A film crew followed Sugar Creek Brewing Company co-owner Joe Vogelbacher on and off for 18 months while he prepared for the Master Cicerone test. It’s a 20-hour written and oral exam administered over two days. Part of the exam asks participants to identify, analyze and describe 60 beers.
The award-winning documentary “Beers of Joy” is a partnership between independent filmmaker Gravitas Ventures and One-Eleven Entertainment that chronicles the journey of four people, including Vogelbacher, as they study for the fourth and final level of the Cicerone Certification Program.
The program is more than 10 years old and is on par with the wine industry’s Certified Sommelier. Those who complete the first level join 110,000 others in becoming “certified beer servers” — a distinction shared by many in Charlotte. Only 16 people have succeeded in passing the highest-level test, and Vogelbacher wanted to join that small group. (You’ll have to view the film to see if he succeeds.)
‘A conscious, whole-body, athletic endeavor’
“I don’t think you can make great beer if you can’t taste great beer,” Vogelbacher said. “Drinking beer and tasting are majorly different. Tasting is an analytical approach to understanding what’s in the beer, the flavors in the beer and the dozens of interactions you have going on in the beer. It’s a conscious, whole-body, athletic endeavor.”
In 2013, native Charlotteans Eric Flanigan and Vogelbacher founded Sugar Creek Brewing in Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s former location on Southside Drive in South End. The two owners split the brewery’s workload — Flanigan handles sales, marketing and operations, while Vogelbacher does production and finance.
The brewery specializes in Belgian-style craft beer. In 2018, it tied for the gold medal in the U.S. Open Beer Championship for the brewery’s Sugar Creek Dubbel. It shared the title with Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Heart of Westmalle, a community of monks in Belgium.
“Joe’s processes are exactly the way the monks have been doing it for hundreds of years,” Flanigan said. “We wanted to emulate that as much as possible. The reason the Dubbel Gold Medal was great for us is because Westmalle is one of the oldest breweries in the world and actually created that class of beer (Belgian Dubbel), and we ended up tying with them.”
Vogelbacher caught the attention of “Beers of Joy” filmmakers because he was one of the first 25 Advanced Cicerones in the world. It’s the third level in the Cicerone Certification Program. When the Sugar Creek Brewing owners were approached about being involved in the movie, they thought it was a way to share their story. They also wanted the opportunity to get Charlotte in the spotlight.
“We thought long and hard about it,” Flanigan said. “A lot of people say, ‘When you’re in a movie, you’re going to sell out,’ but really the ability to put our hometown on the map and show Charlotte beer in general was important.”
The Charlotte premiere of “Beers of Joy” is at 7 p.m. June 28 at Sugar Creek Brewing Company. Some of the cast, directors and producers will be present and available to answer questions. Admission is free. Don’t want to wait? Rent it now on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu or Vimeo.
215 Southside Drive