Rhonda Kallman on FDA’s Caffeine Warning: “It’s not over until it’s over.”

In light of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent warning to a handful of beverage producers, and the quick ban of their products from the marketplace in several states, one of the overlooked parts of the story was the inclusion of New Century Brewing Company alongside producers such as Drink Four Brewing, makers of the controversial Four Loko product. New Century, which is run by longtime beer industry player Rhonda Kallman, produces a beer called Moonshot, which has 69 milligrams of caffeine and weighs in at a modest 4 percent alcohol by volume. Compared to the Four Loko product, which has caffeine, taurine, and guarana, boasts 6 to 12 percent alcohol, and is often served in a 23.5 ounce can, Moonshot seems to be in some odd company here. “I really am shocked that Moonshot is being put in the same category as high alcohol, neon colored energy drinks in 23.5 ounce servings,” Kallman said in an email. The company has “no plans to reformulate yet as “it’s not over until it’s over.”

The loss of one of the only two products New Century produces would be a definite body blow to a company that has experienced some very difficult times in its nine years of business. The film Beer Wars chronicles a lot of the hardships her company has experienced.

The company’s press release appears below.

MOONSHOT BEER FACES FDA BAN

New Century Brewing Company Supports Clarification on Caffeine from the Food and Drug Administration

BOSTON (November 19, 2010): Rhonda Kallman, founder of the fledgling New Century Brewing Company, said she was surprised to learn that her craft beer, Moonshot, was labeled by the FDA as a “public health concern” due to its 69 milligrams of caffeine. Moonshot, at a modest 4% alcohol and about as much caffeine as less than half cup of Starbucks in each 12-ounce bottle, seemed an unlikely target. The craft-brewed pilsner-style beer is sold in bars and restaurants in only three states.

Kallman, a craft beer industry pioneer and co-founder of the Boston Beer Company, has years of experience selling and marketing premium beers in a responsible way. She introduced Moonshot in 2004, after its formula was approved by the federal agency responsible for monitoring alcoholic beverage formulas.

But in the wake of recent high profile incidents involving underage drinking and the controversial Four Loko, a high-energy drink with 12% alcohol and as much caffeine as four cups of coffee in each 23.5 ounce serving, the FDA has concluded that caffeinated beverages violate safety rules, and it issued warning letters to four companies, including New Century Brewing. Kallman has been ordered to reformulate Moonshot without caffeine or face a ban of its sales. She has been given 15 days to comply.

Kallman had worked closely with the FDA for more than a year, providing the agency with clear and factual information on Moonshot’s safety. Kallman said she expected that the result of the year-long FDA inquiry would result in the regulation of caffeinated beverages — not their prohibition. “Without clear standards — acceptable levels of caffeine to percentage alcohol, or the regulation of serving sizes — it is difficult to understand an outright ban of Moonshot Beer,” said Kallman. “Caffeinated alcoholic beverages have been around for decades. Moonshot Beer is a new twist on an established idea.

“Moonshot is a beer with character, integrity, and a pedigree,” said Kallman. “It is responsibly marketed and simply offers beer lovers a choice — a beer with caffeine. It is not marketed as an energy drink, stimulant or alcoholic alternative of any type. It clearly stands apart from the other caffeinated alcoholic energy beverages that are on the market today.”

About New Century Brewing Company
New Century Brewing Company was founded in April 2001 by beer industry veteran, Rhonda Kallman, to bring innovative American beer styles to market. The company’s two products, Moonshot and Edison Light beer were formulated by Dr. Joseph Owades (1919-2005), a world-renowned brewing expert credited with the invention of light beer in the 1960’s.

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Beer Wars Filmmaker Responds To Criticism, Sort Of…

In the interest of fair play, I thought I’d link to the response of Anat Baron, producer and director of the recent Beer Wars release, to the heavy criticism that has pounded her film since its release a few weeks back. The response is probably not going to be what most industry-related critics of the film might have hoped for as she seeks to address some of the more ludicrous criticisms, usually offered by beer enthusiasts or novice bloggers. These include how a person allergic to alcohol can make a film about it, that Rhonda Kallman had no business being in the film, that someone’s favorite brewery was not covered, etc. These are the low lying fruit, easily dismissed, and it would perhaps be of more interest if she addressed some of the more substantive issues raised by myself and other writers. She briefly touched upon one such issue, as she puts it: “The film is dated. Everything is good now. Craft beer is growing so the distribution issues are moot.” Her response is cursory and its underpinnings were uniformly rejected by numerous speakers (from all sides) at this past week’s Craft Brewers Conference in Boston. Her citation to a post by Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch is a bit more illuminating but only goes to show how the film missed another opportunity to capture something real and relevant. But, in any event, give it a read and we’ll put this subject to bed once and for all.

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A Brief Beer Wars Post-Gaming and My Final Words On The Subject…

It’s been a long day, what with the Beer Wars pre-gaming with the folks from Cambridge Common, the film, and then the Lucero concert. Nonetheless, I thought I’d end with a few thoughts on the film.

All told, I think the film fell surprisingly flat. The odd thing is that with all of my critical comments before its release, most turned out to be irrelevant. Not because Beer Wars answered them, but because, frankly, there wasn’t much substance to the film. That surprised me. For a film that was just shy of an hour and a half in length, Beer Wars took a long time to wind up to its point. And it took a really long time building up to the introduction of its main characters, Sam Calagione and Rhonda Kallman. Twenty minutes in fact. So long that I had forgotten they were central to the film. At the heart of the problem was that Anat Baron, the filmmaker, really had no place in Beer Wars at all and ten minutes of the film were probably wasted focusing on herself, including several of the crucial opening minutes. Selling malternatives doesn’t mean you’re in the beer industry. And even if it did, Baron’s placement in the film was either due to a mild case of narcissism or more likely a director’s cloudy vision of the overall project. It needed an editor or producer to step in and tell the director, “Listen, I get what you’re trying to do here, but it’s not working.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

I could talk about the film’s choppy editing, pacing, and scene juxtapositions but really what struck me most was not the irrelevance of the chosen topic, as I once thought, but the missed opportunities in the storytelling. The film is wildly misnamed as it had little to do with the big guys, despite Baron’s repeated cheap pot shots at them and A-B in particular (kudos to the levelheaded analysis of panelist Maureen Ogle, on whom I believe the miscast moderator Ben Stein might have a little economist crush). Beer Wars also did not have much to do with the three tier system. At its core, the film was really about the little guys and their struggles against the greater economic system, which includes both the three tier system and the big guys. And this was such an obvious and advantageous narrative device that it was a bit painful to watch Baron fumble it.

Without question, the strongest parts of the film involved Rhonda Kallman, co-founder of the Boston Beer Company and the New Century Brewing Company. The scenes with her family were worth the price of admission and watching her personal struggles on screen provided the basis for a strong documentary voice. Watching her get politely turned down by a revolving door of individuals, from all three big brewers to a venture capital committee embarrassingly comprised of two kids half her age, was painful. But it was difficult if not impossible to reconcile Kallman’s strident willingness to align her company and products with the country’s biggest brewers (from A-B, Coors, and Miller, to a particularly bittersweet and cut-short pitch meeting with Jim Koch) with Baron’s slagging of big brewers. The filmmaker’s narrative voice or direction were clearly lacking in this pivotal part.

There are lots of little nitpicking points and questions that can be raised as well, such as why Beer Wars focused so much on Kallman’s Moonshot product to the near complete exclusion of the company’s flagship Edison Light beer, the confused poke at neo-prohibitionism (was she making fun of the NBWA, CSPI, or both?), and why Ben Stein was hired to host a panel without some prior rehearsals (didn’t even give my poor buddy Todd Alstrom a chance to discuss the clip in which he absolutely slammed Kallman’s beers, a shot he knew was coming). It seemed a long way to travel for such a short panel filled with Stein’s bumbling presentation and jeremiads in the form of questions.

In the end, it’s not that Beer Wars was irrelevant or dated, as I had worried. It’s that it just wasn’t much of anything but a series of lost opportunities. And frankly, that’s disappointing on several levels, none the least of which is that the available story material turned out to be so rich. The amateurish, Michael Moore-light antics distracted from what could have been a very interesting and personal story of what it’s like to compete in the world of big beer.

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Final Word (from me) On Beer Wars, Then Go Vote…

Thanks to a last minute push by the New Century Brewing Company, maker of Edison Light, the interweb is again aflutter with news of the impending release on April 16th of Beer Wars: The Movie. The response to New Century’s attempt to stuff the ballot box has been divided into two camps: oft-neglected beer bloggers giddy over finally receiving some attention and outraged ranters taking aim at the film and the contract brewery.

The wording of New Century’s press release is a little unusual, if for no other reason than it doesn’t mention the phrase ‘craft beer’ or ‘craft brewer.’ This is interesting because technically (under the Brewers Association’s definition), New Century doesn’t qualify as a craft brewer because (until very recently), all of its beers were made with flavor lightening adjuncts. The wording of the release tracks the BA’s definition but for its omission of the word ‘traditional,’ which the association defines as:

A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of it’s volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

What is much more interesting is that ostensibly, no one at New Century has yet seen the film. It’s release suggests at the film’s direction by predicting:

Beer Wars tells how corporate behemoths are using their muscle to try to snuff-out small, independent brewers who are shunning the status quo and creating innovative new beers.

The folks at New Century assume that their treatment in the film will be positive but, as I have wondered aloud about before, there is reason to believe that may not be the case. Historian and author Maureen Ogle, who will be a member of the panel airing immediately following the fillm, suggests that Rhonda Kallman’s central role in the film may be as a foil. She wrote on the MadFermentationist site linked above the following:

Rhonda is in the film because she’s NOT a big name. The whole point was that she did not “succeed” and the filmmaker, Anat Baron, wanted to compare Rhonda’s story to someone who did “succeed” (in this case, Sam C.)

Kallman’s inclusion in this project is curious on several levels but also brings the greatest opportunity for a narrative arc and to tell the story I believe the fillmmaker envisions (at least as far as I can glean from her public statements). If so, as I’ve written before, the film could be quite good. If, on the other hand, it merely repeats the tired, dated refrain of big versus little and misses the nuances involved (including that the fillmmaker appears to improperly lump New Century in with all craft brewers), then it will be a lost opportunity and a lot of work for an hour-and-a-half long craft beer infomercial.

I’ve debated this film several times over the last two or three weeks with friends and colleagues, which is certainly a good thing. So it’s time now to put away the keyboard and to revisit the subject after the film debuts. I believe that I’ll probably miss the panel discussion because I have to visit the anti-craft beer world of Lucero at the Paradise, but I’ll try to catch up with several of its members to gather its flavor.

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