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Beer Wars – The Movie Review

Tonight we headed to the AMC Movie cinema in Burlington, MA for the only showing of BEER WARS. We expected a large crowd, so we purchased our tickets online (this morning) and headed over to AMC slightly early. We (Amber, Ian and I) arrived about 7:00 and saw about 10-15 cars in the lot. It was nearly empty.

We had rushed to get there, so we decided to grab a bit to eat at the Macaroni Grille (right next door). We were also excited because we got to see the first period of the Bruins playoff game. Yup, they beat Montreal in game 1. (By the time we came back, the parking lot was nearly full.)

Anyway, I digress.

Beer Wars, The movie.

If you’re in the beer scene, you might have heard of it OR you might have seen it posted on our blog. If you haven’t, let us guide through the movie.
The premise of the movie is a David vs. Goliath battle between the small artisan breweries vs. the big guys (aka. Miller, Coors, Anheuser Busch). It’s a documentary that discusses the grass roots efforts of the craft beer industry. [It was filmed similar to a Michael Moore style documentary.]

As the movie began, we were taken back by the writer and director of the movie Arat Baron (who formerly helped grow the Mike’s Lemonade brand). The beginning and end of the movie were live simulcast and since she only had Q cards it started a bit shaky. She would have to stop mid sentence while someone flipped to the next card or start over if the line didn’t flow right. I actually became intrigued by this and it gave her a more believability through the rest of the movie. Her honest quest for answers to the “beer wars” phenomenon along with her background in the industry laid a sturdy foundation for the movie.

The idea for the movie started in September 2005. It showed a very interesting progression from the start of the movie to the end. For example, towards the beginning, there were the BIG 3 (no, not the Boston Celtics big 3) AB, Miller and Coors. During the time while the movie was made, Miller merged with Coors and AB was bought by the International beer power house INBEV.

The story discusses the difficulties that smaller craft breweries face when competing against the larger breweries. The larger breweries have the money to grab a larger amount of shelf space. They have the money to spend on advertising. They sell enough beer to offer the lowest prices and base their revenue on the high volume of sales.

Dogfish head Brewery, out of Milton, Delaware, was featured quite often in the movie. The movie painted a very creative and enthusiastic picture of Sam Calagione, the founder. He has been pushing the boundaries of craft brewing for quite some time. Also featured was Greg Koch (cook) from Stone Brewing Company in California. Even though Sam and Greg are on opposite coasts, they share a similar passion of creating beers that push the traditional boundaries and make the mouths of craft beer enthusiasts water like a raging river.

Also featured in the movie was New Century Brewing Company, founded by Rhonda Kallman. It is interesting that she helped found the Boston Beer Company (aka. Sam Adams), but she has ventured on her own. In a previous story, we mention her adventures with the New Century Brewing Company. Rhonda isn’t a brewer, but she is currently trying to promote sales of her Moon Shot beer brand. Her story showed how difficult it is for a new company to make it in this industry. Unfortunately she didn’t appear to come across this movie too well.

She is marketing a beer to the club scene that is a beer with caffeine. It’s for the person that wants to party from Thursday to Monday. Knowing that the Beer Wars crowd was full of passionate craft beer enthusiasts, it seemed like a backwards approach. The craft beer industry, as I see it, was started by homebrewers that were fed up that they didn’t have a choice. Some homebrewers were bitten by the brewing bug and decided to branch out. You don’t get the bitten without having the ability to create interesting beers and having friends and family confirm their greatness.

For example, Dogfish Head is having amazing success because they created new products that were not available. Slowly, friends and friends of friends started drinking their beer. Then more and more people wanted it. They were able to grow their business and create product identity by creating demand and filling a gap in the market.

If Rhonda’s product was based on product quality and taste, then I would have a different opinion. It seems that the product is based on a gap in the market, but is there demand? I’m not sure. I wish you good luck with your adventure.

After an hour and a half, the movie was over. Then a live group discussion took place – with Ben Stein as the moderator. It seemed like an episode of Politically Correct (the Bill Mahar show). On the panel was Charlie Papazian (famous beer writer and father of home brewing), Greg Koch (from Stone Brewing Company), Sam Calagione (from Dogfish Head Brewing Company), Rhonda Kallman (New Century Brewing Company), Maureen Ogle (Beer Writer), Todd Alstrom (from Beer Advocate) and Arat.

It was interesting. It was obviously un-rehearsed discussion and Ben Stein didn’t really know the background of the entire panel. Sam and Greg tried to explain how they don’t want to get too big for their britches. They don’t have the desire to mass produce beer to just sell a large quantity of beer and make money. They want to create interesting beers for those who love craft beer. Ben Stein asked a good question that was not answered – Why aren’t the big breweries making beers with the similar quality and taste that Stone and Dogfish head are making?

An uncomfortable moment came during one of the short clips that they played. In this particular clip, Todd mentioned that Rhonda’s efforts to grow her brewery were opposite of the craft beer movement. It seemed like the clip was taken out of context of the original question. It came across rather harsh, that he didn’t feel that her brewery would do well. I took it as, her efforts were not based on the quality and taste of the product within the glass. For me, it would have been quality of the beer first and then the caffeine second (this is based on assumptions, because I have not tasted the beer).

The movie left many questions on the table. Also, I felt that it jumped around a bit (sorta like watching the Blair Witch project). At some point, I was getting nauseous and it was hard to keep focus.

Overall, I recommend watching this film. It is very informative and it gives you some behind the scenes of the craft beer industry. It’s not an easy market to penetrate, but you can have fun trying. The next time I watch it, I hope to have a bunch of friends over. I’d like to see their opinions on the movie.

If you’ve seen the movie, please let me know what you think.

Drink Craft Beer, You’ve Earned It!!

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