A debate over the naming rights for the broader categorization of flavorful beer has raged since the new wave of post-light lager emerged in the early 1980s. By mid-decade, America hosted a mere handful of brewers, nearly all massive in size. These brewers largely produced a near uniform lager beer, differentiated only by a few dozen calories, logos and labels or style of television ads. We called their products beer. Not macro beer. Not industrial beer. Just beer.
When smaller brewers appeared on the scene, some tried unsuccessfully to emulate the big guys and their beers. Most smaller brewers, however, scrambled in the opposite direction, brewing anything other than the prevailing light lager. They explored a range of classic styles, trying to convince skeptical consumers of the merits of dark, bitter and oddly tasting beers. But beyond selling consumers on the charms of individual beers, these smaller brewers needed a way to educate the public on the radical points of distinction between themselves and the larger corporate concerns that ruled American beer.
This ramshackle mélange of divergent personalities showed little interest in or ability to agree on what to call themselves. Busy simply trying to survive in the inhospitable environment in which they arose, these new brewers found their efforts defined by outsiders. At first, major media outlets deemed them eccentric curiosities, largely due to comical size comparisons with macro producers. Reporters called them microbrewers. The label stuck and spread for two decades until the once-small brewers, now collectively making millions of barrels of beer a year, no longer seemed so small.
Andy Crouch, “Names and Labels”, Beer Advocate (March 2016), 22.