I got back from watching Beer Wars. I thought it was a great documentary about the craft beer movement in the US and the mammoth commercial giants that pretty much own the US market.
While it was interesting hearing from many of the craft brewers about their successes and struggles, I felt like I left the theater missing something. As I sit here at home a hour and a half later, I believe I put my finger on it.
I wish the three tier system was better explained in the movie, since understanding of that system is pivotal in understanding exactly what the craft houses are up against. While it was sort of explained, mentioned many times, and further alluded to throughout the film, it was never stated matter-of-factly how the system actually works. We heard why it is bad from the craft perspective, and why it is good from the corporate giant perspective, and even why we have it from the government and historical perspective. But if so much of the movie focused on this system, it would have been nice to have it really clearly explained.
I loved the virtual tour of Sam Calagione’s and Rhonda Kallman’s lives as we follow them through their respective beer brewing and marketing endeavors. While we see Sam’s brewery grow and add equipment, as see Rhonda going from store to store, bar to bar, investor to investor trying to get her label off the ground. Rhonda’s story really is an eye opener to how hard it can be to get started, while Sam’s shows what can be had with the right energy in the right place at the right time. Neither had it easy, and seeing what they’re up against on the macro brew side was staggering.
If you haven’t been following news articles and reading books by various brewers and business owners about the craft beer explosion in the US, this movie is a great introduction. If you’re well-acquainted with the movement, this movie is still quite entertaining. Seeing it “live”, or for the first time ever via Fathom Events was a blast. I was fortunate enough to be in an audience of about 200 beer enthusiasts, and half the fun came from the audience “participation” from the shared laughter and groans to the well-voiced raspberry during a quiet scene involving Budweiser, which got the entire theater laughing and applauding.
I will say though that I was very disappointed with the panel discussion afterward. First, Ben Stein was a horrible choice for a host. Either he was playing naive or he was ignoring the fact that we all just watched the movie by reading questions that were clearly answered in the movie itself. He did most of the talking despite being the host there to moderate the discussion. He misdirected several questions, which caught panelists off-guard and interrupted them to correct his own error.
Second, and maybe it was the format chosen, but they included additional commentary via pre-recording. Normally this isn’t bad, but one was a snip of Todd Alstrom bashing Moonshot beer, leaving him in a deer-in-headlights mode along with Rhonda Kallman, the founder of Moonshot, who was left to answer that comment live on the panel. I thought it was uncalled for and served no purpose but to add a bit of drama where there should have been none. The panel was designed to reflect on the movie and their experiences in the industry and draw parallels and disconnects, at least per the movie’s site.
I wished the panel was longer, I wish the panelists were better introduced, I wish Ben Stein was bound and gagged after introducing the panelists, and I wish they actually did spend more time reflecting on the movie per their own experiences and actually engaged each other in conversation about these observations. You know, be more of a panel and less of a Q&A with Mr. Stein.
All that said, I still thought it was worth the money and enjoyed the whole experience. Some folks are Twittering about the “high cost” of the movie, but really… it was $15. It was live. You were among the first to see it. You have that experience to carry with you.
I anticipate getting this documentary once it’s released to DVD, if for no other reason than to remind myself of the rewards and pitfalls of entering this profession should I ever make that leap.