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Feb 9, 2010 11:51 AM

Beer Wars

Any opinions on the Beer Wars documentary? I was actually shocked by some of the information that was presented. If you haven't seen it you can watch it for free at Netflix (if you have an account).

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  1. I didn't see it, but have discussed it with people who have. Much of what you see in this documentary describes a world that no longer exists. The movie discusses craft breweries that can't get distribution. That is yesterday's world, as crafts are often courted by distributors these days, since craft sales are growing while the big brewery's beers slide, and a case of craft brings them twice the margin dollars while it costs the same to toss it on the truck and deliver it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim Dorsch

      The part that was surprising to me was how much lobbying power the beer industry has (basically AB). I'm very cynical when it comes to politicians but I was stunned by how much influence the beer lobby has. The Washington backed support of the three tier system and referring to the opponents of that system as anti-American neo-prohibitionists was eye opening in that in included almost every member of congress.
      The lawsuits filed by AB against Dogfish head were anger inducing as well.

      1. re: californiabeerandpizza

        Since I didn't see the film, I don't what you refer to specifically about lobbying, but certainly the wholesalers have a strong advocate in the National Beer Wholesalers Assn, and at the state level, wholesalers are usually quite well-connected. This is because laws concerning wholesalers are largely at the state level.

        The NBWA has taken a strategy recently that concerns me. They are getting close to anti-alcohol groups such as the Marin Institute because they often back the three-tier system. This is because they want to see alcohol controlled in every way possible, and the three-tier system, of course, does just that. But the danger for the NBWA is that they may find themselves being stabbed in the back by the folks they're sleeping with, because in the end, the anti-alcohol crowd wants to see its availability shrink to zero.

    2. Overall, from the start it was clear that this was going to be a fairly biased and a not very balanced look at the brewing industry.
      It overlooks the fact that while the micro segment has indeed for more than 30 years been making some extraordinary beer, the big brewers are making some very fine "craft" beers as well along side of the yellow fizzwater which fattens their bottom line (and which is what most beer drinkers seem to prefer). They were so busy pushing their anti-big brewer agenda that they didn't really tell the whole story.
      One observer here was surprised by the information...I was more surprised by the omission of information.

      I support the small brewers, and the better ones have done a lot to encourage more exploration in terms of flavor and long lost 'styles'.
      I think the film was a nice effort, and give kudos to the film maker for actually managing to get the movie made and distributed (being in the business I can authoritatively say that it is no easy task).
      But in the end it's a little too one-sided to take seriously .
      Really, the whole concept of the "beer war" is silly. Business is tough. It's a jungle out there, and the trick is giving the consumers what they want at a price they can afford.

      Besides...If the beer is good, and it's beer that you like, it matters not whether it's made in a mega brewery or an aluminum shed.

      6 Replies
      1. re: The Professor

        I have to assume that the one-sided presentation and the was angle were meant to attract an audience.

        What I'm getting from my friends who saw this is that it made some points (about access to distribution) that might have been true when they set out to make this film, but no longer are.

        My, I'm certainly giving a lot of opinions about a film I didn't see!

        1. re: The Professor

          I agree that it was a one sided documentary but I think it can be taken seriously. There were several legitimate issues that were brought up that makes one wonder if there is a fair playing field for all, or only for those with the financial, political and legal resources to manipulate the system to their benefit.
          I thought Sam Calagione in particular made many points that were valid and worth taking seriously. He is (or was) being sued by AB for naming one of his beers Punkin and the why's of that lawsuit are just one example of why I don't it's accurate to just dismiss the whole thing as nothing more than a film maker with an attitude against the misunderstand beer giants.

          1. re: californiabeerandpizza

            In the end it's all good I suppose, if it draws some attention to the new brewers who by and large are turning out some interesting stuff (along with their failed experiments sold at premium prices). And if the small brewer growth continues to wake up the big brewers to the fact that some folks like more flavorful traditional beers, all the better. Competition is a good thing. The bigs certainly have the expertise to make some outstanding stuff. As tastes change, perhaps we will see more adventurous and historical styled brews from the mega brewers. I'm no huge fan of the dreaded A/B-Inbev, but have to admit that they're making some pretty good specialty brews these days.
            Still, of course, no matter how good those beers are a lot of folks will dismiss them strictly _because_ they are from the bigs.

            1. re: The Professor

              >new brewers who by and large are turning out some interesting stuff (along with their failed experiments sold at premium prices).

              Try convincing the tickerati of that...;-)

              I am hoping another shakeout comes so we can get back to the focus on quality that was happening in craft beer in the first half of this decade vs. the focus on "innovation" and experimentation with expensive, limited releases that deliver more hype than quality.

              1. re: The Professor

                What are the pretty good specialty brews from A-B or MillerCoors you're referring to? Some of the Michelob products? Blue Moon?

                1. re: The Professor

                  What good specialty beer is A/B making?

            2. Am I the only on that found Anat Baron to be incredibly annoying? It's bad enough for this message to be coming from an executive of a really crappy beverage company who doesn't even drink beer (and employs the highly suspect alcohol allergy excuse), but the way she presented and explained everything made me want to disagree with everything this poorly produce bit of propaganda was selling. I don't support or buy from the large breweries, and I think it's a crime that some states will not allow microbreweries. Until I saw this, I would have thought it was impossible to make a film trashing the large breweries that I wouldn't like.

              2 Replies
              1. re: danieljdwyer

                "...and I think it's a crime that some states will not allow microbreweries."


                There are no states that prohibit microbreweries.

                There's at least one brewery or brewpub in every state of the union plus DC- based on this pdf from the Brewers Association of "Breweries per capita".

                1. re: JessKidden

                  Saying "will not allow microbreweries" is perhaps a gross oversimplification. No state expressly prohibits them. More than half of the states draw a legal distinction between a brewpub and a microbrewery, and will not permit any entity to be licensed as both. Almost all of those states also will not allow a microbrewery to self distribute. In an unfortunate number of those states, all distributors have very deep ties to the big breweries. Some state politicians also have very strong ties to the big breweries. Mississippi is the only state I know off hand that does not have a single microbrewery (they do have three brewpubs, which can't even sell growlers), but Florida is a far worse offender. The 4th largest state in the nation, with the 18th highest per capita beer consumption, yet only 4 microbreweries? Maybe that has something to do with having the weakest limits on brewer to distributor incentives and exclusivity deals, the most money donated from major breweries to local political campaigns of any state, strong historic ties to the Anheuser-Busch company in particular, but also more recently to MillerCoors, a propensity for rejecting applications to open a microbrewery, and regulations so difficult for microbreweries to contend with that all four lost money last year and are in danger of closing their doors?
                  But, none of that is really related to my post, so I am fine with the gross oversimplification.