Living in Isolation: How Elitism is Alienating Macro Beer Fans

Unfiltered by | May 2016 | Issue #112
Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

In every good run, there comes a tipping point. A time when the fun takes a turn, the inevitable downside rears its head, and a redefinition takes hold. Craft brewing is no different. Small brewers and their supporters have spent decades building their identities in substantial part by mocking bigger brewers.

Instead of focusing on their own attributes, talents and charm, many small brewers and beer enthusiasts, suffering perhaps from a lingering inferiority complex that should have long since passed, prefer to take cheap shots at their perceived enemies. And the language they have employed has been harsh. Swill. Macro crap. Horse piss. Fizzy, yellow water. All words used to describe American-style lagers and light lagers.

While commonly uttered, such statements manage to reflect both ignorance and elitism. Despite making good bumper sticker fodder two decades ago, today such ignorance is beneath fans of flavorful beer.

Craft brewing continues to grow—with the benefit of a much expanded industry definition—but it still only comprises about 12 percent of the American market. There are tens of millions of beer drinkers who don’t have any connection to the word or world of craft beer. They might have a passing familiarity with the term microbrew, having even tried a Blue Moon or Sierra Nevada. But they’re far from converts and the language used by enthusiasts and small brewers is often alienating if not downright dismissive and disrespectful.

Craft beer fanatics are now considered so insufferable as to have developed into a recurring punch line on television shows. Want to signal to the audience that a character is an unbearable jerk? Put a six-pack of fancy beer in his hand as he walks into the party. Worse yet, have him try and offer one of his high priced beauties to another character and then watch him get flatly rejected.

It’s easy for these fanatics and small brewers to see the world through the limited lens of 40-tap bars and weekly beer events and festivals. The truth is that in most markets, consumers continue to order the so-called “swill” produced by big brewers, which dominate sales. The isolating experience of living in this craft beer bubble, where you may never attend a party serving Bud or Coors Light, easily renders folks out of touch with the rest of the beer-drinking country. It’s a little like the old line, “How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

All of this insulation from the majority of beer drinkers plays right into the hands of big brewers. Anheuser-Busch’s “Brewed The Hard Way” and “Not Backing Down” ads predictably raised the ire of craft brewers and their bearded, beer sniffing clientele, much to A-B’s chagrin. The macro-proud campaign, which touts Bud as “not small,” “not sipped” and “not a fruit cup” has resonated with customers, helping the brand arrest its long slide.

It’s time to stop lashing out at the big guys as it’s only helping them. Rational beer folks understand that labeling something as craft doesn’t guarantee quality and that it’s downright foolish to say that macro-produced beer is not quality beer. It’s not piss or crap, it’s just homogeneous and therefore uninspiring for those with a taste for flavor. There’s plenty of room at the better beer party for fans of macro brands as well. Let’s not turn them off by being insufferable pricks about their beer choices.