22 December 2013 | StevePulaski
What would brew do?
Since June 2013, I've been working one or two days a week at a liquor store where my dad has worked since 2004 and managed for several years in addition. It's my first job and it's been something of a roller-coaster that doesn't deserve explicit mention here at this point in time. Being under the legal age to drink in America, I never paid much attention to beer pricing, beer brands, and the humongous industry the product housed, but now, I always find myself heading to the beer sections of grocery stores to compare prices, brands, and the variety of their products versus ours.
Since June and because "big beer" vs. craft beer is a debate I constantly find myself in, I made an effort to watch Beer Wars, a documentary that analyzes the heated competition between domestic, mass-produced beer brands and small-scale, often local or regional craft beer breweries. To start, when I say "domestic beer brands" I mean the big three brands that have monopolized the beer industry for decades now - Miller, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch. When I say "craft beer breweries," I mean independently run breweries that are down several notches from the big industry that brew their own unique flavors. In the long run, that seems to be the main difference between craft beer and domestic beer - the taste. While the big three beer companies seem to want to focus on gimmicks like an indicator on the bottle to tell you how cold your beer is, punch-top cans, and meaningless "vortex bottles," craft beer companies look to make sure your pale ale is flavorful and works in a special way for you. The main flavor of domestic beer seems to be adjunct American light lager.
The woman behind Beer Wars is a woman by the name of Anat Baron, who worked for Mike's Hard Lemonade during its inception but has remained out of the beer industry for several years since. However, the hops stayed in her blood so-much-so that she decided to make a documentary showing the brutal, unbridled war between the craft and the mainstream beer industry. Recently, imported beer sales, craft beer sales, and sales on wine and spirits have been steadily increasing, leaving domestic beer in somewhat of a slump. Just last week, it was reported Anheuser-Busch saw a whomping 28.8% decrease in Budweiser sales and Michelob, another A-B brand, saw an unfathomable 70% drop in sales.
Baron indicates this is largely due to the blandness and neutrality of the three beers. In a single-blind study at a bar, several people were given samples of Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and Bud Light, many of them mistaking one beer for the other. We're informed that the reason the industry is monopolized by three giants is because before Prohibition, 1800 breweries existed. Then when Prohibition was lifted, many breweries came back to the surface. But by 1978, only forty-five breweries remained because small-scale companies either went bankrupt or were bought by those who had more money. This lead to A-B, Coors, and Miller gaining prominence to eventually becoming the main choices when you go to a grocery store or a liquor store. Even the famous Blue Moon beer, with its box-art designed to appear like a typical craft beer, stating it was brewed by the Blue Moon Brewing Company was actually made by Miller in efforts to make consumers think it was an entirely different product by an entirely different company.
In recent times, the smaller guys have been taking the craft market by storm. What started as a hobby of basic home brewing, the act of making beer at home, has emerged into an industry that is growing rapidly and actually making the bigger companies sweat. Even in a slumping American economy, paying $10, $12, or sometimes $16 for a six pack of craft beer seems to be more attractive than paying $5 for a six pack of light lager made by one of the big corporations. However, some will see the pricetag of craft brews, roll their eyes, and purchase something much cheaper with a much weaker effect.
Baron focuses on the owners of these craft breweries that are gaining steam, one of which is owned by Sam Calagione. The soul Baron chooses to devote most of the focus to is Rhonda Kallman, a determined beer entrepreneur with her product "Moonshot," a beverage that combines the smooth, drinkable taste of beer with the added boost of caffeine for what, she says, fulfills and a need in the market that is not yet taken care of. Kallman attends numerous meetings, trying to find the appropriate investors for her product and trying to keep her in the business one more day. At nights, she bar-hops, offering patrons to sample her beer, promising them she'll buy their favorite beer if they don't like her's. After giving out dozens of bottles, she hasn't bought one beer yet.
This wouldn't be half the struggle it is if Kallman wasn't married with two children. Her husband comments that she has no idea how she does it because she takes advice from numerous different people, many of which younger and more inexperienced than she, but she still listens to all compliments and criticisms of her product. Even her toddler-age kids want mommy to stay home, but they know she has a very important dream to fulfill.
Beer Wars is a captivating documentary. At only eighty-eight minutes, it provides a thoughtful rundown of the big brewers, the smaller ones, the souls struggling to keep their smaller products fresh and selling off the shelves, and the lobbyists of the industry that want to keep Miller, Coors, and A-B in power. Few documentaries would've done such a colossal industry justice in a short amount of time, but Baron makes it look as easy and accomplished as chugging an eight ounce can of Miller Lite.