Living in Beervana, we often forget how hard it might be for people from other states to obtain access to real quality craft beer. On a national level, other states may not be as entrenched in their beer culture as we are. Ever stop to wondering if there is a reason to that? Or why you are unable to buy Southern Tier or Lost Abby/Port beers in Oregon but are able to in Washington? A new movie set to be premiered on April 16th may answer some of those questions.
Beer Wars is a documentary hosted by Ben Stein that explores the struggles that small craft breweries encounter with getting their products to the masses. The movie also touches on how much power the three big players in the beer business (Coors, Miller and Anheuser-Busch) really have. As quoted from the movie “This contemporary David and Goliath story is ultimately about keeping your integrity (and your family’s home) in the face of temptation.” This movie is directed by Anat Baron, who was general manager at Mike’s Hard Lemonade and helped grow the company to where it is today. Before her introduction to the beer industry, Anat was a Hollywood producer and development executive. Brewpublic recently asked Anat some questions about her movie.
From your point of view, what was the biggest surprise or shock in researching content for Beer Wars?
Anat Baron: The connection between beer and politics. The power of the
beer lobby in Washington, DC.
The big beer industry scoffs at microbreweries through some of their marketing, yet at the same time they also try to conform by developing pseudo-craft brands. What patterns and contradictions did you encounter from the big beer industry?
AB: There is a need to be all things to all people. And to not give up one inch of shelf space. So anyone who is creating something new and innovative is a threat. And if it gains traction, well then it’s time to create a copycat product to hold onto tat precious space on the shelf.
Likewise, there are microbreweries that are selling part of their business to larger corporations to reap the benefits of distribution. How is this a positive and a negative for the mircobrew industry?
AB: I think that these are individual decisions and I don’t want to judge. But the reason they sell is that they are guaranteed distribution because the big brewers, especially Anheuser-Busch have better distribution than the microbreweries. The distributors themselves are known as A-B, Miller or Coors distributors so as the little guy you have to find a way onto their truck. It’s the only way to get to retail in many states.
What is your opinion on the three-tier distribution system for the beer industry?
AB: I think it’s time to revisit the three-tier system. Not dismantle it but rework it for the 21st century. It’s complicated and state based but in the age of the Internet, there have to be more options for both brewers and consumers.
The feature subjects of Beer Wars are Sam Calagione, founder and President of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Rhonda Kallman, founder and CEO of New Century Brewing Co and co-founder of The Boston Beer Company. How did these two individuals help shape and influence the movie?
AB: They each had a unique story to tell. Sam was expanding his business and taking out a $9 million loan with his wife to fund it. Rhonda had everything on the line as she launched her new beer, Moonshot. They provide the soul and heart of the film as we track their stories as seen in the larger context of the beer industry. They provide the emotional connection so we’re not just watching a TV documentary that takes us to different breweries. And their stories are universal.
Not being a beer drinker yourself (it was noted you have an alcohol allergy), was their anyone on your film crew that had a passion for beer before the start of Beer Wars or developed one through the filming process?
AB: My entire crew became craft beer FANATICS. On my last shoot, the cinematographer brought extra hard camera cases so she could take boxes of Dogfish Head home to Los Angeles.
Peter DeFazio, democratic Congressman from Oregon, is an interview subject for Beer Wars. How much do politics really play a part in the beer industry?
AB: Politics plays a part only in that the beer lobby is very active in Washington. Rep. DeFazio is a big craft beer supporter.
Your first introduction to the beer industry was being general manger for Mike’s Hard Lemonade and turning it into the company it is today. What was the biggest challenge in helping this business grow from a start up?
AB: Trying to get distribution everywhere. It was tough to keep some distributors focused on our products. And it was even tougher to get shelf space for new products. Mike’s is a great entrepreneurial success story because of the vision of its founder, Anthony von Mandl. He’s a classic self made man who saw a need in the market and went for it. Microbreweries almost seem to have a cult following. Do you think the average American is really ready for craft beer? AB: I can’t comment on the taste but I think that given the choice, many Americans would be willing to try craft beers. I don’t think the big boys have anything to worry about yet. They’re ubiquitous but as consumers try these new beers, I think that many will convert. But they need access to these beers.
Tickets for this special one-night event are available here, and at theater box offices. The evening will kick-off with the premiere of Beer Wars and followed by a LIVE panel discussion (simulcast from Royce Hall in Los Angeles) with independent brewers and beer industry experts hosted by pundit, economist and actor Ben Stein.
8:00 p.m.Thursday, April 16th: Cinemark Cedar Hills Crossing 16; Regal Lloyd Center 10; Cinemark Clackamas Town Center; Cinemark Tinseltown, Medford; Cinemark Cinemark 17, Springfield; Regal Old Mill Stadium 16, Bend.