When in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, I’ve often made it a habit to stop at Pearson’s Wine, Beer, & Spirits to check out their beer selection. And that’s the problem: Pearson’s no longer seems to have one. On my last visit, I was disappointed to see that almost all of their craft beers had been removed, with only a rudimentary selection of the most popular brands remaining.
More wine now fills the space where the beer once was, and the store now goes by the name of Pearson’s Wine of Atlanta. All well and good, but they’ve obviously just lost my business.
If you’re looking for good beer in Atlanta, pass on Pearson’s and head downtown to Green’s instead.
Usually, I find that people who demand much from their beer (gastronomically speaking) are equally enthusiastic with what they eat. This is not to say that I, for example, don’t enjoy the occasional fast food lunch, but I do get a lot more excited about something with a lot more flavor. This is especially true with bread, which is, after all, not that far removed from beer. Both are made with grain, after all.
Thus my enjoyment of Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale beer bread, made locally with spent grain from Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery and sold at Whole Foods markets. I picked up a loaf yesterday at Harry’s Farmer’s Market in Marietta, which is part of the Whole Foods chain. This delicious bread is hearty enough to be served as a meal in itself, and has so much flavor there’s no need to add butter. Dark and mysterious inside and out, this whole wheat loaf has spent barley brewed right into the loaf and seeded into the crust. It’s moist and chewy inside, crisp and crusty outside, and has a gentle sweetness and whole grain flavor that makes it akin to a big bran muffin.
Wonderful with sliced Cotswold and Butterkase cheeses, fresh pickles, and cod mild sausages (English bangers for me). Wash it all down with a glass of (what else) hoppy 420 Pale Ale, and you’ve a meal fit for a king.
Have you ever really thought about your beer? I don’t mean how it tastes, of course, or if it’s too cold or too warm, or how much you paid for it. No, I’m talking about the business of beer: how it’s made, how it’s distributed, how it’s promoted, and how it’s sold. Chances are you’ve never given any of that much thought, even if you’re a craft beer drinker. You go to the store, you bring your beer home, and you drink it. And that’s that.
There’s far more to the business of beer, however, than there is to most other industries, a fact that you’ll learn while watching Beer Wars. Written and produced by Anat Baron, this captivating documentary delves into the world of beer from two angles: that of brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch vs. tiny start-up microbrewer Dogfish Head (hence the “beer wars”).
Baron is no stranger to the alcohol business; she is a former executive for Mike’s Hard Lemonade and is therefore very familiar with how the industry works (and doesn’t). She appears throughout the film as narrator and roving reporter of sorts, all the while exposing some of the more intricate workings of the industry. Clearly, Baron is biased, and Beer Wars goes out of its way to portray the big brewers, especially Anheuser-Busch, as the bad guys while casting a halo over the heads of the small brewers.
There are a few shots taken at Anheuser-Busch for their attempts to get into the rapidly-growing craft beer market. Problem is, AB (and the other macrobrewers) also get lambasted for denying American beer drinkers choice by cranking out a line of mostly similar products that are bland, boring and have little taste. The latter is demonstrated in a rather funny segment that shows Coors Light drinkers blind taste testing their favored brand vs. Bud Light and Miller Lite. The reactions when they pick the wrong product are amusing to behold, though we never get any scientific data on how many times this happened.
Bottom line, however, is that it’s rather disingenuous to slam the big brewers for feeding us crap beer, and then slam them again when they respond to the market and give us the good beer after all. Yet this is just what Beer Wars does. Certainly, Anheuser-Busch and the larger brewers have plenty of genuine sins to atone for, and Baron explores them here. Craft beer aficionados will likely see red during the segment where Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione describes how Anheuser-Busch is suing him claiming that he has no right to use the generic terms “Punkin” and “Chicory” on his beers. Strange then, Sam muses, that they have no problem using the term “Natural” on one of theirs.
And that’s the perspective much of the film takes, exposing the challenges small brewers like Dogfish Head face trying to pry away a miniscule amount of market share from the now foreign-owned brewing goliaths Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. We see it not only in the story of Dogfish Head, which has a brewery and is trying to build a bigger one, but also through the efforts of Rhonda Kallman to expand her contract-brewed Moonshot brand.
Certainly, Baron has done her homework, as she explores the history of brewing in America, the dark days of prohibition and its effects on locally brewed beer, regional breweries, the ridiculous amount of market share that the big brewers now possess, and the antiquated and unbalanced three-tier distribution system that overwhelmingly favors the large brewers to the detriment of the smaller ones. A range of beer personas have a moment in the sun here, and we get interesting insight from Jim Koch of Samuel Adams fame, Charlie Papazian of the American Homebrewers society, Garret Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery, Carol Stoudt of Stoudt’s brewing, Dick Yuengling of Yuengling Brewery, and even a cameo by Michael Jackson.
In sum, you don’t have to be a beer geek to enjoy Beer Wars. Even if a Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre or Samuel Adams Boston Lager has never passed your lips, you may find this insightful glimpse into the politics of beer a fascinating study of how the powerful work their way in America. If you do love beer in all its shapes and forms, however, Beer Wars is certainly not to be missed, and will likely give you a perspective on the beer industry you might not have considered before.
Pete Brown's Book, Hops and Glory
I’ve been enjoying the bejesus out of a new beer blog, Beers in the Henhouse
. I’ve known the author for decades now, and he’s one of the most knowledgeable beer enthusiasts you’ll ever meet. His first post about Pete Brown’s amazing book Hops and Glory
got me to order a copy from Canada, and I’m in the process of reading it now. More on that later, but I can already recommend you get your own copy. Until it arrives, why not pop open a beer and hop on over to Beer in the Time of Cholera for a read? Enjoy.
Yet another reason to drink beer: it’s good for the bones, according to a Daily Finance article