The Beer Nut: A film with foam

Norman Miller

A movie theater might seem like a precarious place to enjoy a beer, but fans can soon do so without spilling a drop.

"Beer Wars," a documentary with the beer industry as its main focus, will be presented across the country in a special screening on April 16. But the film is about so much more than just beer, said director Anat Baron.

"This movie is about entrepreneurship in America," said Baron.

And, in addition to being a big-screen movie about beer, what is even more unique is what follows: a live panel discussion, with many of the people featured in the film, moderated by Ben Stein.

"I wanted this film to be a conversation starter," she said. "There's no better way to start a conversation."

Baron has some insight in the beer business another documentarian might not have: She is the former general manager of Mike's Hard Lemonade.

The idea for the documentary began in 2005 when she read a magazine article that declared beer was dead.

That touched something in her, so she went to the annual National Beer Retailers Association meeting, brought a camera crew and started talking to a few people about the beer industry.

There she met Rhonda Kallman, founder of New Century Brewing of Hingham, and co-founder of the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams.

"What was interesting to me about Rhonda's story was she was someone at the pinnacle of success, and she chucked all of that away to go out on her own. I thought she was really interesting," Baron said.

Kallman was the first person Baron decided to feature in her documentary. The second was Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewers of Delaware.

She met him at the Great American Beer Fest in Colorado in 2005.

"The minute I met him, I knew he was someone I wanted to spend time with and to follow," said Baron. "He's a no-holds-barred kind of guy, and he's willing to say what's on his mind. I picked these two characters, not because I like their beers, but they have a story."

Baron followed both of them for more than two years, beginning in September 2005.

The film chronicles how two relatively little guys in the beer business battle their way in an industry dominated by big brewers.

During filming, Calagione took out a $9 million loan to expand his brewery, while Kallman worked to try to make her brewery, which brews Edison Light - described as a premium light beer - successful.

Baron said she visited many breweries, including Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, New Belgium and Stone, but the film is about more than what you see at the breweries.

"For those who are expecting to see a brewery tour, it's not that," she said. "It's in there, but it's much bigger than that. You see Sam (Calagione) at home, and the risks he takes. Sam is the embodiment of the craft beer movement. I didn't glamorize him. He's no different than the other 1,400 people who own breweries.

"I take you into the world I know," she continued. "I bring you into their lives, their personalities, their homes and show you their fears and their passions."

Although she was involved in the beer industry from her days at Mike's Hard Lemonade, Baron said she learned a lot she did not know about the craft beer industry.

"I knew a lot of the industry...but I don't know about this craft beer movement," she said. "I knew there were these beers with interesting and funny names on the shelves, but talk about Alice in Wonderland; it was such a strange world with me. All of these brewers; there was so much passion. What I saw in the brewers and what I saw in this world; the consumers know nothing about it."

Although this movie looks like a must-see for craft beer fans, Baron said those who may not know a lot about beer can still find it interesting.

'It's not just about beer," she said. "It's really the story of business today, America today."

Baron said the beer industry has changed, even since she started filming the movie, and she had to change the original ending to reflect the consolidation of some mega-brewers. Anheuser-Busch was bought by European company In-Bev, while Miller and Coors have consolidated into one business.

To help drum up interest in the movie and the live discussion panel, trailers for the documentary are being shown in more than 1,000 theaters across the country.

For more information about "Beer Wars" or to purchase tickets to the screening, visit beerwarsmovie.com. Participating theaters include Framingham 15 and Solomon Pond Mall 15 in Marlborough.

Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail nmiller@cnc.com or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog athttp://blogs.townonline.com/beernut/.