Monday, April 13, 2009

Beer Wars: Brewed in America (Rant)

I realize that this isn’t the sort of topic I usually cover on this blog, so if you couldn’t care less about my thoughts on a movie about the American craft brewing industry which hasn't even come out yet, just skip over this and I’ll be returning with homebrew content shortly.

Beer Wars is a movie about the “fight” of the small independent craft brewer against the evil macros breweries. It is a one night only event (although I'm sure there will be a DVD) on April 16th followed by a live discussion panel that will be beamed to the 400+ theaters nationwide showing the movie.

First off it bothers me to see a bunch of people who run pretty big businesses (Sam Adams, Stone, and Dogfish Head) drumming up anti-corporate sentiments about larger corporations (Bud, Miller, Coors) that they compete against. Could you imagine a movie with great wine makers taking shots at Thunderbird, or great cheese makers making fun of Kraft? I understand that marketing is important, but I think there are better ways to go about it.

Watching the trailer a chuckled a little when I heard Sam (the owner of Dogfish Head) rail against the use of adjuncts in macro lagers. This is a man who uses so much refined sugar (or as he calls it white malt) in his beers that you might guess that he staffed the brewery with oompa loompas.

After seeing the trailer I simply didn’t have much interest in going to see the movie. As a five-year veteran of the craft beer scene I just assumed the movie would end up preaching to the choir (how many non-beer nerds will go to this?) and retread things I had already heard (beer is more than just American light lagers, the macros are trying to maintain their market dominance through marketing, beer store/distributor shenanigans, and lobbying etc...).

What really prompted this post was an email I received Saturday from Chandra Karp who is “working with” New Century Brewing Company to promote the movie. The basic idea I guess is to convince me (and other bloggers) to publish their press release in exchange for a pass to the movie. I found this odd as I had never heard of the brewery, and the other people featured are all big names in the industry (Greg from Stone, Sam from Boston Beer, Author/Historian Maureen Ogle, Todd from Beer Advocate etc…).

It turns out that New Century is based in Boston, but contract brewed by Lion in Wilkes Barre PA (nothing wrong with contract brewing per se, Sly Fox brews some fantastic beers for Southampton). New Century makes two beers, Edison, is a 4% ABV light lager sold in clear bottles and Moonshot ‘69 a caffeine infused golden lager (which has a 1.44 score on Beer Advocate). Are these really great examples of “creative and passionate” craft beer? I have nothing against a light/crisp lager on a hot summer day or a rich caffeinated coffee stout on a cold winter night, but a light beer in a (skunk prone) clear bottle and a pils with 69 mg of pure caffeine added? Come on.

Why the CEO of a small, boring, contract brewery is featured in this movie and following discussion panel is beyond me. These are exactly the sorts of marketing driven beers that I expect from Bud/Miller/Coors, not the flavor driven beers from the great craft brewers of this country (Lost Abbey, Russian River, Surly, Firestone Walker, Tröegs etc…). Here is what the press release has to say about her “Well-recognized as a female pioneer in a male-dominated industry. But it was Kallman’s energy and tenacity however, that caught the attention and inspiration of Baron.” If they just wanted to get another woman passionate about beer on the panel how about Tonya Cornett from Bend Brewing (which recently won small brewpub of the year).

The film maker’s main cred (according to the press release) is from being the general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I wonder if Sam Adam’s ownership of (and recent settlement with the TTB over) Twisted Tea will come up?

And don’t even get me started on trying to figure out why Ben Stein was chosen to be the moderator for the 30 minute discussion panel after the movie. I loved Win Ben Stein’s Money as much as anyone (and his classic delivery of "Bueller... Bueller"), but in his current roll as a spokesman for creationism I have a hard time believing much he says.

Sorry for the rant, if anyone goes to see Beer Wars on Thursday let me know what you think of it.

To take a look at my impressions once I finally actually watched the movie, take a look at my review.


sk said...

Thanks for this, I couldn't agree more.

I can't imagine it will be long until the "doc" winds up on YouTube, so I imagine I'll just watch it there, personally.

beerinator said...

The woman they chose from New Century was one of the people there in the beginning (or near the beginning) with Boston Beer.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The press relase mentions that, but the way it is written makes it sound like she is in it more for what she is doing now than what she did back then:

“Kallman, 25-year industry veteran who is also the co-founder of The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, is one of two brewing entrepreneurs most prominently profiled. Kallman produces two distinctive beers and faces the daunting task of making a dent in a market dominated by two companies that control 95% of the malt beverages sold in America.”

Tim said...

Hit the nail on the head with this one. The discussion panel sounds particularly like preaching to the choir. Consider this quote:

“It’s not because a beer is industrial that makes it bad. I’m not against industrial production. I would rather have a well-made industrial beer than an artisanal beer that tastes bad.”

Jean-Pierre Van Roy said that. Maybe they should get him for the panel to argue on the side of industrial brewing.

beerinator said...

I doubt it would end up on youtube. The producer has said that it will be on DVD by late summer, but she also said that the panel discussion will not be included on the DVD (my guess is that this will change).

I'm expecting an interesting movie. Like many other people, I'm just not sure if it will change anyone's perspective on anything or not.

I'm with you on the Ben Stein thing though. I would much rather have seen someone moderate that actually seems to be involved in the beer world.

sk said...

They actually replied to the Ben thing on their website just today:
Q # Why Ben Stein?

A # Ben Stein was hired to moderate the panel. That’s all. My partner required a celebrity host as part of the deal. We had a list and stopped once someone was available. Everyone on the list had pluses and minuses. Please be assured that this is MY movie, not Ben’s. And that this is not a forum for him to discuss any of his beliefs but rather to act as an impartial moderator to the cast of characters that make up the panel. If his involvement is what’s stopping you from attending then I hope you’ll reconsider. Trust me, there was no perfect moderator on the list. This is America where everyone has their opinions and leanings.

The one about why they expect you to pay 15$ to watch a movie is also a lot of talking loud, saying nothing.

Dan said...

Couldn't agree more. I am dying for this to come out so I can stop getting promotional emails from the BA, all the breweries whose newsletters I asked to receive, and having my google reader full of promotions from various other blogs.

It will probably be somewhat entertaining, however I was already leaning against going due to the price and the fact that I really doubt there will be anything "new" in it(I anticipate rehashes of the dozens of interviews the participants/panel members have already done)....but they really did me in with the over-promotion.

Josh said...

I guess the question is - what do they aspire to? Bud level of distribution? Last I heard you could get Sam Adams in California. How is this not bud level distribution?

Maureen Ogle said...

If I may jump in here:

First: I'm definitely not "a big name" in the brewing industry.

In fact, I'm not in the industry at all! I'm a historian who wrote a book about beer.

(My other books are about completely different topics -- Key West and plumbing -- and my new one is about meat.)

So I have no connection to the industry, no one is paying me, and frankly (and sadly) no one even knows who I am!

Second, Rhonda is in the film because she's NOT a big name.

The whole point was that she did not "succeed" and the filmmaker, Anat Baron, wanted to compare Rhonda's story to someone who did "succeed" (in this case, Sam C.)

Third, Boston Beer COmpany (Sam Adams) makes fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year. A-BI, in contrast, makes 100 million. (And yes, you're reading those numbers right.)

Between them A-BI and MillerCoors control 80% of the American beer market. Imports account for another 13%, and craft beers make up the rest.

As for Ben Stein: His sole job is to moderate the panel discussion after the film. That's it. That's all.

He had and has no other connection w/ the film. He's just a guy who is going to moderate and keep the discussion on track as the panelists answer questions (questions that, I might add, will be posed in part by the audience).

Finally, Anat Baron, the woman who made the film, funded the project herself. There is no corporate backing of any sort. The "dime" is all hers. It'd be great if people went to see the film as a way of supporting an indie filmmaker.

basicbrewing said...

I think it's sad that Ben Stein was chosen to moderate. As the "star" of the anti-science hatchet job movie "Expelled," Stein brings a lot of baggage into the equation and detracts from the discussion. In my eyes, it would be similar to inviting Michael Moore from the other side of the political fence. This is an issue that's not about left or right, but about good or bad (beer).

Anonymous said...

The ridiculous part is that the movie costs 15 dollars per ticket! That is just ludicrous, but thankfully it WILL be coming out on DVD eventually. There is no way I would pay that much to see a movie in theaters. Everybody keeps acting like non-craft beer drinkers are going to see this movie. Are you serious? NO non craft drinkers would this movie, especially at $15 a pop. And in the current economy? Gimme a break.

Martin & Heather said...

Weird. I get a link from BHB on Twitter to your article, read the article and 20 mins later New Century Brewing ' following me on Twitter' Conspiracy theory!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Who said ranting on the internet doesn't get you answers?

Thanks Maureen (well I know who you are, and for anyone who doesn't she is the Author of Ambitious Brew, which is a very good read about the history of beer in America). By big names in the industry I simply meant people who the average beer nerd probably has heard of before (which Rhonda is not).

The way New Century Brewing is hyping their involvement in the movie did not sound like it was the story of their failure, but of how great the company is. Not having seen the movie yet I just took their hype at face value (why would a company try to get you to see a movie that portrayed them as doing a poor job?).

Sam Adams and craft beer as a whole may be a drop in the bucket compared to the big 2/3 in total sales volume, but in terms of growth and dollar value sales they are big news in the industry. The way the big guys are reacting (even Miller's silly "Triple Hops Brewed" campaign) is a sign to me that they are scared that their market position is not as solid as it once was.

I'd also like to say that there are many American brewers making 1/50 of Sam Adams production (40,000 barrels) that see them as the behemoth of the craft brewing world the same way I'm sure Sam Adam's sees Bud at 100 mil barrels.

Thanks for taking the time to address some of my concerns about the film.

Andy Crouch said...

Hey Mike-

Your point about how New Century's email/hype machine doesn't correspond with a message of failure is a good one. We have no idea how the filmmaker will treat New Century but it has indeed been a failure, from the founder's original stated goals in 2001 until today. How the film handles this issue (and not just how the founder does during the panel discussion) will be key to its quality. The PR campaign is yet another interesting and modern way at promoting the film, just like the distribution is novel. It may also just be a way of filling seats...Not sure if New Century is paying for all of the tickets, but any portion of that amount isn't likely to garner any later purchases by the audience that is planning to attend...



Adam said...

Lots of good points here. Great post and comments as well.

Honestly, I'll probably go to see what the fuss is all about. Not the fuss from the PR packet pushers, but, the fuss that gets all us in an uproar.

Then I'll decide for myself.

Oh, and perhaps I'll grab a pint with some beer minded friends along the way :-)

MikeD said...

beer in a brewery is kinda an industrial process no matter how you swing it. what you do, mike, is artisan level really. anyway im not seeing this movie, i've already heard sam rant. they should have made a movie about legalizing the sale of homebrew if they really wanted artisans to flourish against the big guys.

Brad - said...

So I've gone to "Definitely seeing it on the 16th"... to "Not so sure I'm seeing it on the 16th, maybe wait for DVD release.... back to "Probably going to see it on the 16th"

Though my thoughts on the movie (obviously not seen it yet) are that it's actually geared more towards the beer noob than the beer geek.

But at the end of the day, I think the movie does nothing but good for the industry and I'm really looking forward to finally seeing what the hype is all about.


Seanywonton said...

This is a great, and thought provoking post, Mike. I haven't even caught the trailer yet, but I did catch about 3 emails from the BA about a 1-night screening in San Francisco, which I live about 2,500 miles away from.

Anyway, I think it would be great if you actually did try to see the film and give a post-viewing perspective to go along with the rant. Most likely you would find some things of value, and many things you already knew.

I'd like to see the film at some point, but I wouldn't pay $15 to see a movie at Tibeca Film Fest, so why would I pay it to see Beer Wars? Oh wait, a regular movie in NYC costs 11-12 bucks so maybe I will fork over the cash.

And Maureen, I read your book to and I really Enjoyed it. Thanks.

Maureen Ogle said...

Well, think of the $15.00 part this way: you get the film AND you get the live panel discussion following the film.

And, well, ya know: you're supporting a hard-working filmmaker.

One other note: far as I know, no one is being paid for their involvement. Unless of course, someone's holdin' out on me.....

Again, thanks to those of you who stopped by my blog to add your two point five cents worth. I appreciated it!

gene ullery-smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrian Avgerinos said...

Interesting post for your website, Mike. Overall, I think I agree with your sentiments. The movie, based on the trailer, seems to have that misdirected and hypocrtical anti-capitalism vibe. Something I find to be a big turn-off when it comes to watching movies. (I'm one of those nutjobs that watches a movie soley to be entertained.)

The whole notion of a craft beer "movement" is quite silly. It makes it seem like the act of simply brewing a delicious malt beverage makes one a political activist. It's just beer.

Is there a craft cheese movement? What about bread? If you grow your own herbs does that make you part of a craft herb movement? Are you more of beer activist if you grow your own hops? What about malting your own grain?

My only interest in the movie is to perhaps catch any tidbits of actual brewing information such as history, tools, ingredients, or methods. I couldn't care less about the political atmosphere of the beer industry which makes the "live panel discussion" a moot point for me.

I'll probably end up watching the movie at some point, but not until I see it in the "$5 or less" bin at Walmart.

Seawolf said...

Just got back from Beer Wars. It's not what you're expecting. I would love to hear your opinion after seeing the film.

wop31 said...

I couldn't agree more with you Zachary, I thought the move was great and would love to hear opinions now. Yes it was a bit off, to spotlight breweries such as DFH and Stone as the faces of "small" breweries, but in the grand scheme of things they only hold .0004% (combined) of the market share for beer in America, so by my accounts they are pretty small. They may be big to you and I, but small when you look at the big picture.

NYbeerGuy said...

I enjoyed the film. It put forth many interesting facts (yes, granted working in the business I was aware of many of them. However, it helps understand the magnitude of difference, and helps anyone not in the business understand there's a lot more to the equation than simply making beer.) I think the concerns some potential viewers had over director, Anat Baron previously working for Mike's Hard Lemonade were understandable but Baron, did a good job of focusing on being a Director of the film, not spouting her personal views on the beer business and making parallels between what she did for Mike's and what the craft beer scene is doing today. The film also does a good job of following Kallman, as she attempts to launch "Moonshot" a "light american lager infused with caffeine". I did not feel like Baron was exactly comparing her on par with the likes of Sam from Dogfish or Greg from Stone, but it was interesting to see her attempt at trying to get her idea off the ground. (all be it, an unfortunately bad idea. I totally understand why her old friend Jim Koch from Sam Adams didn't throw her any funding.) Jason from Beeradvocate put it best when he eluded to the fact it should be called "MoonSh*T" and that "this is exactly what the craft beer business doesn't need." I'm sure Kallman and Jason didn't hug after the panel discussion for sure. Lastly, Ben Stein was actually an interesting moderator. I don't care what his religious beliefs are because it didn't matter. He did a good job asking the questions and being awkwardly amusing when discussing certain members of the beer distribution tier. In summary, I raise my pint to Beer Wars. I could go on in more depth, but like anyone will tell you. It doesn't matter what I like, you should give it a try for yourself and come to your own educated conclusions.
You have a slick blog by the way. Well done.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Glad to hear the movie was well done and informative. Hopefully it will give the craft beer industry a boost. I’ll give it a watch once it is out on DVD.

Anonymous said...

I didn't go to see this movie despite all the emails I received from beeradvocate. Personally I've read Sam's books and I was initially very much on his side in this argument, but the more I think about it the less sense it makes. For one, all the good beer that we seek out and love to drink was here before American light lager. Provided that there were hard times during prohibition when many, many breweries went under and these brewing behemoths prevailed, light lager also won with the masses! What if light lager had never been invented until recently. What if we were all used to drinking great IPAs and dunkelweizens, and then this American light lager came along... would it be all the rave again? I'm willing to bet that it would. Light lager is low in gravity, uses very little hops, and is high in corn or rice as a brewing adjunct, those are facts. But to say it is low in flavor or tastes terrible is one's own opinion. I know many people who don't watch much television or read magazines who love Budweiser. I doubt they are swayed by the mass marketing, they just like it. Companies like Dogfish should continue to do what they do. They make great beer and I love it! But I feel like Sam and others have taken their rant a little too far. This is after all America. These mega-breweries all had to start from somewhere and they have made themselves into what they are today. Small craft breweries that do it for the love of good beer need to remember why they got into the business. Was it because they had dreams of distribution in 37 states? Huge silos full of malt, and their own hop farms? Or was it because they loved the process, the creativity and the down-right tasty outcome of their efforts? Creative, beer loving Sam needs to tell businessman Sam to chill out. IMHO


Chad Polenz said...

I saw the movie last night and thought it was pretty good (but not super great)

Here's my video review of it:

and here's my text review (much more detailed):

dirtymartini said...

The movie was just okay. I felt like it was a Michael Moore-esque view on the industry as well as incomplete. Way too many incomplete thoughts and ideas in the movie.

I can say that Sam represented the craft beer industry rather well. While his company was doing fine, he did speak about how the beer is more important than the business...which is the difference between them and the macro brewers, where its all about business first.

For the record, the quote you saw Sam saying about All Malt vs Cheap adjuncts...The rest of that statement that was cut off in the trailor goes on to say the big brewers are using adjuncts to weaken the flavor as well as save cost, whereas dogfish uses adjuncts to enhance the flavor of his beers. He doesnt hide that Dogfish uses adjuncts in any way.

As for Rhonda, what people dont realize is this movie wasnt so much about craft beer vs was about all elements of the beer industry trying to get their piece of the pie from the big companies. Moonshot/Edison isnt craft beer, but it is one of those niche beers aka "gimmicks" that wants its part of the industry. Remember, Anat came from Mikes hard Lemonade, another niche of the market. The best thing Rhonda said was in the post show panel, where she said she loved the beer industry and wanted to bring back the energy drink drinkers, aka vodka redbull/rockstar/monster back to beer. yes, its a party drink but at least her hearts in the right matter how horrible the quality of the product.

geiger said...

"After seeing the trailer I simply didn’t have much interest in going to see the movie. As a five-year veteran of the craft beer scene I just assumed the movie would end up preaching to the choir (how many non-beer nerds will go to this?) and retread things I had already heard (beer is more than just American light lagers, the macros are trying to maintain their market dominance through marketing, beer store/distributor shenanigans, and lobbying etc...)"

Pretty much completely spot on here, Mike. I didn't really learn anything new.

Although hearing that AB attempted to sue Dogfish Head for their usage of terms like "punkin'" and "chicory" was very eye-opening. But even that was glossed over.

I basically agree with BA Todd's assessment of Moonshot. Rhonda's business model and ideology runs counter to the message that Sam, Greg from Stone and Charlie Papazian were talking about, and while she should've had a role in the movie to prove how the big dogs can squelch the little dogs, she shouldn't have had such a starring role.

And I felt embarrassed for everyone involved with the live panel discussion and the live introduction to the film. Very amateurish.

sk said...

Finally grabbed this off of BitTorrent. My craft-brew-fan wife actually fell asleep, twice.

They fight way too many battles at once. They introduce way too much only to gloss over it. They argue counter to their own points way too frequently (how can you argue that regional breweries AND Sam Adam's are Good Things?).

Frankly, the movie was a mess. We've all seen Sam rant, that 1/3rd of the movie was poorly spent. And anyone who pays any attention can tell that caffeine beer with a 69 on it is a load of shit, so that 1/3rd of the time is even more poorly spent, in fact it is wasted.

Frankly, if I *had* spent money on this, I would be sending a strongly worded email asking for it back.