“Beer Wars,” a Beer Industry Documentary Disappoints Many
Anat Baron, “Beer Wars” director and former Mike’s Hard Lemonade employee, follows the story of Sam Calagione Dogfish Head Brewery and Distillery and Rhonda Kallman of New Century Brewing, in an attempt to garner viewer sympathy for the plight of two craft brewers seeking to expand their businesses.
However, there isn’t much drama. Caligione appears to be quite successful while Kallman’s launch of Moonshot, a caffeinated beer meets with much resistance. In attempt to create tension in the movie, demonstrates the impressive political and economic power of wholesale distributors.
In her portrayal of the beer industry, however, Baron falls short on the accuracy front. The Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) represent two different aspects of the beer industry and to not share identical interests. In addition, contrary to the portrayal in “Beer Wars,” the Brewers Association often shares the same political agenda with both larger The Beer Institute and the NBWA, particularly in the areas of taxation and alcohol control legislation.
In addition to accuracy, timliness plagues the film as well. Baron created “Beer Wars” before the sale of Anheuser-Busch to InBev. At the end of the movie, Baron portrays the Miller-Coors merger as inevitable given Anhuser-Busch’s invulnerable and powerful market position. Since she completed the movie, the US has fallen into a deep recession, making the individuals in the movie seem out of touch. Though the craft brewers seem like everyday people, much of the movie takes place in a corporate environment.
Baron, through “Beer Wars,” reached an audience of the already converted. The movie will likely not convince a committed Bud drinker to replace his or her beer of choice with a craft brew on idealogical grounds.
Why is “Beer Wars,” disappointing or not, important? The film explored the challenges associated with craft brewers struggling for market share within the beer industry and illustrated the tension between major brewers, such as Anheuser Busch or Miller, and smaller craft producers. At the heart of the issue, is the ability of craft breweries to get product to market. Shelf space and distribution, dominated by large brewers, are essential to craft breweries seeking to grow outside their local area.
Though the movie failed to meet expectations, the film did raise salient and important questions regarding current alcohol control regulation in the US and whether the post-Prohibition policies are still necessary or even appropriate. Large brewers have access to immense resources in the form of capital (money), infrastructure (distributors) and political influence. Many argure that the three-tier system in place in the US, requiring separation between the manufacture, wholesale and retail tiers, cements the advantage of large brewers in the form of existing relationships with beer distributors, represented by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.