Digging into a unique field often unearths exciting subcultures. Early in Bottle Conditioned, from director Jerry Franck, he strikes gold. He dives headfirst into the world of lambic beer, which proves far more dramatic than one would assume. Lambic beer, unlike traditional beer, is fermented with wild yeasts. This creates unique brews that change from batch-to-batch, instead of the more controlled flavor of mainstream beers. The process takes years and as a result, can become extremely volatile. While lambic beer once came from a very specific group of brewers in Brussels, Franck dives headfirst into a changing industry.
Bottle Conditioned follows three unique groups, each trying to establish its legacy in the lambic beer scene. One family continues its long-held tradition passed down over centuries. However, they war over whether to build a museum to the beer or continue producing while the iron is hot. Another group sees the value of lambic as a commodity and seeks to create a dominant brand for craft beer drinkers. Finally, a more subdued “rockstar” brewer created a strong following with his unique flavors. Observing all three provides unique perspectives on the continuing rise of lambic as a specialty brew.
Franck builds Bottle Conditioned on an extraordinary amount of research. Bottle Conditioned provides extensive background on lambic early. This helps establish the difficulty and unique aspects of these brews to the audience. This section slows down but pays dividends by the end of the feature. Watching the families and brewers discuss plans shows how far the cottage industry has grown since it was on death’s door less than twenty years ago.
Franck not only explores how each individual found themselves in the industry, but he captures the intricacies of the industry. Putting the brewers on the spot lets us observe surprising honesty from its subjects. We never see Franck asking questions to the participants, proving he’s earned their respect as a filmmaker and observer.
The battle inside Cantillon, the oldest of the three brewers, is the most dramatic. As a new generation takes control of the day-to-day operations, the older generation wishes to build a literal museum to the craft. This results in a push and pull within the company and its owners, which makes for riveting family drama. It also becomes a brilliant portrait of the modern business world in a biome. How do organizations step forward when individuals wield centrifugal power over them? It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Succession in the world of lambic beer. While it’s not a one-to-one draw, it’s surprisingly close.
Those who appreciate the craft of brewing will be in heaven during Bottle Conditioned. While it certainly appeals to foodie audiences, it gains a universality in its specificity. Watching the world of food and drink changing overnight has undoubtedly opened the minds of consumers. For lambic beer, this created a seismic shift in what used to be a niche industry. Yet, like many other stories, the echoes of generational change make this a perfect opportunity for a filmmaker to document the shift firsthand. As a result, Franck’s film perfectly captures a moment of real change in a craft defined by tradition.