06 Apr 2009 @ 3:01 PM 

Beer Wars. Heard of it?

Hah!

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.

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

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