Craftophiles and micro brewers, mutually feeding their respective rhetorics, enjoy throwing shit at the macro breweries. They accuse them of being greedy mega corporations, whose only interest is to produce profit for their shareholders, and through the brain detergent that is their marketing they sell their shit beer, full of adjuncts and chemical additives, while defecating on proper beer culture.
Let's be honest, this is is something that most of us, at some point or another, have said, and not without reason. Some of the business practices of the large brewers are not too ethical and should be condemned. But, how ethical is it to, knowingly or not, sell an evidently flawed product? And, aren't micro breweries also commercial enterprises whose purpose is to generate profits for their owners? And isn't that the reason why some of them will sell a beer even though it's contaminated?
The stuff about quality, adjuncts, etc. has been discussed enough. Regarding "beer culture", it's undeniable that it's been the microbreweries that have done the most to enrich it, if not only for the sheer variety they offer. But "Beer Culture" isn't only sipping a barrel aged Imperial Stout from a tulip glass or discussing the virtues of this or that hop variety. Beer Culture is also being at the pub with friends, drinking four or five pints of whatever they happen to serve there (you don't go to have a "Farmouse Ale" or a "Wet Hop IPA" with your mates!), and that is more or less what beer means to most people and it's something you see very often in the adversing of the big brands. Which brings me to marketing.
Just like the marketing for alternative beers, the big brands' want to speak to its target consumer. We might not like it, but the macros sell what people want to drink, and what most people want is their beer to be mildly alcoholic, refreshing, easy to drink and inexpensive (basically, the reasons why pale lager took over the world). Some of you will refuse to believe this, but it's true, and, if you replace some words, the same can be applied to food, music, films, etc. I love complex, challenging and even experimental beers, but if given the choice between the dumbest Holywood blockbuster and an Igmar Bergman film, bring in the Transformers!
Either way, the macros are not only very good when it comes to make that sort of beer, but they are also very efficient at selling, distributing and making it available in every corner of the world.
But let's forget about all this for a moment. Nobody is arguing about the meaning of "Beer Culture". We all know that micro beer marketing can be as full of shit as macro beer marketing (Beer for Punks, anyone?) and that any beer is good if you like it. Let's look at things from a winder, much wider, perspective.
According to Brew Like a Monk, in 2004 Chimay was employing more than 100 people in one of the poorest regions in Belgium. How many people does Westvleteren employ? And if Chimay, that by no means is a macro, gives jobs to so many people, how many does Interbrew, Belgian's largest brewer, employ? If Alvinne or Struise were to close tomorrow, hardly anyone would notice, if the Leuven brewery went bankrupt the whole country would feel it.
The fact is that macros, all over the world, give jobs to a lot of people. In many cases, those people actually like working for those companies. And those companies might not pay that bad. A Brew Master friend of mine was telling me once about his son, also a brewer, who works at Prazdroj. When I asked him why didn't he work at a micro brewery, he told me that they pay him better in Pilsen. It's hard to argue with money.
On top of it, there are also many companies that supply the macros with services or goods, who owe them at least a substantial part of their income and prosperity. And the only reason that many farmers have to grow barley (not to mention hops) is because they know that, either directly or indirectly, their harvests will be bought by big brewers. A good example of this is Žatec. Japanese big breweries have long been one of the most important buyers of Saaz hops, at some point, they were buying 70% of the annual production. Due to different economic crises, the volume of hops exported to Japan dropped considerably five or six years ago, and the micro brewing boom and the regional renaissance have not been able to compensate for the loss yet.
All that barley and hops are used to make millions and millions of hl of beer, which in turn, pay A LOT of money in beer duties alone.
It also worth mentioning the financial support macros give in some countries to restaurant owners. Of course, this is not with unselfish purposes, there is a price for that (and I must confess, it is something that I don't quite like), but if you look at it from the point of view of someone who is setting up a small company, or wants to improve the one they already have (aren't usually pubs, etc. small companies?), things will take on a different shade.
And all this is only the present. If we look back in history, we'll see that it was the brewers that we'd call macros today the first who took a technological and scientific approach to beer making. They understood it was the best way to assure the quality of their products, which would allow them to grow as companies. Without those advances, some of which are taken for granted even by homebrewers, while others have benefited other industries, beer making would still rely very much on good intentions and "Dej Bůh štěstí".
So, we might not like their products, we might despise their brands (Stella Artois, I'm talking to you), but the truth is that, all things considered, it turns out that macro breweries might not be that evil after all.
But well, these are not things that should concern us, the consumers, very much. What's really important is that is being able to drink good beer, regardless of the size of the company that makes it.
Just one more thing before I finish. Dear alternative brewers, instead of critisising the macros and their beers so much, you should be grateful that they make the shit they make and wish them success and prosperity with that rubbish. It is thanks to them that there are so many people willing to pay your premium prices and, believe me, I don't think you'd like it if the macros started making "good beer".