Movie Review: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).

8/10

Beer Review: Cut Throat Pale Ale [Finch’s Beer Company]

Cut Throat Pale Ale [Finch's Beer Company]

Cut Throat Pale Ale
Brewery: Finch’s Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5.6%

In my quest to accommodate myself with Chicago’s ever-growing craft beer scene, I decided to check out Finch’s Beer Company, another new upstart in the city. Finch’s is a collaboration between owners Benjamin and Paul Finch, and head brewer Richard Grant (formerly of suburb brewery Flossmoor Station). Despite being very new to the scene, the company already has two beers available in cans across the Chicagoland area: Golden Wing Blonde Ale and Cut Throat Pale Ale. I picked up a 4-pack of the latter.

When poured into a glass, Cut Throat has a hazy orange appearance. Its aroma brings out citrus notes, but these are not as apparent when tasting. I noticed a very malty taste, with a lingering bitterness on the tongue. This has a heavier body than other local pale ales (such as Half Acre’s amazing Daisy Cutter). Hints of caramel are also present.

Cut Throat is a worthy entry into Chicago’s pale ale market, but I feel that it still has room for improvement. Finch’s Beer Company is an up-and-coming brewery that is still very new, so I am eager to see what else they have in store. As it stands, Cut Throat is a good, drinkable beer, but could be even better if refined.

7/10

Beer Review: Pegasus IPA [Argus Brewery]

Pegasus IPA

Pegasus IPA
Brewery: Argus Brewery (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.5%

New breweries are popping up like daisies here in Chicago. Argus Brewery, located deep in the South Side, is one of the latest in town to start selling bottles locally. As someone who is always willing to support area craft beer, I picked up a six pack of one of their flagship offerings: Pegasus IPA.

After pouring Pegasus into a pint glass, I was very surprised with its color. This is significantly darker in appearance compared to most American IPAs, as it has a copper-like red look to it. Its aroma is very subdued, with only slight hoppy notes. The taste, however, piles on the hops, and they leave a lingering bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit. Traces of caramel are also present.

Pegasus IPA is a reasonably drinkable beer with a good ABV kick, but it lacks a special “oomph” to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. I still enjoyed my sampling, but this is not something I will go out of my way to get again. I have to admit that I found it somewhat amusing that the brewery puts a mini-review directly on their labels, though, even going so far as to include an “overall impression”.

6.5/10

Beer Review: The Magician [Short’s Brewing Company]

The Magician [Short's Brewing Company]

The Magician
Brewery: Short’s Brewing Company (Bellaire, Michigan)
Style: Irish Red Ale
ABV: 6.0%

Last weekend I went to a craft beer festival in Western Michigan. The event was a rousing success (900+ people showed up) and I had a great time. The usual suspects were there — Bell’s, Founders and New Holland, to name a few — but I opted to go for smaller names that I can’t easily find in Chicago. Short’s Brewing Company, located way up north in Bellaire, Michigan, stood out to me. I knew them from their collaborations with local favorite Half Acre, and those releases were always a lot of fun (and always Ween inspired).

I tried a couple of their beers at the festival, both of which I enjoyed, and decided to bring some back with me. At a surprisingly great craft beer store in Ludington, I picked up a six pack of a brew not found at the event — The Magician.

The bottle labels this as a Dark Red London Style Ale with the caption “The eloquent, swift and skillful master who makes things happen.” When poured into a glass, the beer is a reddish brown color, and its aroma, while tame, brings hints of caramel and toffee. These traits remain present while tasting, though nothing in particular stands out. There is a slight amount of bitterness afterward.

The Magician goes down smooth and is easily drinkable, but I can’t help but feel that it’s missing a certain something. While the flavors bounce around, it doesn’t really have anything that rises above the rest. Still a quality beer, no doubt, but it could use a little boost.

7/10

Beer Review: Flywheel Bright Lager [Metropolitan Brewing]

Flywheel Bright Lager [Metropolitan Brewing]

Flywheel Bright Lager
Brewery: Metropolitan Brewing (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: German Pilsner
ABV: 5.2%

In my endless quest to devour all of Chicagoland’s local beers, I am sad to say I have neglected a few of the area’s major upcoming breweries. Metropolitan Brewing, located in the Andersonville neighborhood, is one such brewery that I haven’t given enough time to.

Metropolitan is a relatively new arrival to the city’s craft beer scene. It was opened in January 2009 by Doug and Tracy Hurst, a beer-loving married couple who decided to launch Chicago’s first all-lager brewery. They have three main beers: a kölsch, copper lager and “bright lager”. Tonight I opted for Flywheel, their bright lager.

When poured into a glass, Flywheel is light in appearance. Very light, actually, with a beautiful clear golden color. The bottle’s label declares this is a “German-inspired beer” and that is indeed what it is. It’s easy to tell that this is an American beer due to the added spicy hops, but there is a clear German influence prevalent as well. The hops make this a little more bitter than expected, and the bitterness lingers on the tongue after tasting.

Flywheel doesn’t have a lot of character, but it is very drinkable. This is a good session beer. I wouldn’t classify it among the best pilsners I have had, but it is good quality and I would drink it again. In the coming weeks, I will make an effort to try the rest of Metropolitan’s offerings to see how they compare.

7/10

Beer Review: Centennial IPA [Founders Brewing Company]

Centennial IPA [Founders Brewing Company]

Centennial IPA
Brewery: Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Style: American IPA
ABV: 7.2%

As a lifelong citizen of the Midwest (so far), I am a very big fan of the craft beer scene here. When I lived in Michigan, I had two “go-to” breweries: Bell’s and Founders. The latter, Founders, is located right in the middle of my old stomping grounds, Grand Rapids. Their Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale is one of my all-time favorite beers, and pretty much anything they release is of high quality. Tonight I opted for their Centennial IPA, which I am giving a fresh take on thanks to my new-found love of IPAs.

The first thing I noticed about this beer was its 7.2% ABV label on the bottle. This added kick is quite noticeable upon the initial tasting. In contrast to many American IPAs, Centennial is more complex. My first two tastings were surprisingly underwhelming — something was different about this, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. On the third taste, everything clicked. The citrus notes came rushing through, with grapefruit leading the charge. The floral hops made an appearance and lingered on the tongue. There was slight bitterness, but it was kept to a minimum.

I’m not sure what put me off of the initial tasting, but this beer certainly got better over time. While the hops are always present, it seems that the malt prevents them from exploding the way one might expect. Still, this is an eminently drinkable beer, a nice smooth offering that packs a little extra punch. This is a strong effort from Founders, and a great summer beer.

8/10