'Beer Wars' Speaks Up for Craft Brewers

A new documentary explores why so many consumers stick to big-name brands.

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Today’s guest post comes from Amy Mittelman, author of Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

The movie Beer Wars, which explores the challenges of craft beer brewers (and drinkers) in the United States, launches tonight in 440 theaters around the country. I E-mailed with director Anat Baron about the film and what she hopes people get out of it. Excerpts:

How did you get the idea for the movie?

When I left the beer industry [Baron previously worked for Mike’s Hard Lemonade], it didn’t leave me. I received an invitation to the annual beer industry convention and decided to see if there was a movie there.

Are the other filmmakers you used as models for your film?

Not really. The film is a “hybrid” of styles. Some have compared me to Michael Moore but I’m better dressed, less angry and use humor instead of confrontation.

Why did you pick Rhonda Kallman of New Century Brewing and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery and Distillery to be the two main craft brewers you interviewed?

There are over 1400 independent breweries in America. I eliminated brewpubs early on because I wanted to show how production breweries fight it out in the market. I met at least 20 fascinating small brewers. But I needed a storyline to follow. Otherwise, there’s no movie. I picked Rhonda because she was launching a new product - beer with caffeine. Love it or hate it, it was innovative. And I thought it would be interesting to follow someone who’d made it to the top (with Sam Adams) attempt to scale the mountain again. I chose Sam because he was articulate and a straight talker. But more important was the fact that he was expanding his business - building a new brewhouse and taking on a 9 million dollar loan to do so. I have no regrets.

Did you want to get the perspective of large brewers?

I sat down with the CEOs of Miller and Coors. They’re in the film. August Busch IV did not sit down for an interview although he does make a cameo in the film.

What are the main issues you see confronting craft brewing?

I think the main one continues to be access to market. How to get shelf space and distribution if you want to grow outside your local area.

Do you think the recession will help or hurt craft brewing and beer in general?

It depends on their size and devotion of their loyal drinkers. I think that craft beer is still an affordable luxury. And if people are going out less, they can still drink craft beer at home.

[For more, read: “The Company Behind a Bottle of Sam Adams.”]

How has brewing and beer drinking changed in the last ten years?

The Internet has helped the growth of homebrewing and craft brewing. Online communities make people aware of different beers and techniques and create buzz. And craft brewers have become more daring. Pushing the envelope on ingredients, process, experimenting with new (and old) techniques.

Do you want people to behave a certain way and try to help craft brewing after seeing Beer Wars?

I want them to think about the choices that they make. And I recognize that not everyone cares. I care more now after I made the film.

Is it more important for people to buy beer based on who produces it than how it tastes?

No, I think people should drink what they like. But if they want to support craft brewers an entrepreneurs then they should pay attention to who is behind the label of the beer they buy.

Did you want any representatives of macro brewers to be on the panel discussion tonight [following the movie’s launch]?

I did and I invited Tom Long, President of MillerCoors and Dave Peacock, President of Anheuser-Busch. Tom Long passed. I never heard back from A-B.

Do you drink beer?

I’m actually allergic to alcohol. Crazy, I know, but it allowed me to focus on the business of beer.