Filmmaking, Writing, Beer, Insularity, History, and Other Topics More-Or-Less Related to “Beer Wars,” Part 8

Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4 — Part 5 — Part 6 — Part 7

Part 8 — Part 9 — Part 10 — Part 11 — Part 12 — Part 13

NOTE: When I moved to a new site, this “Beer Wars” series was mangled/destroyed during the move. I’ve reconstructed it by copying/pasting another copy of the original posts. I also lost the comments in their original form. I’ve copied/pasted the comments, but had to do so under my own name. So although it looks as though I’m the only commenter, I’m not. In each case, I’ve identified the original commenter.


Let’s start with the notion that craft brewers are entrepreneurs. They’ve created something from nothing, and they did so because they believe in their work and its value. Charlie Papazian has devoted his adult life to building an organization, and to spreading the gospel of good beer. Todd and Jason Alstrom started with an idea — a website devoted to beer — and they’ve worked their butts off to build that idea into a viable business. Ditto Sam, Greg, and Rhonda. Every single day they’re putting themselves and their families on the line because they want to pursue their passion.

But it’s not clear to me how or why that makes any of them different from any other entrpreneur — or artist or artisan — or, for that matter, any different than someone who works for a for-profit or non-profit company in which they believe.

I say that as an entrepreneur. I’m a self-employed, one-woman operation. Like Sam, Greg, Todd, and Rhonda, I’m out there every day trying to persuade people to consume what I have to offer. (In my case, words rather than beer.) Like them, everyday, I work to create something from nothing, the “something” in my case being, again, a book.

And because I am an entrepreneur, I understand that the world is full of other human beings with goals. Do I agree with all of them? No. Nor do I think some entrepreneurs are more “pure” and “real” than others. That’s not a criticism of the others on the panel. I respect and admire them for their work and their passion. But I don’t think they’re any different from other passionate pursuers of dreams.

But the larger point is this. As a historian, I’ve spent years studying patterns of human behavior from a historical perspective, and here’s one thing I know about humans, success, and money: The more they make, the more they want. Entrepreneurs seek constant challenge, success piled on success.

Think Donald Trump or Bill Gates: They never stopped wanting more. (Gates has stepped down from Microsoft, but only because he’d decided to pursue a new and different set of challenges.)

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Donald Trump and Bill Gates are nothing like the Sam and Greg. Sam and Greg are good guys. Trump and Gates are Corporate Fat Cats.

Maybe, maybe not. They are all, however, ambitious, smart, talented, hard-driving people who enjoy a challenge and who want more. And historically, human beings who fit that description have demonstrated that they’ll never be satisfied. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s not a value judgment: Donald Trump isn’t a bad guy. Greg Koch isn’t a bad guy. They’re simply motivated, driven, ambitious creatures.

Think about it: During the film, both Greg and Sam talked at length about their plans for expansion: bigger vats, larger bottling lines. Both are constantly expanding their distribution territories. Put bluntly: they’re constantly on the prowl looking for their Next Move, which is always to the larger end of the spectrum. We didn’t see or hear them talking about downsizing. We saw and heard them talking about growing bigger.

In short, they’re behaving in a completely human way, which is to strive, strive, and strive some more. That’s why I said to them “Check back with me in ten years.” I meant “Let’s see in ten years how you feel about “success” and about your desire to satisfy your creative ambitions.”

Next: Historical perspective on “individualism,” and consumer choice

6 thoughts on “Filmmaking, Writing, Beer, Insularity, History, and Other Topics More-Or-Less Related to “Beer Wars,” Part 8

  1. This comment was originally posted by Tim Beauchamp, who blogs at littlewinery.blogspot.comMaureen, while I agree with (almost) all of your points, I do find distinctions between Greg and Sam on one side, and the A-Bs and Miller/Coors on the other.I did not take away from the movie a war between the passionate craft brewer and Bill Gates or Donnald Trump. It was against the craft brewer and the corporate brewing machine.Craft brewers that I know enjoy and celebrate each others products and successes. All we saw from the corporate breweries was contempt and cut-throat practices.I hesitate to make the distinction as being between Craft and Corporate because I think those are orthogonal descriptions. The differences that I saw between the Davids and the Goliaths in this discussion doesn’t stem from their size or the legal status(private vs corporate), it was their attitudes towards their competitors and the focus of their business.Sure, Greg, Sam and Rhonda want their success to mean more money. They have families and commitments like all of us. But, if they just wanted to get rich, there are probably a lot of things they could have done that would have been easier. When asked why they choose beer, they respond because they love it. How many large investors at A-B or Coors do you think would say that they are invested in it because they love great beer?Do you expect that Greg or Sam will, if after success and 10 years, take quality and innovation off the table and spend all of their effort and squeezing his fellow brewers?Pointing out that the major brewers of today, started out as Mom and Pop brewers in little shops is an interesting piece of trivia, but it could very easily be agrued that those companies exist in name only and that what they have become, two or three generations later would not be recognizable to their founders.

  2. I didn’t mean to imply that people like Sam/Greg/Todd/Rhonda are “at war” with people like Gates and Trump. I meant that they share many of the same traits (eg, ambition, drive, passion, smarts, etc.)I agree completely that right now, what Sam, Greg, and other craft brewers share a collegial passion for their business; the craft industry is full of love/good vibes, etc. I would also argue, however, that many, many people who work for the Big Brewers are just as passionate about their work. I’ve met many of them. They also love beer; their love their work; they want brewers to succeed.Indeed, that’s a point elaborating on: I think it’s way too easy to forget that the “They” in this picture — the Big Brewers — are really collections of human beings who get up every morning, go to work, and do their jobs, and many, if not most, do so with passion and zeal. Just like Sam, Greg, Whoever.So I think there’s a HUGE difference between people who invest in A-B stock, and the people who work there. Just as there would be if, say, Sam decided to take his company public.(Worth noting that Jim Koch took his company public back in the mid-1990s; that certainly has diminished his passion for good beer. In fact, I suspect he’d argue that he went public so that he could make MORE great beer.)As for where Greg/Sam will be in ten years: I don’t know. That’s why I said to check back with me. I’d love to know how their views about their work and their lives have changed.Ha! Leave it to me to turn a simple response to a comment into another long-winded rant….

  3. This comment is also from me:Oh, forgot to say: Yes, it’s true that A-B, for example, bears no resemblance to what it started as: a tiny, family-owned business. But: that’s how gigantic corporations start out, right? As small businesses.The great counter-example, by teh way, is in fact Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Company. Clearly it’s much larger than when Jim started teh company, when he and Rhonda were driving around Boston selling beer out of the trunks of their cars.But Jim has maintained his original belief that a corporation need not be a cruel, soulless place. He’s a great person to work for; he’s fair and decent. In short, his company is a model of how an entrepreneur can succeed w/out selling his soul to the devil.

  4. This comment is from Nate:A couple of thoughts about Tim’s comments:“Craft brewers that I know enjoy and celebrate each others products and successes. All we saw from the corporate breweries was contempt and cut-throat practices.”Shrink the pond a bit. It’s a bit pollyanna-ish to assume that craft brewers are all members of this great big mutual admiration society. If DFH and Stone were in adjacent towns, I can safely assume that Greg & Sam would be doing battle for the hearts and minds of their local market.It’s easy to root on your colleagues as long as their success doesn’t have a direct impact on yours. The craft-brewing pie is growing enough that even the spokesmodels of the industry don’t have to butt heads directly…just yet.“How many large investors at A-B or Coors do you think would say that they are invested in it because they love great beer?”You are confusing investors with owners, here. How many of Boston Beer’s investors are as passionate about the product as Mr. Koch or his customers? What about the financiers of Stone’s recent expansion? Do they have to be Ruination fans?

  5. This comment is from Matt Dunn at fishbeer.comI agree with what you’re saying here. I’m interested to see how Greg Koch deals with the slowing of organic growth in 20 years, when (if) Stone is making 1,000,000+ bbl a year, which I don’t think is a stretch.Though I think there are other, better reasons why firms have a grow-grow-grow mentality. Yes, it has to do with the fact that entrepreneurs are motivated, driven, ambitious creatures, but there are real market forces that cause market shares to grow, consolidation to occur, and oligopolies to develop.For example, as costs of raw materials and shipping rise due to various reasons, firms do not want to increase the price of their product to make up the increase in cost. Rather, they scale up to get better economies of scale. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to be as big as possible to absorb typical cost fluctuations. The recent hop shortage is a great example that should be fresh in everyone’s mind. Bigger brewers that were able to pre-buy bigger lots of hops could and will continue to be able to absorb fluctuations in hop prices better than smaller brewers.Anita McGahan’s 1991 article in Harvard Business Review (which I’m sure you know about) is a great account of how market and socio-cultural forces shaped the American beer industry in the 20th century. It’s not like AB and Pabst and Ballantine sat down in 1904 and said we’re going to be a soulless giant corporation in fifty years, here is a our long term soulless strategic plan. Tremblay and Tremblay’s book also gives a great overview of the market forces at work from a more formal standpoint with less historical consideration.There is no reason to expect craft beer to be any different. We see it over and over again in the history of beer, from the introduction of hopped beer to England in the 15th and 16th century, the advent of porter in the 18th and early 19th centuries, pure-culture lager brewing in the late 19th century, and post-prohibition brewing in the US- there are strong trends in growth of market share, consolidation, and the development of oligopolies. Most industries besides brewing show these same patterns. There is not reason to expect craft beer to be substantially different.I agree with you and just wanted to throw this out there. I just started teaching a history of beer class after a year hiatus and I’m fired up about it again.CheersMatt

  6. This comment is, again, from me:Matt, thanks for the thoughtful comment (which I only just discovered. I think my “approve” thingy is going haywire).Anyway — you made my point far better than I did, and in a whole lot fewer words. Because you’re dead right: no one says “Here’s my fifty year plan for going corporate.”And yes, I sure did read McGahan and Tremblay/Tremblay (and everyone else…) Indeed, that kind of down-to-the-nitty-gritty research is essential for my own work, but of course is the kind I’m not trained to do. (Me being a historian and not an economist.)Thank GOD for other scholars….


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