20 September 2010 | hte-trasme
"Beer Wars" is by-and-large stylishly done, it is largely entertaining, and it makes its subject an interesting one. Part of its trouble, though, is that it doesn't seem to know exactly what its subject is, beyond the fact that it has to do with beer. The film vacillates as it proceeds between being a series of profiles of small brewery owners, a history of the beer industry in America, a travelogue of the director's trip to various beer-related corporate events, and a screed against the modern business of brewing and Anheuser-Busch in particular.
The one element that seems to unite everything is that is seems to be trying very hard to get across the message that "the beer industry operates as a business," which was quite obvious to me before I started watching "Beer Wars." There is little attempt to hide a bias against Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors and towards small breweries, but this black-and-white view of the subject becomes tiring and does not seem very thoughtful. Big-beer executives are interviewed in long shot to show their opulent boardrooms, small beer businesspeople are shown with inspiring music at home with their cute children.
What's missing is the fact that both large and small breweries are businesses -- they both want to make money and they both want to make beer. Putting everything in such simple terms does a disservice to the subjects. I usually like the beer from smaller breweries much better, but that doesn't mean I can't recognize that they are moneymaking operations as well (or that I can't enjoy a Boddington's because Inbev has bought a stake).
In addition, director Baron is keen to point out that she comes from a place of experience in the beer world having run Mike's Hard Lemonade, but that is hardly finely-crafted beer, nor is it beer at all by any definition other than that or certain lawmakers. One of the underdog subjects she decides to follow is trying to market a mixture of beer with caffeine, which sounds to this viewer like a terrible idea and not the kind of gourmet beverage that Baron is suggesting Big Beer is trying to quash.
In all, an interesting subject comes through, but the film is far too unfocused within it, and even though I agree with most of its points, it comes off far too stridently partisan for my taste.