Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Make Beer, Not War

This post is a response to the recently released Beer Wars documentary. If you need more informaiton on Beer Wars, check it out here.
Last night I went to see Beer Wars, and it made me think about it all the way home. 
Plenty of bloggers have said their piece about the panel discussion (choice of host, awkward moments) and the movie itself. But I guess I want to focus more on the philosophical angle. 
The movie did a fair job of introducing me, a beer geek, to the business side of beer. And I heard people in the audience in the theatre I was in express that they really liked getting to know the real human side of the brewers of their favorite beers. But I was struck with the feeling that I’m not sure who this movie was really made for. I’m familiar with Dogfish, Sam Adams, Stone and New Belgium brewing (their brewers each spotlighted in the film). Granted, I know more about beer than most people that I know. But to the non craft beer drinker, the movie could have seemed insulting. To an industry expert it could have been just plain inaccurate. To Anheuiser Busch (AB) or Miller Coors (MC) it might even be considered slightly on the side of slander.  It doesn’t matter, the point of the movie, says director Anat Baron, is to start a conversation. 
Perhaps it is my own bias, but I think that I object to the fundamental question (and subsequently, its solution) in the film that the director/producer is proposing. Her angle seemed to be “Is there any hope for craft brewers fighting the big guys? What can we do to stop the powerful lobby-heavy big breweries from ruining beer for the rest of us?” It seemed to hint that more regulation was needed, or some kind of violent revolution. The challenges brewers faced were portrayed as battles, as warfare, and even the title implies an inherent conflict. 
Our heartsrings were strummed by a mother leaving her crying kids to do the grunt work of selling a new beer (albeit her story was a little tainted by the fact that the beer was not brewed by her and contained caffeine, a radical idea that might be a hard sell for anyone), our hackles were raised by claims that AB was in the habit of duping us. The documentary was framed in a Michael Moore style – getting damming quotes from CEOs or finding out something and showing a company being hypocritical or doing something sneaky to get ahead. The line was clearly outlined – Big is bad, Little is good. And who’s gonna stop the big bad wolf?
But my question is – why polarize the beer drinker? Why try to get beer drinkers to rebel against something that’s part of (and originally formed) our beer culture when you could, instead, just open more people up to good beer? I think in the panel discussion Sam said a few times that craft beer drinkers buy based on taste, and the big guys sell based on image and profits. So that’s your answer right there. If you brew it, they will come. Brew good beer and word spreads. Brew good beer for a long time and people will travel and ask and beg and trade for your beer, even if the supposedly biased distributors resist. Demand for product influences truck space, shelf placement. It really is about the consumer here. People buy what they like to drink.
This reflects our current web 2.0 world that we’re living in. Grassroots word of mouth advertising, viral internet media and bloggers have made the tastes of one side of the country echo from coast to coast. We’re learning about beer from the bottom up, and AB/MC are doing it from the top down. They want us to buy their beer. Brewers like Sam Caligone from Dogfish Head want us to drink good beer. The difference may be subtle, but its there.
Additionally troubling to me was the lack of acknowledgement of the craft beer drinking community. Absent were bloggers, writers, critics, and authors, though this might have been from the film’s age, a lot has changed since the film began in 2005. If you look at the recent #Amazonfail fiasco on twitter, you know that information spreads virally now whether a company wants them to or not. Craft beer drinkers know when they’re drinking well crafted beer, and when they aren’t. And people like me certainly aren’t shy about telling others about it. 
Are AB and MC trying to get a piece of the craft beer market? Of course they are. There’s a point in the film where someone expresses outrage that at AB they have a fridge full of competitor beers that they regularly try. Did anyone really expect them not to? The outrage here, is misplaced and only a tactic. If you don’t know what your competition is doing, you will never be able to keep a business afloat. 
 But the difference is in education. When intelligent beer drinkers start to try the mass-market-“crafties” they ask questions. “Is the fruit in this real fruit or extracts?” and “who makes this?” are answers that are readily findable on the internet and through other sources. 
In my world, I have reviewed AB products before, and I even did a blind taste testing of Michelob’s craft beer sampler pack to address my own assumptions about the taste of macro beer. I’ll echo what I said in earlier posts : the macro-craft movement is no threat. If anything, a drinker who’s serious about trying new beer might use a macro-craft as a jumping off point to explore different beer styles with. 
The real tools that we have are in the forms of education. Getting people to open up to new styles, revising the way we advertise beer, and changing some stubborn local laws that make nationwide distribution of great craft beers difficult (cough, cough, NH 11%ABV limit, I’m lookin’ at you…) will make all the difference in the world. As a part of the beer community, I feel like my readers, my colleagues and the brewers who brew wonderful beer are all working to support each other as brethren. Let’s keep the peace and continue to grow – by making beer, not war.
Thanks for listening,
The Beer Babe
P.S. Someone tell me where I can get some Moonshot and I will review it!!

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5 Comments

  1. Beer Sampler

    Loved the write up and enjoyed the movie.

  2. David Stock

    I reall have to check out Beer Wars now. Been hearing (and reading) so much about it.

  3. Matt Orr

    I liked how you played the Devil’s Advocate on this one, kudos.

  4. Jez

    While there is anecdotal proof that people started drinking a “craft” style made by AB and moved to better things, there are probably stories that Caligone referred to where someone will get the AB Pumpkin beer for $4.99, think it tastes like ass, and then not bother trying the $8.99 sixer of Dogfish Head, and instead, stay with the bland beer they grew up with, scared to spend money on something “different” in the future. Could be overdramatization, and I really doubt AB is trying to make a poor version of this, but with adjuncts and cheap ingredients, it’s gonna happen.

    I think the other thing the movie points out is how important it is to learn where your money goes. This is a good thing to point out about all of our purchases.

    While I don’t intend on alienating Bud drinkers, the ones who are my friends I will continue to influence positively and get them to try other beers. I’ve been quite successful this past year in getting many of my co-workers to try different kinds of craft brews. Only a few have gone off on their own to find new styles, but at least it’s something.

  5. Deirdre Reid

    This is a great review of the film and the issues it raises! I don’t have a problem with the big two doing “craft” beers, like you, I think those beers can be an introduction for many Bud/Miller/Coors drinkers to a new world of flavor. My boyfriend has decades of industrial lager drinking under his belt (but no beer belly, thank god), however he started with Michelob Amber Bock and Newcastle, then started buying local craft brews, and now he’s totally into going to brewpubs and breweries with me. He still buys a 12-pack of MGD regularly but he’ll have a six of New Belgium 1554 beside it. Yes, strange, but he has different tastes for different moods and occasions.

    One thing for all of us to be aware of — a lot of industrial lager drinkers (i.e., most of the population) don’t care for the superior attitude of many craft beer drinkers, and I’m guilty of this myself. There’s this strange attitude that the mainstays (Bud/Miller/Coors) are almost more American or something, less pretentious. I’m not buying into that, it’s just what I’ve observed. So I make an effort to not scorn someone’s beverage of choice but to try to introduce them to something that might be a good bridge beer. A lifetime project probably but a good mission.

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