06 Apr 2009 @ 3:01 PM 

Snakes in a Brewery


Beer Wars. Heard of it?


From the amount of hype it’s getting, you’d swear it was Snakes on a Plane 2. I’ve seen this damn thing pop up on every beer-related blog and twitter feed on the interweb at least once, usually multiple times. Here: take a look for yourself. You’d think that everybody was getting kickbacks.

(Am I missing a kickback? Is that what’s going on? Because… I mean.. everybody has a price.)

I kinda can’t wait for April 16 to come so all this can stop, already. I can only imagine what the Beer Wars traffic is going to look like next week. Ugh.

I'd kill for a non-snake beer right now!

I'd kill for a non-snake beer right now!

You know how it is: that new movie comes out that you maybe sort of wanted to see because it’s supposed to be good, but you think it looks like it has the possibility of being kinda stupid and you were totally busy opening weekend so maybe you’ll go see it later and then your friends keep talking to you about it – DUDE! You haven’t SEEN it!? What’s WRONG with you!? It’s like the BEST movie EVAR!!1! And then the last possible thing you want to do is see that movie?

That’s me and Beer Wars.

Sure. It’s probably great and has a lot of merit. It certainly appears to be striving to make a solid point: That craft brewers have a lot to struggle against in the beer market due to over-regulation and the existence of a few large mutlinationals with deep pockets. That’s great. To me, it looks a bit like a fanboy documentary about craft brewing that is targeted at craft brewing fanboys overlayed with a big gimmicky kind of release that has the balls to be on a Thursday evening. I can’t go see it even if I was buying into the hype. Why? Because it’s playing in a theater 40 minutes away from me on a Thursday evening. I mean.. sure.. I also have to go pick a relative up at the airport and play in a softball game. You know why? Thursday. Shit happens on Thursdays and then I have to work on Friday morning.

Anyway, what I, or most people, know about Beer Wars, is pretty much summed up on the synopsis page of the Beer Wars site. A little more, perhaps not very complimentary, is available by reading through a review by the Boston Globe’s Alex Beam.

As far as I can tell, what I noted above pretty much sums up the movie. Watch the trailer, it’s well edited and carries the message quite well. The little guys fight the big guys. That’s the premise. As the poster children for this fight, Ms. Baron has chosen the one of the most successful craft breweries in the country, Dogfish Head and media darling Sam Calagione (man, do people love Sam Calagione), and co-founder of the largest craft brewery in the country (Sam Adams), Rhonda Kallman, now of New Century Brewing. Both are fascinating choices, given that they have each been quite successful in carving out their niche and can actually compete with the megabreweries in ways that many small breweries can’t even fathom. Kallman is an even more interesting choice as Edison Light, the main product of New Century, is one of a very, very small list of beers that actually competes directly with what the megabreweries make. She, unlike Calagione, really is trying to sell against Bud Light.

The unfortunate part of this movie, I think, is the choice to portray this as a battle, or a war. Here’s a reality in small business, regardless of product: There is a large multinational out there that you will have to compete against. They make their product in a way which will maximize profits, that is how they became a large conglomerate. You, as a small business, actually do not directly compete with them. You cater to a niche market that appreciates hand-crafted or personally made products. You will never be able to do this AND compete with said large company. Why? Because in order to compete, you will also need to make your product in a way which will maximize profits, and you will then no longer have hand-crafted or personally made products. This is a phenomenon that is not unique to beer in any way. It is a point that I feel is missed by portraying this is some sort of fever-pitched battle. It is a “war” that cannot be won, because it cannot be fought; as soon as you are in the position to really fight the battle, you’re fighting on the wrong side.

The plight of the craft brewery, as far as I’m concerned, is much more about getting out from under the heavy thumb of distribution and neo-Prohibitionist laws, but that doesn’t tell a very good story.

Greg Koch of Stone posted a small excerpt/concept of his upcoming keynote address at the Craft Brewers Conference on his twitter feed.

“If you intentionally serve beers that you do not respect, you are an enabler of keeping people in their uninformed comfort zones. “

Hear, hear. Maybe they know more about it than I do, but it seems like all of these breweries throwing their weight behind the unmitigated hype of Beer Wars, but not also throwing a bone at, say, Beer Pioneers (which I am really excited to see), feels like a bit of a contradiction. I just hope Beer Wars lives up to the hype and is truly awesome. I’ll apparently never get to find out.

As a personal aside: I’ve actually been struggling with posting this. What kind of reaction is this going to garner? If I don’t hop on the Beer Wars bandwagon am I going to get blackballed by the very industry that I’m attempting to be a part of because I find this level of hype distasteful? Let’s hope not. Admittedly, there have been others that have seriously discussed the film, or what it means to the industry instead of just re-trumpeting blind calls to go watch it (Andy Crouch comes immediately to mind, I’m sure there are others), but they have the advantage of being well-known and respected voices in the industry. I may well be the jackass that tried to pop in on everybody’s radar just in time to try to shoot down their favorite pet project. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll have a beer.

Tags Tags: , , , , , , ,
Categories: industry, media, news, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Apr 2009 @ 03 01 PM


Responses to this post » (7 Total)

  1. Anat Baron says:

    A little research or perhaps an interview would have led you to the fact that the film’s main issue is “the plight of the craft brewery… is much more about getting out from under the heavy thumb of distribution.” See today’s USA Today story.
    Don’t believe everything you read by people who have not seen the film. I hope you make up your own mind someday.
    And BTW, I’m an independent filmmaker so I’m not sure why you’re so hostile to the fact that I’m getting support from the beer community. I did spend 3 years of my life making a movie about them.

  2. erik says:

    Anat — Thanks for taking the time to come by.

    I’ve actually been doing quite a bit of reading, including today’s USA Today story which has been amply spread around the twitterverse today.

    I am, on the contrary, not hostile to the fact that you’re getting support from the beer community. I think it’s great and I hope that they continue this level of momentum for other craft-beer-industry movies that come out in the future.

    However, instead of people telling me WHY I should see it, all I’m getting is people telling me THAT I should see it and I’m just a little tired of having it put in my face every day, especially as its being released in a specialized manner that limits the number of people that can view it.

    If the message of the movie, does indeed, match with what I’d like it to be, I’m afraid that it didn’t come through in any of the material that I viewed or read about it.

    By the by, and I’m afraid I didn’t communicate this at all, though it’s been on my mind, and I apologize: I think it’s great that you put all of your own time and money into making this. It really is a fantastic effort. I’d be happier if, rather than just tweeting about it, there would have been a concerted effort, perhaps on the part of the Brewer’s Administration, to actually see this movie to a regular multi-viewing release across the country.

    I do, as I said in my post here, hope it’s awesome and that it does well.

    I also can’t wait for the hype to die down.

  3. Anat says:

    Hype? It’s a few beer folks talking it up. And the Twitter feed reaches a few thousand people. Real hype is when/if it’s picked up by the MAINSTREAM press. Then it’ll mean that the topic is getting attention outside of the beer universe. Which will be good for all as it will start a bigger conversation.
    And this one night event is huge. It means that mainstream theatres actually believe in this topic. And if all goes well, it will lead to a theatrical run.

  4. erik says:

    I had no idea that USA Today and the Boston Globe were not considered the mainstream press.

    Hype – because what I’m getting is: Go see it, go see it, go see it, go see it. Why? Because it’s about beer. You LIKE beer don’t you?

    Yeah. Love it. But Beerfest was about beer, too, and I didn’t feel the need to see that.

    On a personal level, outside of return on investment for this film, wouldn’t you like people to go see this film on its merits as a documentary instead of just because it’s about beer?

    I’m sorry you’re feeling so defensive about this. I’ve done my best to highlight the things that I think are good and interesting about your film and offer my opinion on it.

    I understand that your film will be released on DVD sometime after the event. I will be happy to offer an honest critique of the content of the film after I’ve had a chance to watch it. I am hoping to enjoy it.

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