I recently watched the documentary “Somm” on Netflix Instant – it’s about wine, but I love films with engaging subjects or characters and this seemed to hit the spot. In a simple way, the doc is about how “four sommeliers attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world.”
For fellow beer fans who aren’t into wine, the sommelier exam is what preceded the beer-centric Cicerone exam. The beer version is the brainchild of Ray Daniels, while some version of the sommelier could technically be traced back a few hundred years to France.
Either way, this film isn’t necessarily just for wine people. As I watched it, there were several statements made in interviews that struck me not only as relevant to the documentary and wine world, but those who love beer, too.
After its cold open, this quote essentially kicks of the documentary. It rang true to me, harkening back to my recent look at the cross-section of Millennials and their beer behavior. We know that young consumers crave the idea of a story behind their product, but that tactic is also just good business practice. Tell someone a story or show them the “face” of a brand and there’s greater emotional attachment. This is why Budweiser is so focused on being “America’s largest local brewer.”
More and more, general consumers are gaining interest in knowing what goes into their beer, not to mention learning about the brewery from where it came from. When “local” rules, stories have a greater chance to dominate.
In Somm, Dustin Wilson is a candidate for the MS certification – Master Sommelier. It’s the highest level obtained in the industry and in order to achieve it, you must pass what some may consider the world’s toughest test. What Dustin is saying here is that in order to succeed, you need support in studying and in an emotional way. I’m not taking the world’s hardest test any time soon, but doesn’t beer go better with friends?
The trickiest part of the Master Sommelier exam is a blind tasting. It’s six wines and a candidate has to pinpoint each wine’s region, vintage, ingredients and more. It’s handy to talk with friends about these things, much like beer. The only way we can become better tasters is by tasting and the best way to appreciate what we have in our glass is to talk about it with others. I’ve found that while sitting around with friends and talking beer, you’re more open to suggestions about what your drinking and how you might describe it.
The best way to learn is with others.
This is Rachel, Dustin’s wife. She’s a sort of collateral damage to his obsession to pass the Master Sommelier exam and I just loved this quote. While Dustin and his friends spend hours on end studying for their test, I couldn’t help but chuckle at this quote because it seems to describe me any time I go to a beer event or even sometimes when I’m opening a beer at home. I lose myself in excitement and find myself rambling on and on about beer.
My wife doesn’t care that much about beer! But I suspect we’re all guilty of this from time-to-time. Not just with beer, but whatever our passion may be. It’s a reminder that you lose yourself very easily in something you love, so it’s good to come up for air every now and then.
… and here’s why I was rooting for Rachel throughout Somm. Passing the test becomes nothing short of an obsession for the four main subjects of the documentary. While I’m not cramming for any quizzes or tests, I do tend to lose myself in a glass of really good beer. Replace that quote with “The happiest person when you finish your beer is not you” and that’s occasionally my wife. Especially when I’m downing the White Whales of the beer world.
If anything, this emphasizes how beneficial it can be to have a supportive partner. No matter how intense our love of beer may become, it’s nice to know there’s someone who will put up with our craziness.
We taste. We smell. We obsess. But you know what? It’s just beer.
It’s nice to know a drink’s origin and story and all that other good stuff, but it’s even better to just relax and not think about all that sometimes. If you regularly take notes when you drink beer, go without those cards or writing paper once in a while.
It’s nice to sit back, relax and enjoy the hops.
Thoughts on Somm
I didn’t want to make this post a review of the documentary, but wanted to offer one lasting thought in case you’re interested. It’s easily found on Netflix Instant if you’ve got the service.
The one thing I really wanted in this movie was women. The four main characters are men and one is a minority. It’s hard to see outside the world of our four main subjects, but I would have loved to know more about women trying to make the jump to Master Sommelier, especially since the limited glimpse of this film seems to point at a world of well-off white men.
There are a couple of women interviewed throughout Somm, but that only made me more curious to learn their stories and (maybe) hardships.
The subjects/characters of Somm are engaging and the direction and editing leave a little to be desired – we never learn anything about the leads’ lives outside of getting ready for the MS exam, but maybe that’s the point. All the same, I think the story is certainly fun enough for 90 minutes of your time.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac