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DVD Review: Beer Wars

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I like small town businesses, mom and pop stores, and my local pubs. I experience a feeling of welcome when I enter these places, and I just feel cozy. When I enter Wal-Mart or McDonalds, however, I am treated to a sterile environment, with bright, harsh lights. There is no love in those stores, and everything feels too polished. To me, local stores have more Americana in them than any large conglomerate, and they usually have better service.

Not only do I like the smaller, independent companies, but I also write for a magazine that is independent and off the beaten path, and went to an independent school. This has led me to believe that smaller, independent entities are inherently better than larger ones. Furthermore, I microbrew, and love the taste of real beer, not the horse piss that is put out by the large corporations. Unless I am playing beer pong (i.e. drinking to get wasted), I want a full-flavored, rich beer. Thus, when I had a chance to see Beer Wars, I jumped at it.

Beer Wars is a movie with a very simple scope — let's examine the American beer market, and see what is going on. To do this, the movie follows Anat Baron (the writer and director of the movie, and former general manager of Mike's Hard Lemonade) as she prances around the country. Baron is on a mission, a mission where she desires to prove that the big-time players in the beer market (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors) are simply bullies beating up on the little guys.

To prove this, Baron heads all over America seeking out opinions and great beer. She visits pubs, microbreweries, and larger companies, all trying to see what is going on. She interviews people, chats it up with owners, and follows around one businesswoman as she tries to sell her beer, Moonshot. Basically, Baron is putting a human face on the companies, and getting us to feel sympathetic toward them.

Baron then moves on to the actual title, and talks about the wars going on inside the beer market. She examines the interactions between the manufacturers, distributors, and bars, and the placement that beer gets on shelves. She looks at mergers, buy-outs, and the parity of the American market. Finally, she looks at the legal side, where Budweiser sends legal letters out to Dogfish Head, all about the name of their Pumpkin Ale. All in all, Baron examines a market the way the SEC and Congress should — they don't and never will, and she explains why.

Overall, I really like Beer Wars. Though it comes off as too Michael Moore-esque (such as making a big deal about a refused interview) at times, the overall feel of the documentary is pretty good. As a microbrewer and drinker of fine beers, I was impressed with the scope of the companies examined, and the information presented. Sure, I knew that Miller bought out tiny companies – that is what all conglomerates do – but I was not aware at how hard they were fighting. The Big Three struggle, enter legal gray areas, and manipulate the market – all to produce sub-par flavored water, while the people making real beer are shut out. This is a sad thing for America.

Okay, enough with the movie, let's talk about the actual DVD itself. For the next year, Beer Wars will only be available through its website, but it is playable in all regions. That means that you cannot buy it from Amazon, iTunes, or even rent it through Netflix. As Baron is funding this herself, she obviously wishes to maximize her profits. The DVD comes packaged in a weird box, one that is taller and thinner than normal DVD cases. This is because everything is 100% reused, and printed with vegetable ink. Though this reminds me of An Inconvenient Truth, I like this system of movie distribution, and think that more small films should use it.

As for the extras, Beer Wars is somewhat lacking. They have the normal deleted scenes and trailers, but neither of those are interesting. There is also a live panel of experts and brewers, but it gets old after a few minutes, and I lost my interest in it. Frankly, I was hoping for interactive maps of local breweries, directions on homebrewing, and stuff like that. Beer Wars is in the perfect spot to get people to care more about their beer, but it doesn't utilize the extras as it should.

Overall, I really like Beer Wars, and think that it is a great movie to watch. Sure, the inability to rent it is a drawback, but I think that it is highly re-viewable, and you can always show it to your friends. Though it is set up like a David and Goliath story, the battle is epic and lengthy. I really enjoy being able to learn more about our beer market, what I drink, and who makes it, and I think that you will as well.

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About Robert M. Barga