Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Documentary Movie review: Beer Wars

We watched most of Beer Wars last night. It's a very well made documentary about the brewing industry as told from a former beer executive, Anat Baron.

I must admit I've been largely ignorant of the business behind beer. I was fortunate to have worked The Sanctuary Restaurant that featured many great beers before featuring many great beers was popular. My experience there gave me an appreciation for the non-macro brewed beers. My current favorite beers come from the Surly brewery.

I'm not a very good descriptor of beers. I honestly couldn't tell whether one beer is more 'hoppy' than another. I struggle to identify different notes in beers and wines, but I do know what I like, and Surly beer is one beer that I do enjoy.

One thing that I have noticed is that I don't really care much for the flavor of the big American beers. I used to enjoy drinking Budweiser during hot summer days. It is genuinely refreshing. So is water though. I can get good drinking water from my tap for less than a penny a gallon.

Miller and Coors don't taste much different to me either. As far as beers go, they are fairly bland.

Beer Wars explains how the big breweries are able to get people to drink their beer instead of the more flavorful, and IMO better, regional and local beers. The obvious first reason is branding and advertising. The big beers do a lot to get people to associate themselves with a brand of beer. I used to know a guy who'd only drive Ford vehicles and only drink Miller beers. He had a sense of pride for being loyal to his brands.

This is one of the most fascinating facets of humans to me. Why is it that we are so eager to embrace an identity and give so much to it, when it's not in our best interest to be loyal. If we were to look out for out best interest, loyalty is not something that we'd give out easily. A savvy purchaser knows that they will get more value for their money if the sellers know that the purchaser is shopping around.

It's probably in our best interest as customers to stray like tomcats between businesses. If they view us as loyal, they will be less willing to provide the best products and services at the most competitive prices. Instead, they will focus as little attention to keeping our business as they can afford and focus on gaining new business. That's true for any competitive market.

Beer Wars gives a copious amount of time to the small brewers and shows them as people who try to compete on the quality of their beers and whereas the mega beers compete through advertising and low prices. Seeing the smaller brews made me curious to taste some of these beers and less interested in drinking the larger beers.

The competitive beer market is far more complex than I realized. One thing that I was completely unaware of is the three tiered alcohol market. I didn't realize that brewers are prohibited from selling their beer directly to retailers, restaurants, and the public. They need to go through a distributor. The distributor acts as a middle person and sells the beer to the liquor stores and restaurants. That seems like a position of considerable influence. I struggle to understand how adding a mandatory distributor between the producers and the retailers will promote equity within a competitive market.

I enjoyed watching Beer Wars. Beer Wars is told from the perspective of a smaller beverage producer, but I think the content is valid. I was influenced by the film to want to experience the variety of the smaller craft brews and to drink less of the larger beers.

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