The Art of Beer Pt XIII – Beer-cializing (Macro vs Micro)

If you have waded thus far through my occasional epistles about the Art of Beer, then you have probably noticed my disdain… (Just looked up the synonyms for disdain and they are: scorn; contempt; derision; condescension; disparagement; etc. so yeah I think disdain is the nicest way to say it)… for the Macro Beer Companies and their strategy for trying to control the phenomenon called Craft Beer. And… No…. I am not going to discuss the “Craft” vs “Independent” label for these beers in this missive. That has been done enough on other blogs and this one as well. Besides if you are reading this then you know exactly what I am talking about. If you don’t then go back and read the Art of Beer Parts 1 – 12.

About 20 years ago, craft brewing began growing, from the hobby of homebrewing into entrepreneurs founding successful growing businesses. Then about ten years ago, that growth exploded into the phenomenon we have today. In 1979 there were only 89 breweries in existence in the US and they were owned by a handful of companies. In 2018 there were 7,450 breweries, the majority (almost 99%) of them classified by the Brewer’s Association as Craft Breweries. And their market share has increased from less than 1% to 13.6% in 2018. That translates into $27.6 Billion dollars or 20% of the available beer money out there.

Seeing those numbers (more money than the economy of some nations) you can perhaps understand why the Macro Brewers are resorting to dirty tactics to get their lost market share back. However, though we may understand it, that doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. This is America, the home of capitalism and entrepreneurship! (Not “America” the lame ass label change that Budweiser did to capitalize on election year fever.) But then the biggest Macro Brewer isn’t even an American Company anymore.

The sell-out of Anheuser-Busch to International Beverages several years ago created the largest monster the world has seen in the beer community. Now called AB-InBev, this global conglomerate has steam-rolled its way into the top spot and is using every trick in the book to keep their title. From trying to create their craft beer division and create their own new beers (which they are failing miserably at) to the outright buyout of several former founding fathers of Craft Brewing, to trying to control both the hops and barley markets and drive up operating costs of smaller brewers; to the ridiculous commercials trying to poke fun at beer drinkers they don’t understand and trying to capture the Game of Thrones fan base with a Superbowl ad, they have literally tried every tactic available to them short of tying craft beer drinkers to the railroads tracks and running them over with a wagon pulled by Clydesdales (I was originally going to say the Coors Light Express… but that’s a different global conglomerate).

But I want to be clear here. My disdain isn’t for the beer they produce. It is for their business methodology. That is also why I no longer buy beers from Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Wicked Weed, Funky Buddha and others, as all of them have sold out to either AB-InBev, Molson-Coors or Constellation. And while they have all made excellent craft beers prior to that and perhaps still do, I will not support that strategy by buying their product and enriching the Macro-brewers’ coffers. But that is my choice, everyone is certainly free to make their own.

But, as I mentioned above, we craft beer lovers are only about a fifth of the market out there. This can create a bit of schism when interacting socially (or what some of us call “Beer-cializing”) with the non-craft beer drinkers. My own social networking is an excellent example of this conundrum.

The friends I generally beer-cialize with on a regular basis are all craft beer drinkers so when we meet out it will usually be at an establishment that either carries or specializes in craft beer. Socially this is not a problem for us, and we all have an enjoyable evening.

But then I also have co-workers and relatives I will occasionally socialize with who not only do not get the craft beer mystique, but they also have a preference for one or the other of the top light beers in the country. That can be beer-cially awkward.

It the old days before Craft was booming, you were basically arguing over one American Light Lager or another. If you went to someone’s house you usually drank whatever beer they decided to stock or if you were thoughtful, you brought some with you. In the end though it was all pretty much the same as far as taste went, it was more than likely that any loyalty one had to one brand over the other was more due to the better advertising than it was over actual taste (though I have to admit that the only Anheuser-Busch product I have ever liked was Michelob, not Michelob Light or Michelob Ultra, just regular old Michelob, I just couldn’t ever get used to the taste of the rest).

Now, if you are an avid craft beer fan, the chances that you are holding some of the afore mentioned Macro light lagers in your fridge are slim to none. Refrigerator real estate is precious. Crowding out vital foods or your favorite craft product for something you a very unlikely to drink is something most of us just aren’t going to do. And because craft is considerably more expensive that macro beer, the likelihood that you will leave some leftover product sitting in a relative’s fridge isn’t realistic. Besides even before craft had its boom, whenever I left beers that I brought to someone’s house, those were usually the beers to be consumed first. Buying cheap beer has never been my style.

Does this justify the second refrigerator in the garage? Probably not, but I can certainly find more justification for the additional fridge. To be honest I have two additional ones in the garage, one for cold beer storage and the other for fermentation.

But now let’s touch on party invites. Do you bring your own or rely on a host you may or may not know to have enough decent beer on hand and of a good quality? And if you do bring your own do you risk insulting their beer tastes? Should you bring just enough for yourself and the host or do you need to bring more so that others can share in the glory that is Craft? Should you bring only canned or bottled or do you bring a growler? What is the proper etiquette here?

Let’s discuss some basic beer logic first.

  1. Craft beer is usually a bit stronger than Macro beer. Most macros run from 3-5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Most Craft beer runs at 5% or higher, some as high as the teens. A 12-pack of a good IPA has about as much alcohol (if not more) as a 24-pack of Macro light beer so you won’t be consuming as much craft beer and you won’t getting pitchers of it to share one after the other.
  2. Macro beers are generally lagers, so the flavors are relatively the same, though the quality may vary. Craft beer drinkers have a much more varied choice list to choose from and not every style is for everyone. From the bittersweet Pale Ales, to the roasted coffee and malty feel of a Breakfast Stout; from the bread and banana scented Wheat Beers to boozy Strong or Scotch Ales; or from the tangy sour Farmhouse Ales to the smooth and effervescent Belgian Tripels each style has its own flavor profile and not everyone can enjoy all of them. It really does take a sophisticated palette to enjoy them all. If you’re going to an invite where you don’t know the other participants, then you may want to opt to bring a good craft lager or pilsner. Then it won’t be a shock to anyone else’s system or you don’t have to drink the Macro junk.
  3. Red Plastic cups are for beer pong and Macro lagers, not craft beer. Hell, even the pint glasses that a lot of bars serve beer in aren’t proper glass ware for beer. Good beer, even a good lager, should be served in a proper glass. It should have a curved bowl or tulip shape to properly release the notes and effervescence of the beer and help to create a good head on the beer. Therefore, bringing a $30 bottle of a special release Tripel or Quad to a BBQ isn’t a great idea if you don’t also bring the appropriate glassware to serve it in.

Here is probably the most important rule, part of which I have said before. It’s your tastes that drives what you should drink. Drink what you want to. And let the other guy or gal drink what they want to. You can always offer them a sample of what you bring but don’t force it n them. And don’t let them make you feel bad about turning down what they offer, just be gracious and toast each other with whatever your mutual selections are.

Happy Beer-cializing!

Papabear

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