our mailman, in the middle of yesterday's blizzard, delivered "beer wars" from netflix - the perfect antidote for cabin fever! the short documentary sketched the david versus goliath battle craft brewers face in competing for shelf space and attention against the big three brewers (aneheiser-busch, miller, and coors). filmed during 2005, the timing coincided with the news that coors and miller would merge to become the number 2 producer, behind a-b. then, that news was overshadowed by the announcement that a-b would be purchased by inbev!
the documentary is a series of sometimes guerrilla vignettes, narrated by the writer and director arat baron. while not a brewer, she earned her beverage industry experience growing the "mikes (hard) lemonade" brand. an ironic product background for a film depicting the struggle of craft brewers against the corporate machine. interestingly, the craft brewer perspective primarily focused on sam calagione of dogfish head brewing in delaware. he is an exceptional choice because calagione and dogfish are on the cutting edge of the artisan beer movement.
a separate story line followed rhonda kallman of the new century brewing company as she tried to promote her caffeine infused brand, "moon shot." while her beer industry bona fides are spot on - as a co-founder of boston beer (aka "sam adams") with jim koch - she isn't marketing a "craft" beer. instead, it's a self-processed niche filler (for the market out there looking for a caffeine boost build into the brew). however, her struggle mirrors that of the craft brewers in both are battling the same conglomerates for that precious shelf space. her efforts to establish brand awareness include personally delivering product and promotional material to retailers and bars (including having to listen to the occasional boorish drinker know-it-all).
in fact, the background on controlling the supermarket shelf space allotments was incredibly eye-opening. it's worth watching the film just to learn how much effort these companies put into securing the maximum space for its entire product line - not just for the success of any particular brand, but for the added benefit of freezing out the competitors. there is also a brief look at the three tiered distribution system, a complex hangover foisted on the nation in the wake of prohibition. this material wasn't as effectively presented because it was just too complex a topic to break down into easily digested sound bites.
when the film had it's one night premier last year, it was followed by a live panel discussion that included some of the principals in the film. that was included as a bonus feature on the dvd. it was an interesting coda to the film. but "beer wars" - especially its depiction of the big brewers voracious and seeming insatiable appetite for shelf space and market share - is worth watching on it's own merits. rent it and be to have a craft beer in hand during viewing :D