Macro Beers Suck...Revisited

The fact that macro beers suck and why they suck is something I've talked about in depth before on the blog. But I've been hearing a new thing from a few craft beer drinkers lately when I bash macros (which I do at every chance possible). They say, "Macro brews aren't bad beer, you just don't like the flavor."

This seems to be the new "enlightened" craft brewer viewpoint these days. However, this idea that macro beer is good beer (and it's just not my "thing") is just plain wrong. And legitimizing the macro brewer's operations in this way is bad for the craft beer business. Because of market changes, macro brewers will do anything they can to squash independent craft brewers. Craft beer drinkers need to push back against the macro brewers at every turn if we want our favorite craft brewers to stay in business. The absolute wrong thing to do is to write off macro beer as fundamentally good because of faulty logic.

The Consistency = Quality Fallacy

The argument saying that macro brewers' beer is good is what I call the Consistency = Quality Fallacy. The argument goes like this:
  • There is no way to objectively measure whether a flavor of beer is good or bad. All measures of quality of flavor are subjective and thus cannot ever be fairly ranked from good to bad. 
  • Because there is no way to objectively measure the quality of the flavor of a beer, the only way to measure the quality of a beer is by it's consistency from batch to batch.
  • Macro brewers have amazingly consistent products. 
  • Thus, macro beers are high quality, good beers.

But what about Twinkies and 40s? 

Twinkies and OE 800--a
match made in heaven. 
This argument, on the surface seems to make perfect logical sense. But here's another way to think about this argument: consider the Twinkie. If our only measure of quality is consistency, then Twinkies surely must be the best cakes ever made. And yet, I don't think I've ever heard anyone in my life refer to a Twinkie as a high quality cake (not even sure if I've ever heard someone actually refer to them as "cakes" at all).

More to the point, I commonly hear this argument applied to Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. But no one seems to ever apply the argument to Natural Light, Busch Light, Keystone Light, or any other number of 2rd Tier macro brews. Certainly no one is applying this logic to Olde English 800 or other 40s. Yet these beers are all brewed by the exact same brewers at the macro breweries with the same amazing consistency from batch to batch. So they must also be good beers according to the argument, right?

If we can all agree that OE 800 is not good beer and Twinkies are not good cakes, then the pure logical argument that Consistency = Quality just doesn't work. Even though the argument makes sense, you have to accept the assumption that humans have no way of determining what tastes good and bad. This really is a silly assumption. While we may have our differences in taste (and there are some definite outliers), the vast majority of people can agree pretty broadly on what tastes or smells "good" or "bad."

So if macro brews are bad beer, why do so many people drink them? 

If you hadn't noticed, in America we're primarily driven as consumers by marketing and price. The macro brewers have spent literally trillions of dollars over the last 100 years convincing you that their products are good (and lately that craft beers are bad) and that you should buy them. This is especially evident during the annual macro brewer marketing circle jerk known as the Super Bowl.

Macro brewers have also used their massive political lobbying clout and various forms of legal and illegal market manipulation as a means to be the only beers you can buy. This peaked in the 1970's when we had fewer than 100 breweries in the US (as compared to over 4000 today). And even today, when you walk into a liquor store outside a major metropolitan area in the Midwest, you're lucky if you can find Boulevard Wheat or New Belgium Fat Tire hidden amongst the floor to ceiling stacks of Bud, Miller, and Coors products.

So not only has the public been brainwashed to believe macro brews are good and our options are limited on what you can buy, but also macro brews are cheap. Most people don't want to spend $2/bottle for actual good beer made from high quality ingredients and using traditional brewing methods. Macro beer is "good enough." This isn't a ringing endorsement for macro beers being good beers--it's just that they're not bad enough to dissuade most people from buying them.

Why does it matter anyways? 

Anheuser-Busch InBev is hurting. Global beer sales are dipping while craft beer sales are surging. This means that the macro brewer's market share is shrinking dramatically and has been for years. In the face of their shrinking market and shrinking market share, the macro brewers are desperate to keep turning a profit and to keep the shareholders happy. If the shareholders aren't happy, then top management heads roll. In the past 10 years the only play that ABI has had to boost it's profits is acquisitions. But with the merger of ABI and MillerCoors, there are no more major acquisitions to be had that regulators will approve.

Without any potential for future acquisitions and no reasonable outlook for an expanding overall beer market, macro brewers have to take back market from craft brewers. They will do this with whatever means they can. And with their economic and political might, they will certainly damage the craft beer market.

We lovers of craft beer can help stem the tide though. Don't ever buy macro beer. Explain why their beer sucks to those who don't understand. Promote craft beer whenever you can. Introduce macro drinkers to craft beer however you can. Give them a unique beer that's totally different from a macro light lager that could expand their understanding of beer. Maybe a sour beer, or a coffee or chocolate stout. Or hand them an easy drinking lager brewed by a craft brewer which are becoming much more common. Andy please don't give into faulty logic.

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