bigger way. That's an advantage that we have in this part of the country and those cold, dry winters that really help us out when malting.

What is one trend you see growing in the craft beer industry? Not just in Minnesota, but in general?

I think experimenting with styles in a way that hasn't been done....I don't know...ever in beer. Taking a basic standard traditional recipe and tweaking it this way. The latest trend is Imperializing every style and making it bigger and bigger and then there is a hop trend: Let's put hops into styles that aren't typically hoppy and things like that. So really it's just experimentation and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight for what kind of new beers beer makers can create.

So let's talk about the premiere of the film....

It's at the Parkway Theater on Chicago Ave in South Minneapolis on July 19th. We have the film, you'll get one free beer; We've helped the venue to expand in their range of Minnesota beers available for that night. There will be a beer list coming out soon, we're still putting that together.  Then the film will have some free food at the event, some tapas snacks and then some really powerful music for the afterparty. A lot of people I know from my earlier artistic days are working the lights, so it's going to be a bash.

And the Duluth premiere is more straight forward? It's just tickets and beer?

It's pretty straighforward. Tickets and beer. You can get tickets online or at the theater.

A big thanks to Dave Okar for sitting down to talk with me. I am very excited to see how this film turned out and I'm really excited to see it. 

You can see the premiere in 2 locations:
July 19, 2014
Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, MN
Tickets: $30 (click here to buy tickets)
The show will include the film, 1 free beer, all night tapas snacks, 3 local bands and a liquid light show.

July 25, 2014
Zinema 2 in Duluth, MN
Tickets: $10 (click here to buy tickets)

Beer and will be available for purchase at the theater

You can check out the Official Crafted to Last on either their official website: or by checking them out on Facebook at

I hope that everyone who has an appriciation for Minnesota Craft Beer will check this film out. I hope to see you all there!



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