Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beer Wars: A review

Just got home from seeing the movie Beer Wars. Its the craft beercentric movie being labeled a David vs Goliath story. If you are in the craft beer scene it seems that you have been inundated with advertisements to this film (which is a bit like preaching to the choir don't ya think?). Well I went to my local theatre down here in the CLC, and if you've been following me on Twitter, you know that the theatre wasn't packed at all. In fact I'd put the number of people there at right around 20, so very very sparse. I'll be interested to hear if the theatres that were down town had a bigger crowd. Before the movie started, they showed a series of clips, and some beer trivia and 'beertoid's' which was kinda fun. Then when the LIVE event started it was at a theatre with writer, director, producure Anat Baron. She gave an intro to the film and thanked those that worked on it. Let me say she is not very comfortable in front of the camera and was pretty stiff (this should have been a warning for the film). Then the movie started. I won't go into every detail of the film, but I'll hit the highlights.
It mainly followed two people in the beer industry showing how they competed against the big guys. One was the great Sam Calagione of Dogfish, the other was Rachel Kallman who I think is the owner or marketing person for Moonshot Beer a beer made with caffeine. The documentary really shows her struggle of trying to get this product off the ground and into stores. They use the struggle to show the issues that all craft beer's have in wedging their products in between the ever expanding line up of Macro Brewers as well as the issues of getting beer distributors to pick up their products in the first place. Dogfish was shown as the brewery that has made good. That struggled and has overcome and is expanding beyond peoples wildest imagination. Throughout the film there are interview with 'beer people'. The great Charlie Papazian, Todd Alstrom of Beer Advocate, Greg Koch of Stone, Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew. The main points the film gets across is 1) The fact of Macro Breweries marketing beer, but not letting consumers know that they are behind it (think Stone Mill Organic Pale Ale. Can you tell that's an A-B product by the label?); 2) How the three tier system has made it hard for craft brewers to get into the market; 3) How the Macro Breweries work the retail stores to ensure they get the most space and the best location in the cooler; 3) How much power the Beer Industry/Distributors have in DC. All in all its an interesting film but one that I have a lot of issues with.
1) The pacing and narration of the film is pretty bad. Anat may be passionate about the subject but her narration is incredible stiff and almost jerky in its delivery.
2) I have to agree with Mr. Alstrom, why is a 'beer' like Moonshot in this film anyways? They could have chosen a much better subject to showcase a struggling brewer just trying to survive. There is a reason Ms Kallman is finding it difficult to market her beer, its crap. I hate to say it, but there it is, no one wants a Caffeine Beer.
3) I said it before, I'll say it again. I feel like its preaching to the choir. I don't think I really learned anything I didn't already know, and I'll bet for the most part that the people that went to see this film are already converts to the Craft Beer scene and support 'the little guy'. So whats the purpose of this film?

That about wraps up my review of the film itself, however next was the LIVE part of this event. After the film there was a panel discussion moderated by Ben Stein. The panel consisted of Mr. Papazian, Greg Koch, Sam Calagione, Rachel Kallman, Maureen Ogle, Todd Alstrom, and Ms Baron. This was a very interesting idea that was pretty shaky throughout and never really seemed to hit a good rhythm. Mr. Stein trying to guide the discussion was at times uncomfortable because it was evident he had no idea what he was talking about. At times he and Ms Baron didn't seem to have a clue as to what the next thing to do was. Were they going to show a clip or ask one of the panelists a question? After a while it got into a better groove and they actually had some good discussion. One of the better debates was between Ms. Ogle and Mr. Koch and Calagione. On one side you had Ogle saying that in America everyone strives to be the biggest and the best and that's historically how its been. Even A-B started small before they became this monolithic creature. On the other side you had the folks from Stone and Dogfish saying they didn't want to be big, they wanted to be able to be artisan and smaller. I think in a way Ogle is right and had one of the better lines of the night when she told them to come talk to her in 10 years and we'll see if they still think they won't grow to be huge companies.

All in all it was a good event and a rather decent documentary. It was shaky at times, but it had a very important point, especially in today's time. The point being at least in my mind is that it is hard for the small guy to make it in this world of huge corporations, and that as consumers we do have a choice. As American's a place where entrepeneurs have florished, don't we as consumers have an obligation to help support the little guys. Those people whether they are making bread, or cheese or beer and making it in a craft manner, isn't it better to support those people than the large corporations? The problem is, did the point get to the right people? Only time will tell.


Chris said...

I spent the whole time wondering why I was watching someone who makes crappy beer try to make it in the world. I'm glad Todd kept it real in the end, he said exactly was I was thinking.

I really would have rather spent more time with Michael Jackson, Greg Koch, Charlie Papazian, Todd Alstrom and Jim Koch than watching the Moonshot crap. Oh well, I suppose the movie as more about the beer industry than craft beer.

The theater here in the Woodlands had MAYBE 15 people in it, a very poor showing. Southern Star was at the door passing out flyers though, that was cool.

Barleyvine said...

While I agree that they moonshot shouldn't have been in the movie, I thought her struggle was used well to highlight how hard it is to get into the beer scene. I just wish they had actually used someone actually with a craft beer (the fokls at SS would be a perfect example).
Pretty cool that they were they handling out pamphlets. The owner of our local home brew shop was at ours handing out business cards.

Anonymous said...

At the Edwards Marqe (off the Katy just west of the Loop), I figure there were 40 people or so.

One of the managers from the Saucer was there (did you notice the Beer Goddess t-shirt at GABF?) and told everybody they'd get a free pint with their ticket stub. Nice bit of guerrilla marketing.

Sean said...

Great review and recap of the movie.

I also had similar feelings about the flow of the movie. At times, the clips were so short, that I was getting dizzy.

I totatlly agree that there were better ways to get this same message across. I wrote a similar story if you'd like to read it.


assurbanipaul said...

I disagree, I thought the pacing and story being told was very well done. I did think the director was a little bit of an odd cheerleader, and not being a beer-drinker herself kinda took some punch out of the story.

Yeah, Moonshot as a concept is pretty much crap, but I think she was included basically because of who she was (i.e., half of Sam Adams). IMO, it would have been better to follow a couple of really tiny brewers just starting up, something on the (512) scale, to contrast with Stone and DFH.

What I thought was hugely lacking was any coverage of legal (state) aspects, and how states with liberal ABC laws have robust brewing markets and those with strict laws have few, leaving them at the mercy of the macros.

Barleyvine said...

COmpletely agree with you on the story lacking on the legal aspects. The only real mention of it was brief during the Panel portion where (and I can't remember who) someone mentioned that those states with more liberal laws on self distribution also had a large population of Craft Breweries.

Steve said...

In a statement posted on the Beer Wars website recently, Baron was basically defending and explaing the event. She stated that "Art houses do not have the ability to receive the satellite feed. I’m not shutting them out but my deal is with a company that has 440 theatres that are digitally equipped to carry the event" and that went on to say that we should be "embracing the fact that the 3 largest, mainstream theater exhibitors are taking a chance on this film"

So, its a movie about the David vs Goliath struggle in the beer industry, but when it comes to distributing her film, its apparently okay to to go with the Goliaths of the entertainment industry. It just struck me as a little ironic.

Anonymous said...

Roughly 35 in attendance at the South Coast in Las Vegas. Sam at Dogfish Head is the man!! $15 fee should have included a craft beer!! Movie rating... B-

Anonymous said...

It looks like Ogle and you have missed the entire point about craft beer - the taste, the quality. Faux populism aside, if the big beer companies brewed beer with taste then there wouldn't be an issue. They may be brewing a few now under assumed names but can craft beer drinkers trust them to brew good beer and keep brewing it? There lies the difference between breweries like Stone and Dogfish Head and the major breweries. The former have excellent track records, the latter have records of mediocrity.

Barleyvine said...

Not quite sure what you're talking about. The only comment I made about Ogle was it was an interesting debate between her and the folks from Stone and DFH about not wanting to get big. Regardless of what they might want, they are going to grow and get bigger than they already are which is why I found her response of 'come see me any 10 yrs' humorous. Where in the review did I say anything about DFH and Stone beer quality?