For those that may not have seen it last night, Beer Wars was a documentary on the beer industry in America that was in theaters for “one night only.” It primarily featured Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head and Rhonda Kallman from New Century Brewing Co. and their struggles against the big beer machine. It also dove into the history of beer in America, the retail side of selling beer, and the politics surrounding the industry.
So what did I think of Beer Wars? I thought it was well done and provided a unique personal look into the people of the craft beer industry and their passion and struggles. I very much enjoyed it.
The movie was funny and informative. It gave us peek at the personalities of people like Sam, Rhonda, Greg Koch from Stone, Jim Koch from Boston Brewing, Dick Yeungling and Charlie Papazian, among many others. I felt like I was able to “meet” those brewers and have a conversation with them about beer, which is an opportunity that may never come to me personally.
Understanding their passion and what drives them is what I will personally take away from this movie. You can’t become a successful entrepreneur in any industry without having a passion for what you do. You must always look out for your customers and provide them with a quality product. It certainly has me motivated to continue brewing, continue writing, and continue promoting awareness of craft beer. I feel like we are all kindred spirits in that regard and the community is very strong.
Beer Wars was certainly a slanted view that portrayed the small, independent brewers in a positive light, while making Anheuser-Busch look like it was run by Satan himself. On a certain level, it was a David vs. Goliath story, and you could probably replace the part about beer with coffee, cars, clothes, Twinkies or whatever, and it would be a similar story.
I think that perhaps the most important issue the movie raised was the three-tiered distribution system that controls the beer industry. You can argue all day about whether A-B is evil and forces an inferior product on consumers through an unbelievable amount of advertising, or whether they are simply really good at what the do and they are thus rewarded for being the best at selling beer.
The movie makes the point that the market should determine what sells. If consumers want Bud, give them Bud. If they want Stone Arrogant Bastard, they should get as much Arrogant Bastard as Stone can brew. However, the three-tiered distribution system puts an unnatural skew on the availability of certain beer in certain markets. These distributors are influenced more by the big beer manufacturers than they are by the consumers.
To me, that is un-American and hurts a capitalistic economy. After all, and as an over-21 year-old adult, if I want a Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA and am willing to pay for it, why can’t I just call Dogfish and tell them to send me one? Why should my local distributor decide what I have available to drink? I have to drive 60+ miles to Asheville to get a Dogfish Head. That just ain’t right.
Mark my words, the online ordering is going to be the impetus that brings down the distributor system for beer within the next five years. They can’t stop the Internet. You heard it here first. Well, I doubt I’m the first, or even four hundreth person to say that… But I do think that is where we can make convincing arguements.
E-commerce is a huge part of our overall marketplace, and if beer retailers and brewers demand that we be allowed to sell beer through that channel to stay competitive and profitable, I don’t see how they can ignore it. In other industries, the Internet has made tremendous strides in creating efficiency and lowering cost by eliminating the middle man. It’s a terribly inefficient system and has no place in the 21st century U.S.
One last note. I wish more people had come out, at least here in Greenville. There were probably about 25 or so people in the theater. I had a lot of fun last night. I understand with one time slot and a $15 price tag, it wasn’t something easy for people to do and I don’t hold it against anyone for not making it. However, to me, this was an awesome beer event for all beer geeks out there.
Before the movie, Nicole and I were up at Barley’s to enjoy a couple craft brews. Then we met up with Evan, a homebrewing comrade, who graciously drove us to the theater. Once there I ran into Jason from RJ Rockers and was able to reconnect with him after many months. After the movie I had the opportunity to direct one guy (whose name I regrettably didn’t get) to the Upstate Brewtopians homebrew club and I met Zap, who was recently accepted to brewing school in Munich.
I could have saved some money and watched this at home down the road on DVD, but it was having the chance to meet up with people who share my passion that made it worth the $15. After all, isn’t that one of the biggest reasons we all pay more to drink craft beer and why you’re reading this right now?