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Beer Wars: America’s Brewing Beer Battle

Submitted by on April 1, 2009 – 7:47 PMNo Comment
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beer-wars-copyThere is a war being waged in the world of beer, and we’re about to be dropped right smack in the middle of No Man’s Land.

Let’s take for granted the old adage, ‘America is the land of beer.’ To many that sentence reads, ‘America is the land of fizzy yellow beer,’ but under the radar of light beers in shiny cans trying to convince us that ‘frost-brewed’ is a real thing, conflict has been fermenting. The last twenty years of America’s beer history has been a veritable arms race, and now we are in the midst of a full-blown war. It’s occurring right under our noses, in the bright display cases of corner delis, on tap at neighborhood pubs, in boardrooms from Belgium to Delaware. You don’t see it, but every single beer you buy is the result of more than just barley, water, yeast, and hops. This is a war of distribution, retail capacity, advertising, quality control, and marketing. Don’t see it? Haven’t heard the shots fired? Think it doesn’t concern you? Anat Baron, the creative force behind the forthcoming documentary Beer Wars, politely—but firmly—disagrees. To her (and many others on both sides of this issue), the corporate giants and the scrappy start-ups are slugging it out for your hard earned beer-cash, and they are using every weapon in their arsenal to get it.

Now Baron is bearing the load of telling a true story in a truthful way. Recently, Bier Magazine had the opportunity to talk about the upcoming movie, and what we found out made real for us this unseen battle.  “It was my goal to take the consumer inside the beer industry, or any industry for that matter,” she says. “This [movie] is an insight into many issues that are important to everyone, to non-beer drinkers. Corporate America, consumer behavior, problems within a given industry…you don’t need to care about beer to care about the foods you eat and the products you can buy,” she continued to say.

What did she find in the trenches on both sides? Mostly that fortune favors the bold. The profitable microbreweries are only able to stand up to huge corporate conglomerates (you know which ones I’m talking of) because they are bold, and engaging, and fearless. As Baron said, “It’s not enough to make a good product. Something needs to stand out. Successful brewers connect with their drinkers because they give them what they want in an exciting way. Just like some people want hoppy beers, they want big personalities and big stories. If you get out there, people get to know you.” And getting people to know you is crucial for any successful business, especially in a flooded marketplace competing for every literal inch of adspace.

Politics aside, the production of beer is still, to most, a craft. People are starting to seek out high-quality, flavorful, sometimes aggressive beers that massive breweries just don’t provide. This market failure creates opportunity for resourceful folk with determined minds. Throughout Beer Wars the documentary tells the story of Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Besides being known for their huge, “off-centered” beers, Dogfish Head’s story has come up as a sort of David, slinging rocks at the many Goliaths of big beer conglomerates. Anat follows Sam’s story because “he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. He’s got great personality and real belief in what he does.” That’s what gives the little guy a fighting chance to make an impact. “Brewers are emotionally connected to their beers and the people drinking them. In telling this story, in being not just the director or producer but your guide throughout, I’m just as invested into it.” It creates community where previously there was conflict. Suddenly we realize that Beer Wars is not a free-for-all, with every microbrewery for itself while the big players look on. It’s a difference of fundamental ideas, each side with its virtues and drawbacks, its successes and failures. Both ways of doing it—mass production and handcrafting—exist because they have a right to, because they want to make their product, beer, available to you. “I’m trying to get people to think about how their beer gets to them,” Baron says, “and if not, that’s OK too. I’m not out to convert anybody.”

Ultimately it is this feeling of community that Anat Baron is counting on. “We need people to come out and support this. It’s playing at very mainstream venues for a non-mainstream story. If you believe in small versus big, this is your chance to prove it.” Baron (who herself is allergic to alcohol and cannot drink beer) has taken this story to task and thrown down the gauntlet. On April 16, all we need to do is sit back and watch.

View trailer here: BEER WARS