Thursday, August 19, 2010
Movie Review: Beer Wars
Beer Wars is a documentary about the history and current state of beer marketing in America. Director Anat Baron is a former Mike's Hard Lemonade executive who knows something about creating a niche market in an industry where 2 companies make up almost 80% of sales in America. The documentary takes a look at the craft beer movement and features a behind-the-scenes look at Dogfish Head in Milton, DE. Founder Sam Caglione is something of a rock star in the craft beer industry, and he is quite a character. The scenes featuring him are the best in the movie; you definitely feel for him when he shows you the documents from Annheuser-Busch that notify him he is being sued by them. The reason? The use of the word "Punkin'" for his Halloween beer is too generic. The folks who represent Annheuser-Busch throughout the movie are fascinating, as well. They make no bones about the fact that they are seeking to dominate every nook and cranny of the industry, either by making their own "craft" brews or buying out preexisting ones.
The downfall of the movie was the story of Rhonda Kallman, one of the co-founders of The Boston Beer Co., makers of Sam Adams. She left the company to market her own product, Moonshot, a beer with caffeine. The movie tries to make you feel for her plight as she struggles to find a niche and when Budweiser steals her idea. I had a hard time feeling bad for someone who left a lucrative, successful job to pursue a pipe dream. It didn't help that I felt her pipe dream was dumb. She totally lost my support when she tries to sell out to the folks at Miller and Coors, which seemed to undermine the whole point of the movie, which bills itself as a "contemporary David and Goliath story."
The director herself was a bit odd and the scenes with her didn't really add to the movie, though I did enjoy when a self proclaimed "Bud guy" couldn't distinguish Bud Light from Coors or Miller. If you are a craft beer geek you probably won't learn a whole lot of new information, but there are a few interesting tidbits about the 3-tiered distribution system and how it makes it hard to get the beers we want, and about how beer lobbies support all sorts of politicians including Barack Obama; I guess his choice of Bud Light for the "beer summit" was not by chance. I've read some scathing reviews of this film but it's really not that bad, and at 90 minutes not a huge commitment. It held my interest as I drank a Sly Fox Rte. 113 IPA to enhance my viewing pleasure.