Thursday, 07 May 2009 08:00

Beer Wars Movie Review

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As told on the movie’s website, Beer Wars begins as the corporate behemoths are being challenged by small, independent brewers who are shunning the status quo and creating innovative new beers.




Research and filming for the movie begun in September 2005, which portrayed an interesting progression. In the beginning of the film, there were the big three - Anheuser-Busch (AB), Miller and Coors. During filming of the documentary, Miller merged with Coors, which now controls about 30 percent of the U.S. market. AB was bought by the International beer giant, INBEV.

But let’s go back a while first. The villains were clearly defined in the beginning of the film.  With their marketing budgets, lawsuits, high-dollar sponsorships and increasing lobbying efforts, Anat Baron successfully shows that the goal for industrial brewing is the bottom dollar.  Period.  Some older Anheuser-Busch commercials & interviews were shown backing up the narrator’s point.

“Our major problem is Miller. We must attack them where they are strong and we must do so now,” Dennis Long (President, AB 1979).

Beer Wars Movie PosterThe film did a great job describing the beer landscape in America.  Baron uses 1978 as a milestone, noting that just 45 brewing companies existed at the time. That same year, the Brewers Association and American Homebrewers Association were founded in Boulder, Colorado. It's also the year that a bill legalizing home brewing passed in the U.S. Congress. Thank you Jimmy Carter! Of those 45 breweries that were trying to give Anheuser-Busch (AB) or Miller Coors (MC) a run for their money, most are no longer in business.  

Some daunting statistics flashed on the screen.  
AB market share

1965: 12%
1985: 37%
2005: 49%

The film states that Miller’s current market share is 18% and Coors is 11%.  The big three making up 78% of the current market share.  She visits a small town, to show us that big brewers are attempting to fool consumers by giving new beers artisan names and craft-like labels like “Organic Wild Hop Lager”.  The supposed brewery printed on this particular beer was Greenvalley Brewing in Fairfield, California.  When investigated further who Greenvalley Brewing was, and where the brewery was located, they reveal that it was actually AB that brewed this beer to appeal to the craft beer consumer.  

Are American consumers capable of seeing past the marketing?

The documentary then starts to illustrate the challenge small brewers face in gaining distribution and shelf space at retail. Baron then spotlights upon a few of the players in the smaller craft beer market: Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head and Rhonda Kallman, co-founder of Boston Beer and entrepreneur with a new beer called Moonshot.  Sam seems to be what a typical brewer & owner should be - accessible, friendly, empathetic of his workers and passionate about his beer.

“…Philosophically, there’s a gigantic gap between what it means to be a big brewery and a small brewery. Big breweries are usually public companies. Their real goal at the end of the day is maximizing shareholder value – where our goal is maximizing the flavor of what we’re making for our own enjoyment as the people making it,” explained Sam Calaglone (Founder, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery).

Dogfish Head owns .0002% of the market share.  They produced ~ 40,000 barrels in 2008.

Rhonda Kallman of New Century Brewing Company (previous co-founder of Boston Beer Company) is shown going through the trials and tribulations of trying to get her new caffenated beer, Moonshot, in the beer market.  In a June 12th interview between Kallman and beer blogger, Relentless Thirst, go here.

Jim Koch of Boston Beer Brewery had several cameos, as well.  “…there needs to be lunatics like me that still have that same passion. That’s where the truly wonderful parts of human civilization come from is these lunatics at the fringe.”

Jim Koch - Brewer's Lunatic Fringe?Toward the end of the movie, Baron touched upon the 3 tier system of beer distribution in which she traveled to Washington to introduce us to the Beer Lobby.  Shockingly, it has more money than the Gun Lobby and Tobacco Lobby combined (2006 election cycle – National Beer Wholesalers Association: $2,946,500; AB: $1,081,374; Miller: $112,000; Coors: $105,000). It didn’t reveal in depth the struggles of the system.  It lacked detail of why the lobbyists are fighting to keep it in place so hard and why it’s now supposedly allowing the beer giants to monopolize distribution.  Is it simply because the big three – now two – have the largest profit and market share?  Is more regulation needed?  Or, should the craft beer industry rise up in some sort of revolution?

She touched upon “neo prohibitionists” insinuating that these groups and people are fictitious characters created by the beer industry.  While there are no major organizations today, which overtly claim to be "neo-prohibitionist," there are still those that believe that the influence of alcohol in society should be reduced through legislation and policies, such as astronomical tax increases.  

Overall, it was an entertaining film, and I found myself really rooting for the “small” guys, like Sam and Rhonda.  It would be interesting to see a Part 2, updating us on the how the craft industry is gaining ground, and delving in deeper into the trials of beer distribution.Beer Wars Movie Panel

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