Friday, February 19, 2010

Beer Wars

About once a year it seems, I do a post about a movie, and this year a documentary about one of my favorite subjects earns the honor.

Beer Wars offers the viewer an inside look at the American beer industry, particularly from the perspective of two small-time brewers, Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione and Moonshot's Rhonda Kallman. These two are quite the contrast in terms of success, though, as Dogfish has thrived in its underdog role, while the film portrays Moonshot as on the verge of ultimate failure.

Not that I really needed any incentive to stay away from the products of Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors, but the film takes my dislike for the U.S.'s largest brewer to another level. At the risk of echoing every other bleeding liberal—which I'm really not, because I do believe in the free market system—who advocates for the little guy versus the evil of big business, this movie has me truly considering a boycott of Anheuser Busch and all of its brand names. That list includes Monster Energy, a company guilty of its own transgressions against Vermont's Rock Art Brewery.

Here's a little clip from the movie, in which Calagione discusses Anheuser Busch's frivolous lawsuit versus Dogfish. A spoiler alert isn't really necessary, because this is a documentary, after all, but this is one of the film's better examples of the corporate giant's anti-competitive practices.

The narrator refers to Anheuser Busch as a monopoly, which I don't think is technically true. Although approximately one of every two beers sold in the United States is one of their products, MillerCoors also has a market share of about 28%, so I think the characterization of Anheuser Busch as a monopoly is a bit of an exaggeration.

Also of interest is that both Anheuser Busch and Monster Energy have been unsuccessful in their lawsuits versus these smaller brewers. I'm not sure what came of the former's case, but I do know that Monster dropped their suit against Rock Art as a result of public backlash.

As far as I'm concerned, they can use advertising to pull the wool over the eyes of all the non-discriminating beer consumers they want, but when a company with 50% of an industry's market share tries to bring down a "competitor" with 0.002%, over something as trivial as how generic the names of their beers are, that's a slap in the face of capitalism. I also have no problem with the fact that Anheuser Busch makes terrible beer. It's their prerogative to do so, just as it's mine to not drink it, and their popularity is more than enough justification that their swill-producing business model is a successful one.

I'm sure it could be argued that all corporate giants are guilty of anti-competitive tactics, at least to some extent. But a major difference between Anheuser Busch and Coca-Cola, for instance, is the latter doesn't have to resort to such measures because, although there are folks who prefer Pepsi, Coke's products are actually good. There is no Dogfish Head of the soda industry, and the reason there isn't is because there's no niche for the little guy to make a superior product to the big guy.

But, we're not talking about soda here. We're talking about an industry that means a great deal to me, so it's one that has me considering taking a stand, which is harder than you would think. But, I'm not going to get into that right now. What I am going to do is recommend you check out Beer Wars: rent it, Netflix it, order it on demand. Or, if you're one of those people lucky enough to live near one of these locales, check out a screening:
While we're on the subject, and since it is Friday, promise me that you'll enjoy a craft beer or two...or three...this weekend.