Friday, April 24, 2009

Beers Wars: A War Worth Winning You Probably Didn't See

"Beer Wars Live" is Michaell Moore-esque movie documentary on the beer industry in the US, where the huge industrial brewers you all know, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller goliaths takes on hundreds of much smaller craft brewers. It's one of those event films, that only plays for one night all over the country. There were only about 10-15 people in the theater, and I suspect attendance all over the country was similar.

To no one's surprise, the big corporate brewers flex their economic and political muscles to keep the craft brewers small. It's also an interesting tale of Sam Calagione, a craft brewer who happily chases his passion, and Rhonda, a former Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) executive, who appears to lose her soul and her family trying to create the next big thing with a slightly weird sounding Craft Beer/Energy Drink hybid me-too knock-off product.

I enjoyed the movie, and Linda and I talked all about on the way home, which is a sign of a good movie. But in some ways, it was a bit of a disappointment. There were a lot of tired cliche's about big corporate power and money funding the three-tiered system of distribution, a relic of prohibition that gives the larger industrial brewers and unfair advantage over craft breweries but zip, zilch, nada about what alternative system would be fair. And I have no problem finding small California craft beers in the Midwest, or even the East Coast. Somehow, the little guys are finding some way to get some good distribution, but the film has nothing to say about how that's been accomplished.

It's really a business movie, and so the "war" comes across as a fight for the almighty buck, but I view this battle as more than that.

It's a war about American Entrepreneurship being stifled by pointless regulation and near monopoly power. I love that fact that the craft beer industry was set into motion by Jimmy Carter signing a bill legalizing home brewing. Imagine, good ol' Democrat Jimmy Carter eliminating government regulation to create free market economic growth. Entrepreneurship makes this country great, but in the beer world, it is suffering under the current system in America.

It's also a war about what we decide to taste and put in our bodies. We can choose to drink industrial beers which basically all taste the same, and are made from cheap ingredients. (There's a great scene in the movie where loyal Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light drinkers cannot tell which is their favorite of the three, in blind taste tests.) Or we can choose to drink a variety of distinctve beers, that are skillfully made, and while do cost more, are intended to be appreciated, instead of something just to fill you up or get you buzzed or drunk.

You can probably get this on Netflix soon. If these things matter to you, this movie will definitely get you thinking. I also ask you to vote with your pocket books the next time you buy a beer.

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