Monday, March 23, 2009

BeerWars - The Movie

With a title that make me think more of SpaceBalls than of a full-fledged documentary about brewing and the craft beer industry and culture and consumerism around beer, I was hesitant to write about it. The mass push and blitz of advertising put me off even more. My ennui wasn't helped by the fact that there are only two theaters in all of Wisconsin showing this movie in its initial run: one in Kenosha, and one in Appleton.

But, it's an important movie with a goal of education and shedding light on the back-room politics driving which beers end up on our grocery and liquor store shelves. But, I agree with Andy Crouch:
It’s an anachronistic exercise to continue to view the beer industry through the prism of us versus them, small versus big. Case in point: ask any craft brewer you know about their access to market concerns five years ago compared to today. It’s the difference between having trouble getting a space on a big brewer’s truck versus finding enough time to return all of the new distributor inquiries from around the country. Access to market is no longer the looming problem. Deciding which markets to turn down and how to keep fresh product on the shelves are the problems today.
It's simply not a fight that's particularly relevant. The purchase Budweiser by InBev has created a giant sucking sound in the gut of American brewing. Combined with the layoffs of all of the big breweries around the country, there is a glut of knowledgeable industry folks with nothing but time and a severance package. And distributors are getting increasingly antsy about the relationships with Bud and other big breweries who are looking to cut costs by extending payment schedules out to 120 days.

So the industry is ripe for a hot, trendy product to pick up some of the growth troubles at the larger breweries. The problems for breweries today, unlike in the past, is less in finding a distributor, but in picking which distributor. Which isn't to say there isn't a fight on. The large breweries are not going to give up the fight. And with Sam Adams creeping over 2 million barrels of production, and thus out of the definition of "craft brewery", there could start to be some fighting within the craft brewing ranks. The Brewers Association impending war over consumers will certainly lead some tension between the mass of small breweries and those that led the fight like Leinenkugels and Red Hook and Goose Island but who are now owned, at least in part, by corporate overlords like Anheuser-Busch and Miller. Not to mention the rapidly growing ranks of Sam Adams and Great Lakes and Magic Hat that are now so large that it's hard to find a meaning basis of differentiation between them and those that are owned by the corporate behemoths.

So, the story is likely to become much more nuanced even by the end of 2009. And while BeerWars certainly sets the stage, it's about a fight that is mostly over. But its fundamental message "about keeping your integrity (and your family’s home) in the face of temptation" remains spot on.

Now, if a theater in Madison, Milwaukee or La Crosse would like to pick this thing up...maybe I can get a bit more excited about it?


  1. The 120-day payment schedule is a good example of bullying tactics - most small companies can't afford a 4-month float.

  2. I'm excited about this movie, though I wish that it was playing in Madison or Milwaukee since I'm moving to the area soon. I'm currently in CO where it's playing at just about every major theater, and now I'm going to miss the movie when I move to a beer-loving state like Wisconsin? What happened there? Who was in charge of screenings?

    Does anyone know if we still have time to get a theater to pick this up? I can't find any info about setting up a screening on their site?



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