Review of Beer Wars

Posted on February 16, 2010 by

Beer Wars PosterReview of “Beer Wars” 2009 by Anat Barron

This morning I sat down on my couch, curled up with the cats and popped in a flick. Sunday mornings are always a great time to sit around and veg out, especially after a fantastic evening out on the town.

I popped in “Beer Wars.” A flick that came out in 2009 that was written, produced, and directed by Anat Barron, former GM of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Anat, who is the narrator, uses her experiences in the beer market to paint a credible “David vs Goliath” picture of craft brewing versus macro brewing. She leads us through the doors of brew houses, board rooms, bars, brew masters homes and on the road with them as she explains how extremely competitive the $97 billion dollar a year beer market is, and how companies like Anheuser Busch are using their marketing machine to brainwash you to think that light lagers are “America’s Beer” instead of some delicious and flavorful beers created by American ingenuity.

Production quality of the movie was pretty good for being an obvious low budget film. I thought the graphics were good, the camera work was solid and for the most part everything sounded good. There were a couple of parts in the movie that I thought it was ending, but it wasn’t or there were times the story would jump from one subject to another and confuse me a little bit, but since the movie isn’t overly technical and had good supporting graphics it was easy to get back up to speed.

Beer Wars is centered around a solid casts of beer enthusiasts and brewers. From Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware to Rhonda Kallman, who helped Sam Adam’s become what it is today, along with a whole lot of other support appearances from people such as Charlie Papazian, Dick Yuengling Jr from the oldest brewery in America, Yuengling, Todd from Beer Advocate, Jim Koch of Sam Adam’s and many more. All of these characters are connected by one specific idea. They all have an extreme passion for  beer and the idea of empowering the consumer to make a choice based on individualism and education, not mass marketing and black hat tactics used by major brewers in the industry.

Going into this movie I thought it was going to be about craft brewers and their stories, great start up stories from places like New Belgium or fun and interesting information about the GABF, but the movie is much more centered around the beer industry as a whole and the struggles that craft brewers face to take a piece of the pie away from big corporations. For example there is a segment in the movie that discusses how beer is placed in stores such as a Wal-Mart or a grocery store. The segment highlights how much of the product placed is owned by companies like A/B and how their shelf space is like a billboard for their brand. One fact that really stuck with me that I never thought about is when you go to the store, why are there so many options in packaging for the same product? Six-packs, 12 packs, 20 packs, cases, bottles, cans, pounders, and so on. All of these products are taking up vital space that could be used for a new craft beer or at the very least another option. Then the movie goes on to explain that the people who draw up these schematics for the beer aisle are, 75% of the time, people from Anheuser Busch. The movie is filled with these ideas that help you understand how intently A/B is working to try and keep you buying their products and how they are trying to make it an enormous struggle for the other guys.

I appreciate the nature of the movie though as its shot off the cuff in a documentary style that reminds me of a Michael Moore film. I really enjoyed the feeling of being behind the scenes at the Dogfish Brewery and even in Sam’s house with this wife and kids, or even his hotel room. I think this is the new way of media, to show people being people, not these faceless brands that you can’t relate to. So I tip my hat to Anat for sticking to this style.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Anat does the blind taste test of Bud Light, Miller Light and Coors Light, something I want to do with my friends,and not one person could tell the difference. People coming in saying they are a “Bud Light guy”, or an obvious Biker dude, decked out in leather who chants “beer, I need beer” when he’s really referring to Coors Light, and for some reason can’t pick it out of the mix. It really makes one think about the brainwashing style of advertising that is done to win your dollar. They make you think you are a Bud Light guy, but you really have no idea. The movie does a really good job of making want to hate the big 3 or, now, the big 2 brewing companies in America.

I felt the movie did lack in a couple of areas though. I think in this particular movie the message wasn’t clear enough. I felt I was learning a lot about why I should question beers like Bud and Miller, but was never explained a lot about the alternative. There was a lot of time spent on the bad things about macro breweries such as A/B, but not enough time talking about beer. I mean that is what we are drinking, that is what the product is, that is why we are watching the movie. It is established quite heavily that A/B has their fingers in everything to prevent the consumer from going to a different brand, but what about their beer? Why are consumers still drinking it? They were never asked. Why is Dogfish Head’s beer so much better than A/B? I felt the movie was missing that type of component. The movie is an obvious proponent for the craft brew revolution, but anyone watching this flick that isn’t into craft brew is probably not being educated about the thing we love so much. The beer. A segment about what makes and goes into craft brews and how the whole brewing process is creative and as respectable as a chef’s would have helped this movie reach out to more than just craft brew drinkers. So there is a certain sense that I haven’t learned anything I didn’t know, which is, don’t drink Bud Light, enjoy craft beer.

There is an added bonus though, there is a special feature to the movie that brings in a panel discussion of the movie. Ben Stein mediates the discussion and the panel consists of Anat, Sam, Charlie, Todd, Rhonda, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew. They discuss deleted scenes, beer and business philosophy. It is an added bonus at the end of the movie that is totally worth watching. Papazian doesn’t say much, but when he does it really makes me want to shake his hand.

The message that I take away from the movie and the main reason I would recommend the movie to others is the idea of individualism and choice. Each day we are bombarded with million dollar advertising campaigns that are trying to convince us of something we don’t want. The idea is that the craft industry is growing, but can it continue to grow before the big bad corporation spends all of its money to prevent it from expanding. By requesting craft beers from your bars, liquor stores and castingyour vote for another type of beer at the store, you are helping the revolution that is being fought over better beer.

Overall Review of Beer Wars

I think this movie is a solid informational watch. It isn’t long, coming in at 89 minutes and will surely leave you thinking about it. The quality is good, the information is solid, and the style of the movie really helps to add credibility to the concept. Regardless of its short comings of being a little confusing on the message and distinguishing what the overall point of Beer Wars, I think this is a good watch. This would be an even better watch for people who are not craft brew drinkers as I think it would inspire them to think differently about the advertising and choices they make at the store. So if you know someone like that, bring them over for a craft or home brew and watch Beer Wars.

I’d love to hear what you think about Beer Wars. Did you get confused on the message like I did?

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    [...] warehouse. It was like a scene out of Beer Wars. If your curious about the movie I did a Review of Beer Wars. I do recommend watching it regardless of your beer knowledge. We exchanged information and [...]

  • shwillson

    I came to your review from Mad Fermentationist…I like your review, a bit less critical and more how I feel about it. Would’ve loved it if this film did focus more on homebrewing and very small craft breweries, but found the info enlightening anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment!

    I think she put a lot of work into this video and its one person’s approach to showing the apparent breakdown of the way politics gets in the way of making profits and getting people what they really want. I mean, we live in a country of freedom and choice, but the politicians are the ones in control of what we choose, not our dollar.

    After moving out to Portland, OR and having SO many more options and local beer, I’m beginning to wonder why we even have a distribution system anyway. Nobody but the big guys wants it…

    I’m not going to go ranting about this or anything, but like you, I found the movie to be interesting and I’m not the kind of person that wants to just rip on someone’s hard work for bringing something to light that others had no idea about.

    Thanks again!


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