Independent filmmaker Anat Baron isn’t afraid of a little competition. With her current career making movies and her former job as general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Baron has leapt back and forth between two of the world’s most ruthless industries. And in her new documentary Beer Wars-which premieres on April 16 at the Arlington Theatre and simultaneously in more than 430 other theaters nationwide-Baron brings her insider’s knowledge of the beer market and love of film to a frothy head.
To her, the two markets have plenty in common. “In the beer industry, you have domination of large, corporate players,” she explained recently, referring to Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. “And in the film industry, you have the studios that dominate the industry, and you have the independent filmmakers like myself who are trying to get distribution.”
Beer Wars mainly chronicles the stories of Rhonda Kallman-founder of New Century Brewing, and cofounder of the Boston Beer Company, which makes Sam Adams-and Sam Caglione, owner of Dogfish Head Brewery. The resulting portrait of their struggle for success, Baron said, is intended, in part, to get consumers to think about the effects of their purchasing decisions and about ways to increase the diversity of choices consumers have.
“At the end of the day, consumer choice is really what it comes down to,” said Baron. “And in the beer industry in particular, there are impediments to consumer choice that most people aren’t aware of,” such as the three-tier system that was set up after Prohibition to prevent producers of alcoholic beverages from selling directly to retailers. “I want to start a conversation about how we can get greater consumer choice.”
Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion-broadcast from Los Angeles and moderated by pundit/actor Ben Stein-of the issues presented in the film, and the panel will include participants in the film such as Kallman, Caglione, and Greg Koch, owner of San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company, famous for its hoppy IPAs.
Though Stone, with its aggressive drinks and slogans (“You’re not worthy,” reads a famous tagline), has become one of the more recognizable names in West Coast brewing, it continues to represent the underdogs in the business, in the eyes of its CEO. Koch has an entrepreneur’s attitude when it comes to his product, saying his company’s goal has always been to make “beers we thought we should make rather than the beers that the public thought we should make.”
Craft brewers constantly struggle against corporate dominance. “When you go into a public venue, like a sporting venue or anything like that, and you have little to no quality choices available, there’s something going on behind the scenes that’s set up that circumstance, and it’s a shame,” Koch said.
Most of the breweries featured in the film make so-called extreme beer. The spiked hop and alcohol content, and unintuitive ingredients, have garnered these particular drinks serious attention, and the practice is spreading. Dogfish Head, for example, once imported rare cloudberries to make a limited release batch of specialty wheatwine, a particularly potent type of beer.
Granted, there are craft breweries that make excellent, non-extreme beer, and, Koch said, excitement over wild innovations can distract from what’s most important, which is “the fact that they taste really, really good. These are also getting a lot of attention because they’re fantastically well-made.” In the end, the film is about entrepreneurship and overcoming the perils associated with it, and Baron’s hope is to get people interested in these brewers who take such risks to make beers that are, as Koch puts it, “worth talking about.”
Beer Wars premieres at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday, April 16, at 8 p.m. See beerwarsmovie.com.