Episode I: Attack of the Beer Clones

You might not even realize it, but when you order up a beer at the bar, you're taking part in a war. You're a soldier on the front line of battle; only instead of a bayonet in your hand, you've got a pint glass. And you're not afraid to use it.

The conflict is a timeless one - a David and Goliath story which pits two huge, mega-conglomerates, SABMiller and InBev, against, well... everyone else. And it's told in detail in Beer Wars, a documentary opening tonight nationwide.

Beer Wars is one insider's look into the political world of beer - an industry that's more regulated than any in America and sports a bigger political lobby than both guns and tobacco. That insider, Anat Baron, is a former exec at Mike's Hard Lemonade who herself cannot even drink beer - she's highly allergic to alcohol. In 2005, after visiting both the NBWA annual trade convention and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Baron's eyes were opened to the battle between mega brewers and craft brewers (small, independently run breweries that compose less than five-percent of the total beer market). "The dichotomy between the two worlds is amazing," Baron told New Times. "Not just because the beer they make tastes different, but because the enthusiasm and the passion the craft brewers have. It was completely unlike the corporate beer types I had been used to."

But the purpose of Baron's film isn't just to expose drinkers to craft breweries. Her goal is to shed light on a playing field that's not very level. "It's not about why more people aren't drinking craft beer. It's how can these little guys can compete in the shadow of a political system that holds them back," Baron says. "The answer is, they can't. So the intellectual question of the movie becomes, 'Is this the idea of free enterprise and what capitalism is supposed to be?'"

To further answer that question, tonight's nationwide opening will be followed by a live simulcast, gathering a number of industry experts (including Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, and Rhonda Kallman, co-founder of Samuel Adams, the largest American-owned brewery) to discuss the future of beer. The panel is being presented by NCM Fathom, the folks responsible for bringing the Met Opera and This American Life to theaters, and the discussion will be hosted by none other than Ben Stein.

Head to browardpalmbeach.com to read our full interview with Anat Baron. For a complete list of theaters, showtimes, and prices, visit beerwarsmovie.com.
Thu., April 16, 7 p.m., 2009

 
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