On Beer Wars

beerwarslivetheatreposterThough there was a mighty storm well before the film came out, I found it pointless to chime in, as I hadn’t seen it and didn’t know what I was talking about. After all, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Thanks to the Hallmarkian Father’s Day, I now have a copy of Beer Wars (and some yummy bacon chocolate) and recently sat down to give it my attention. Basically, I thought it was a pretty good movie. It told the tale, and was a well-made documentary. This would be the kind of info that we’d want more and more people to see. Many of us in the Beer Geek Crowd are already familiar and sympathetic to the craft brewers’ plight, to some degree or another. But there’s a huge segment of our population that knows as much about beer as it does about processed cheese slices.

So why all the pre-release bitching? Press releases were sent out, and many bloggers posted info of the then-upcoming film. There was anticipation and dialogue. What’s wrong with that? Filmmaker Anat Baron would have been a fool to have not tried to generate interest and momentum. Her efforts worked, and it was not only beer bloggers that passed along her information, but also mainstream media. The latter, far more important, I’d wager.

There were also press releases from other sources. Rhonda and Moonshot, for example. She also would have been a fool not to have taken advantage of this opportunity to garner a little attention for her product in this situation.

A blogger has freedom. One can utilize these press releases. Or not. There are a number of beer blogs that rely heavily on these for content. I don’t. That’s not to say I don’t from time to time. I do, ever so occasionally. Does it massage my ego to know that I’m getting press releases in my inbox and samples at my doorstep? Yes. That’s pretty cool, but I’ll sleep at night if they don’t come.

I mentioned months ago that Beer Wars was coming. I didn’t mention Moonshot. Why not Moonshot? Because it sounds stupid to me. To me, it’s a niche product heading in the wrong direction, grasping at the coattails of craft beer’s rise. Have I ever tasted it? No. I would, but even if it tastes good, I probably wouldn’t drink much of it. I don’t drink much soda, and I’m not anti-caffeine, but I just think this is a lame idea and an inappropriate juxtopositioning of product, bad for our scene. I choose to drink beers of integrity, and to spend my money carefully. I don’t support McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Budweiser or Prozac, and this beer would have to be pretty incredible to win my dollars. I think it’s a gimmick to make money.

Is it horrible that Baron used this story in her film? Flatly, no. The film took on two stories from the start, and you never know how events will play out in a film of this nature. Rhonda had a successful beer story on her resume (Sam Adams), so would have been a good person to follow. To put together a good story, whether a novel, movie or campfire tale, one needs a good guy (Sam), a bad guy (August), and it never hurts to have a bonehead (Rhonda).

The special features of the DVD include the live panel discussion that followed the premier back in April, and it made for fun watching. One question that came via twitter struck me (and I paraphrase): At what point does craft beer shift from Underdog to The Establishment? The important answer came from Stone’s Greg Koch: “as long as we don’t change our fundamental philosophy” [this won’t happen]. Greg spoke of intent as the difference in macro and micro earlier in the discussion. Terribly important point, but I thought this question lent a missed opportunity: while I like being the underdog and a part of this tasty movement, what would be wrong in a shift of what “The Establishment” is? What would be wrong with having flavor and artisinal products shift from 5% of the market to 75% of the market? Films like this can plant seeds to make that happen. And so can you.

Before and after the release of the film, I read comments of the “preaching to the choir” ilk. I find it appalling that these folks didn’t realize that they have a job to do. Get out of your comfort zone and bring someone to the screening. Invite someone to watch your DVD. Not your beer buddies, but your macro-drinking friends. Get off your duff and make war. Promote beer. Have tastings for friends. When I heard the film was coming, I said on my post: “Tell your friends. More importantly, tell your enemies.” Anat can’t do it alone. And we don’t help her by bitching about a press release or Ben Stein or Mike’s Hard Lemonade before the film even hits the screen. Or after.

Critics are good and a healthy component of society. But there is a difference between offering constructive criticism and simply complaining and tearing someone down. Human nature must be resisted if credibility is to be had. I am reminded of a post I wrote many moons ago, on Armchair Brewer Syndrome. I’d encourage you to read it, and then ruminate a little on the idea of Armchair Filmmaker Syndrome, which is pretty much the same.

To criticize then, and briefly: Beer Wars is an important story, well told. It is a helpful contribution to the beer canon, and one we can only hope the masses will eventually see (and then act on).

I personally would have preferred if Baron’s introduction of herself would have used the term beverage (not beer) industry to describe her familiarity with the beer aisle. Mike’s Hard Lemonade certainly must fight for shelf space like Dogfish Head does, but it’s a mildly related alcoholic beverage. Her credibility for making the film lies in her small business experience.

The meat was in the middle. Compelling, insightful. Made me thirsty, so I grabbed a beer.

And then, It was over. I thought the film would have been complete with a more structured conclusion. It just sorta stopped. And the credits came. And I felt like there was just a little something missing.

A good flick, but useless if the Good Beer Army doesn’t utilize it as a tool to win the war. It’s a foot in the door, a kick in the pants, a line in the sand about more than just beer. Artisan product versus commodity. It’s about the cheese we eat, the meat we eat, the bread we eat, the veggies we eat, the hardware store we support, the car we drive. But some won’t notice that. Beer Wars is a multi-faceted challenge.

Yep, that means you have a job to do. Are you doing it?


8 Responses to On Beer Wars

  1. SirRon says:

    Well said. Your post was a great read.

    I can’t speak for press releases or samples at my doorstep, but I got a babysitter for the kids and was genuinely pumped about the “live event.” What I got was an affected and sometimes misguided documentary with an incredibly underwhelming panel session that followed. I should mention there were only a couple people in my theater, and I online and on twitter that this was the case across the country. Clearly something went wrong in the promotion… or the vehicle she chose to release it with was the wrong one. I tend to think it was the latter.

    Late that night and into the morning, I wrote a blog post about my experience and my thoughts on the movie (http://www.theferm.org/2009/04/beer-wars-roger-and-me-meets.html). While they can be damning, I’ve reread the post a half dozen times and still feel the same as I did that night. Am I glad Anat made the movie? Absolutely. Did I like it? Eh, not so much.


  2. Wilson says:

    SirRon: You make some good points in your post, and I would have been disappointed in the live event for the price had I been able to attend the premier in the theater. Especially if I’d been among those suffering through technical difficulties. Especially in the letdown of a sparse crowd. Considering some of the personalities gathered on the stage, that needed to have been at least an hour to have been worth their trip and to have made the $15 seem justified. As for Ben Stein, he didn’t come off as a yes-man. He asked the panelists direct questions, so they could explain their views and justify their idealism.

    I used to hate Julia Child when she did that show with guest chefs in her kitchen because she seemed so stupid with all her dumb sounding questions. But then I realized that she was asking them for the audience’s benefit, playing the part of the kitchen sidekick/interviewer and highlighting the expertise of her guest. That was Stein’s role, and I quite liked his gruff manner. I could and would happily answer tough questions on behalf of Good Beer from Stein or anybody (I myself have lobbied to reluctant congressmen about changing beer laws in NC in the past). Some beer folk wouldn’t. I thought Charlie, Greg, Sam and Maureen did well, was glad that Todd got a dig in at Moonshot and more time would have allowed for greater depth of conversation.

    The release surely could have been handled differently. I’m sure that was a beast to coordinate, and kudos for the attempt. The beer folk will take ownership of this film, but it’s about more than just beer. It could have focused on a number of industries, but alcohol adds another layer of controversy (and public interest). If a hundred people chose to see Beer Wars, how many would choose to see Cheese Wars or Hog Confinement Wars?

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  6. Good Burp says:

    Good review.

    I really enjoyed it. It was a movie about beer, Awesome! But what I what I found most interesting was the battle the big 3 wage against the little guys. This is America, to each his own. But I could relate to the little guys. Aside from the fact I love their beers, the big guy is who forced our family business to sell.
    I have seen the AB beer aisle schematics first hand. I would make hundreds of sets of them for Circle K. They had 3 different designs. They were labeled “White Collar”, “Blue Collar”, and “Ethnic”.

    Damn, this is a great blog post. I think it is my next one.

  7. Steve says:

    I would agree with most everything in this post, if not for a significant detail: I did not like the film. We judge beer based on the merits of appearance, aroma, and taste. No matter what the intent, story, subtext, etc., we demand a good product. This film did not deliver in that regard. While I had high hopes before seeing it, and wished it could’ve been better afterward, I still judge it on the merits of a film. I wouldn’t tell my friends and family to see any movie that I dislike, and this is no exception.

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