BeerWars, an interview
During my recent travels there has been quite a buzz about a new documentary on the beer industry. I thought I’d get on the phone with Anat Baron, the force behind Beer Wars, the somewhat controversial movie playing April 16th — and only April 16th — at 440 very select movie theaters.
What’s the story/moment that got you attracted to the beer world?
I came to this project with a lot of knowledge and experience. I worked in the beer industry and there haven’t been a lot of documentary films about this industry. A few years back, I was the general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Mike’s is sold on the shelf right next to beer and I got to know a lot about craft beer. When I did leave the industry, it never really left me. Around 2005, I got intrigued when I saw Ad Age run an article that beer is dead. I did some research and saw how much the industry had changed in the year since I’d left.
About the same time, I got a random invitation to National Beer Wholesalers Association’s convention and went. I walked into the convention looking for a story. I was looking for an arc, a narrative. And all I heard from everyone was how much craft beer was on the rise and how much trouble the major brewers were having. The GABF was next week and I went with my crew and it was like Alice in Wonderland; I couldn’t have been more out of place. In ten days I saw two different worlds; the buttoned down corporate world and the hip craft beer world.
What moment really meant something for you as far as capturing your story, expressing your feelings about the industry, etc.
In making a feature film like this there were many moments. Because it’s a documentary it is constantly crystallizing. If there was one thing that got me thinking of about how we got here it was when I went to the National Beer Wholesalers Association/Brewers Legislative Conference in DC. The connection between beer and politics I didn’t know about and how powerful, truly powerful the industry is.
I had a crew with me recording the footage and one person touched a nerve with the whole crew: Rhonda Kallman. I guess people call her the Queen of Beer. She was with Jim Koch in the early days and then left to launch a new beer, not just another beer, but a brand new caffeine beer called Moonshots. While not a craft beer story, she had a classic start-up story. She had already been successful and she wanted to start something new on her own.
I found Sam when I went to the GABF. I didn’t know any craft brewers so I got 15 recommendations from the Brewers Association. As soon as I met Sam I knew he was the star because he was very outspoken. Most brewers aren’t so outspoken when the camera is turned on. Sam wasn’t like that. He would tell the truth on the camera. He had the opposite problem of Rhonda. He couldn’t make enough beer and was taking a $9 million loan to expand his brewery. How do you expand and not sell your soul?
It’s been a while since you got all your footage. Anything change in the industry from your vantage point?
I’ve been told a lot has changed and this film is dated because it’s about big vs. small. Big vs. small is never dated. These small brewers, at the end of the day, are nervous about the film. Small brewers are stuck. They have to sleep with the devil. You have to get into business with people, distributors, that may not have your best interest in mind. If you criticize the three tier system you’re screwed because these people don’t want to be criticized. I set out to tell the truth and change can only happen if you tell the truth. You can bury this as long as you want but change will only happen if you create more choices, greater access.
It’s like Michael Moore making “Sicko.” If there were an easy solution to the distribution problem, I wouldn’t have made the movie. It’s not easy to solve. I’m trying to start the conversation about how to make it better, not get rid of it. When I was at Mike’s Hard Lemonade, we were almost as big as Sam Adams, so I understand the problems of this system.
Why is it for one night only?
Actually, how cool is it for three of the biggest theatrical exhibitors in the country getting behind it, trying to reach out to a new audience. This is your moment and if you don’t embrace it the moment won’t come again. People can either sit around and write about it and bitch about it, but they need to show up and at the very least it will start a conversation.
For more from Anat go to the interview on Beer Wars website.