Friday, April 17, 2009

Beer Wars

There was a lot of talk about this film, and there seems to be just as much now that it aired.

The craft beer industry and the struggle between large and small is nothing new, and most of the people that went out for this event were likely at least fairly informed on the issue. It's my opinion that if you're going to make a documentary on the topic, then you should be prepared to delve into subtleties that highlight new aspects.

It’s hard not to be charmed by Sam’s story and how he’s brought Dogfish up in the ranks. He’s a great ambassador for craft beer culture, and a sincere example of someone who’s built a company with passion.

Rhonda was an odd choice I thought. I didn’t pick up much of an interest for beer, malternative or not. And although the struggle between Moonshot and the big three certainly exists, she was seeking out their presence in her company, financial or otherwise. If it’s war, and that’s obviously the claim the movie was making, then one has to be sure what side they’re on – especially when focusing a large portion of the film on her. I had the nagging feeling that Anat felt a likeness and sympathy for Rhonda, and that somehow clouded her vision when bringing this film to life.

The big Three, which are now the big….well, I’m not sure with all these mergers and buyouts. It’s easy to paint “The Macros,” as the evil overlord, and in some ways it’s inevitably true. They make beer that has very few characteristics whatsoever because actual characteristics create the opportunity for genuine dislike. It’s not that anyone actually loves or hates the taste of Bud Light, it’s that it doesn’t possess any dimension at all. You buy into the notion and overall marketing machine and pass the unobtrusive liquid down your throat, or you decide you’re looking for actual qualities to discern and require something more for your sensibilities. These companies have been around for a long time, passed through generations of people, all of whom have different goals and ideas of what should and shouldn’t be. Will Sam’s son or daughter want to keep Dogfish an intimate company of beer lovers or will they want to maximize profit and compete on another level? Who can tell, but 150 years will allow for a lot to happen.

Three-tiered structure. Here in Illinois, we live and die by these same laws. It’s my belief that brewers should be able to sell directly to retailers or use a distributor depending on how they want to structure their business. This is one of the more complex topics that Anat covered, and touching on this point or that doesn’t really do the larger topic justice. There’s no question it’s a bitch, and many small brewers face challenges as a result of Macro distribution networks, but it’s not all bad. To be clear, New Belgium, Boston Beer, Dogfish (depending on market) and Half Acre for that matter, all use distribution houses dominated by Macro brewers. I won’t speak on their behalf, but I will say that our little company gets a fair shake at making a go of it in this market. They even go out of their way to make it easier for us to weather some of the storm related to being a start-up brewing company / business. I just think it’s really easy to point the finger and say Macro influence is all bad; it’s a topic that deserves closer inspection.

Last but not least, and again, in my opinion (and believe me, I’m biased), it would've been great to also highlight a tiny, just breaking into the world of craft brewing, brewery that is facing this big wave of issues at its onset. Dogfish and Stone are great brewing companies, but to their credit, these guys have a substantial foothold. Every step of the way there are a particular set of hurdles, and highlighting the larger spectrum might have given viewers a larger understanding. There are innumerable dynamics that go into the beer business; our little company continues to learn about them on a daily basis. Topics that people are so eager learn should be handled with care, and hopefully add to the level of understanding….

I enjoyed the panel discussion. Papazian is a pimp.

Someone else should make a follow up, a competitor film that aims to beat the pants off Beer Wars – Beer Documentary Wars.

Half Acre Beer Co
Chicago, IL


Chipper Dave said...

Charlie Papazian does a good job of pimping craft beer too!

Patrick said...

Anat's film is an attempt at pushing the stone up the hill and going beyond the "Craft Brew Scene" and enthusiast to try and pique interest for those outside this clique into what happens in the dynamics of the market.

When creating a documentary as such which is not meant to be a this is everything in the history of beer, but more of a peak inside, you need main characters and very willing main characters. Sam C and Rhonda were natural fits, and the Rhonda story as I understand it developed out of Anat's peak into Sam Adams.

I think it is important for people to step back and realize this was just a tip of the iceberg look and meant to be a discussion starter, not a finished statement of absolute fact.

The natural first audience for enthusiasm is the beer geek. It is now our job as craft enthusiasts or whatever we want to be called to show this to those outside and make the point of...

If you think it is hard for Sam C and Rhonda (with all of her networked connections from Sam Adams days) imagine how tough it is for x brewpub or y craftbrewer.

Scott said...

The movie would have left a better taste in everyone's mouth if the theaters (and particularly the AMC on Western Ave.) hadn't posted guards like we were at a National Socialist rally. And they did eject plenty of dissidents who dared bring beer into a beer movie. What's that? It was like expecting 'Easy Rider' and getting 'Reefer Madness'.

Dave said...

You write a nice blog Gabriel, thanks