Jim Dykstra's picture

Macrophobia: AB InBev, MillerCoors and Craft Breweries

(Issue 21)
With news of partnerships like Lagunitas and Heineken, the lines between "craft" and "macro" have become increasingly blurred.
With news of partnerships like Lagunitas and Heineken, the lines between "craft" and "macro" have become increasingly blurred.

The age of Romanticism was defined by an emphasis on passion, individuality, and spontaneous creation over rote Industrialism. We’re in the Romantic era of beer. Working in the shadow of monolithic brewing entities like AB InBev, craft beer has reacted by seeking a return to more organic, creative endeavors.

As a result, what was once just a legion of “beer drinkers” has been splintered into increasingly at-odds factions. Hopheads are at loggerheads with Lagerheads, and craft vs. macro is beginning to sound increasingly similar to Liberal vs. Conservative. Why, beers and beer drinkers, must we be so bitter?

Part of the problem, if you want to call it one, is rooted in a deeply human desire to label and categorize. It’s how we make sense of the world, allowing us to create efficient systems like breweries, bars, kegs, refrigerators, and other less important things. Unfortunately, it’s tough to categorize human nature – there will always be an exception to the rule.

There’s a phrase called “negative capability,” coined by Romantic poet John Keats to describe “the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.” A Duck-Rabbit can be a duck, rabbit, and both, all at the same time.  

For example, there are people out there who can stomach both craft ales and macro lagers on a physical and moral level, and I’m one of them. Stay your pitchforks. I don’t stomp on the American flag while sensually sipping a bourbon barrel-aged ale, and my thick-rimmed glasses and manicured mustache don’t catch fire if I pound a Bud diesel in a parking lot.


Craft Beer: A Matter of Clarity


What is craft? From a business standpoint, it’s clear. Somewhat. To be “craft” a company must brew under 6 million barrels a year using traditional ingredients (Mike’s Hard Lemonade is not craft beer) and be at least 75 percent owned by a craft brewer (you can’t be owned by a macrobrewer). That definition is fairly fluid, however, and subject to change with the politics of the brewing industry. Last year, Yuengling wasn’t craft beer. Now it is the top craft brewer in the country.

Whatever craft beer is, it’s more than numbers. Maybe it’s the intention behind the beer – is it a vehicle for revelry or revenue? Is Keith Villa’s facial hair considered craft or “crafty?” Beer is always worth discussing, but what you drink – or brew – doesn’t necessarily define you.

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