Alternative film developing: The marriage of beer and film

Mar 19, 2024

Andrew Pigg

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Alternative film developing: The marriage of beer and film

Mar 19, 2024

Andrew Pigg

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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developing film beer

Norwich Camera Company started on a front porch in the historic district of Norwich, CT with a case of PBR (blue ribbon beer) and 3 ambitious folks who love film. It’s only fitting that on our 3rd anniversary we should celebrate the same way we started, with beer and film.

Epicure Brewing is dangerously close to our storefront on Franklin Street in Norwich. So close in fact, that our back door opens up to their back door. Over the years, Jimbo (head brewer), along with the owners and bartenders, have become family.

This past year, we have been putting our minds together to create something unique for both the world of beer and the world of film. We have spent several hours, after we shut off the lights at our neighboring brewery, working on something special. Those who may be familiar with both worlds won’t be surprised by what we’ll say next….but yes, we made developer from beer.

Several have done it before us, from at-home developers to larger names like Kodak when they partnered with Dogfish Head to make their “SuperEIGHT” beer.  The biggest difference between those developers and what we have concocted with Epicure, is chemistry. Beerenol, much like Caffenol, relies on the use of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda). We’ve had our fun with those home mixes and can say, “We’ve done it.” For this particular developer, we wanted something a bit more reliable. One thing we could never get over was the horrid stench of boiling caffenol. Waking up and smelling the fixer is one thing, but if we had to wake up to the smell of caffenol, the existential dread that is life in 2024 would be much worse. This developer smelled like a fresh bowl of Fruity Pebbles.

First, let’s get to the beer. It’s our take on a traditional Gose titled “Unusual Development”. Heavy on the wheat with some tartness that is cut out mostly by salt. Unusual Development comes in at just under 5% ABV, making it the perfect beer for spring and summer.

This endeavor started about a year ago when Alan, our main portrait photographer & lens repair tech came to Jimbo and said “Let’s collaborate!”

Over the next year, we made some recipes, bounced around ideas, and finally had a brew day. We initially thought this was just going to be a single-barrel pilot batch, but that idea quickly went out the window when we said that we would be developing film with the beer and showcasing the prints made with the “beer-veloper” in our studio.

On a brisk Thursday morning in February, we spent 8 hours enjoying each other’s company and conversations. Discussing beer, photography, and the history of alcohol here in Norwich. We highly encourage you to look up Sidney Frank. At the end of the day, we had 15 barrels (465 gallons) of beer in the fermentation chamber.  We waited anxiously as the fermentation process did its thing and once we were all sure that the sugars were gone, we pulled 2 gallons of non-carbonated beer off and got to testing

As mentioned earlier, we wanted to make a developer that had consistent results and utilized a scientific approach in its creation. All of our tests were done with a roll of Arista EDU 100. Exposure for the test roll was 1/100″, f11. Images were taken with a Nikon F100 and a 50mm 1.8g series lens.
We cut off about 10″ of film for each test and loaded it onto reels, then into the tanks. The film was developed on a Jobo rotary processor. 

We started with a basic recipe for 250ml of D76H. 

Beginning with 250ml of our “Unusual Development” beer, we added:

  1. 0.62g Metol
  2. 25g Sodium Sulfite
  3. 1g Borax (we doubled the borax to get pH up above 8.0)
  4. Final pH was 8.2 
  5. 8 minutes on constant rotation

We already knew this developer would be a little weak and opted for an 8-minute development time at 21C. Our biggest fear was getting a blank strip or a completely black strip. You can’t make an educated guess on what to adjust with those results alone. Fortunately, The Darkroom Cookbook has some good guidance on making developers. The first test strip was very thin, but all the information was there that we needed – either needing to add about 2-3 stops more time for development OR adjust chemistry.

developing film beer

As our end goal was to make a developer that was predictable & consistant, we also wanted it to be able to be used on many different films for our gallery display. We wanted a developer that had dev times as close to D76 as possible and also had the same characteristic as D76.
With that goal in mind, we upped the chemistry based on some very educated guesses and came up with this:

Starting with 250ml of our “Unusual Development” beer as the base again:

  1. 0.93g Metol
  2. 37.5g Sodium Sulfite
  3. 1.5g Borax
  4. Final pH was 8.7
  5. 8 minutes on constant rotation

The results were almost what we were expecting, but one thing we weren’t expecting was the detail that was retained in the shadows. This batch was almost a torture test for the film – We had roughly a 6-stop swing between highights to shadows and to see the detail retained by the naked eye without enlargement was impressive.

developing film beer

In our excitement, we missed a crucial part of the scientific method… we never did a control test with standard D76. We decided to stick with the 8 minute timeframe, fully knowing that was a ~1 stop push. We tend to prefer some grit & grain within the contrast of our images when we print in the darkroom.  Critique that approach all you want, but it’s our darkroom and we do what we want.
Here is the standard D76 frame. We noticed some loss in shadow detail, but overall, very very close to our second test.

developing film beer

We are very impressed with the results of this experiment. Not only did we make some great-tasting beer, we created a whole new developer. We’re calling this “B76”. You can guess what the “B” stands for in “B76”.

If you would like to see prints that were made using this developer, come down to Epicure Brewing starting on April 5th, 2024.

Epicure Brewing is located at 40 Franklin St, Norwich CT.

We will be having a “Beer Release Party” on April 5th starting at 3 pm and would love to talk to you about film and beer!

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About Andrew Pigg

Andrew Pigg spent 12 years as a US Navy Submariner, and later found a creative outlet in the study of analog photography. Running a film development lab, darkroom, wet plate studio, repair bench, and building new cameras from scratch consumes his life. His life goal is to convert as many people as possible into the analog photography world.

You’ll find more about Andrew and his studio Norwich Camera Company on its website, Facebook page, and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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One response to “Alternative film developing: The marriage of beer and film”

  1. John Beatty Avatar
    John Beatty

    Andrew Pigg, Welcome brother of the phin!! Awesome job.