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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Monday, 7 February 2011

"Lager drinkers are brainwashed morons."

How CAMRA volunteers greeted guests at the Great British Beer festival a few years ago.

There was a welcome but just a teensy bit patronising piece in the FT on Saturday about how the sandals-and-black-socks twattish image of real ale - and CAMRA - is no longer accurate, particularly given that the latter has doubled in size over the last decade.  The number of - shall we call them 'characters' - in society has not doubled, meaning that while some of us may still have issues with the organisation in some areas, it is succeeding in reaching out to a broader base of people.  (And yes, I know some critics believe people are just joining for the Wetherspoons vouchers, and many join and are not active, but still.)

Next month is CAMRA's 40th anniversary, which is likely to generate a lot more media focus and a lot more debate.

But how's this for an extraordinary acknowledgement of some of the issues CAMRA has, some of the problems people like me have with the way the organisation can sometimes put itself across?

The following is a quote from Michael Hardman, one of the original four founders of CAMRA back in 1971.  Talking to the FT last week, what do you possibly think he could mean when he says:

“I must point out that we’re not fighting against anything, we’re fighting for something,” he says, as measured as a well-poured pint. “There may be some members who give a different impression and I apologise to the general drinking public for the fact that we’ve recruited those people.”

Any CAMRA member/activist who agrees with these sentiments from their founder - and I know there are many of you - will find no quarrel with me.

Mr Hardman MBE, next time I see you I owe you a pint.

(Thanks to Glenn Payne for pointing sending me the article.)

27 comments:

Kristy said...

It's a great quote - I would find it more believable though had Mr Protz not chosen to have a go at the UK's biggest lager producer in the same article.

Roger obviously hadn't read your previous post on supermarket pricing - then he'd know his comment is simply untrue.

I think there's a seat in the free madhouse for someone......

Cooking Lager said...

In my observation there appears to be 2 main criticisms of CAMRA. One that it is a Campaign against anything not real ale, specifically macro lager, and the other that it not a campaign for craft beer in general. The former is justified and the latter unjustified. The CAMRA national forums are full of the type of people that view anyone that enjoys a lager in a truly disgraceful fashion. It is fun to join in and wind them up. You cannot criticise them for not being a campaign for craft beer, they can be a campaign for whatever they want, but the odd types in their club do their organisation a great disservice. The more normal members that volunteer their time and effort to put of beer festivals and produce free pub magazines succeed in communicating the pleasure of a really good traditional product. Whether you want to join them or not, you can only wish them well. The nutters succeed in the opposite.

Pete Brown said...

I love it when you say something really serious and astute and insightful, Cookie. Keeps everyone on their toes.

Cooking Lager said...

I apologise, Pete, sorry mate.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Could someone have a word with Dave Brock of North London CAMRA?

Link here.

Curmudgeon said...

Absolutely, Pete, and many of the more thoughtful members take exactly the view that Michael Hardman describes. It's just a pity there are vocal individuals who continue to see things as a Manichean struggle between "proper beer" and "chemical fizz."

Tandleman said...

Nothing new in this really though clearly one of the founders speaks with quite some authority.

It is what I and others have said for a long time. And will continue to say. The nutters speak only for themselves and when members are in a position such as Branch Chairman, they should think on a bit before saying daft stuff.

Cooking Lager said...

One further thought. Whilst there appears to be an acknowledgement that some CAMRA members see their Campaign as a fight against chemical fizz, this view does appear institutionalised when you look at the national objectives of CAMRA. At a regional level it may be about putting on beer festivals and knocking out magazines. At a national level the main focus of the campaign is the price of a can of lager.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Free Wetherspoons vouchers?

Where do I join?

Phil said...

It's just a pity there are vocal individuals who continue to see things as a Manichean struggle between "proper beer" and "chemical fizz."

Not just in Manchester, either - some of the most bigoted lager-haters are Southerners.

Phil said...

Oh, Manichean. Never mind.

I don't know about joining for the Wetherspoon's vouches. I've just recently joined CAMRA, as it happens. I paid £20, and got a membership pack including JDW's vouchers to the value of... £20. Very welcome, but I haven't actually come out ahead as far as I can see.

stephanos_lemon said...

Wetherspoons vouchers are an added bonus and I'm glad I get a bit of saving, but I'd be drinking in there anyway. The main perk of membership in my opinion is discounted/free entry to beer festivals and free pints. Get to even two or three in a year and you can make your money back. But yes, activation of members is a big problem in CAMRA at the moment and its undergoing a "fit for purpose" review as voted for at the national AGM last year, to report by this year in Sheffield AGM.

As for Mr Protz, he is well known for launching tirades and making silly comments amongst CAMRA members, but he has a block of loyal supporters which are keeping him at the helm of the GBG. I don't know enough about him to pass judgement either way, but I do tire of his "biscuity" malts

Gary Gillman said...

I thought Michael Hardman expressed himself very well, and it was a good article overall.

I was surprised to read he is only 64. What changes he must have seen in the beer and pub culture of England over a 40 year period.

Gary

Ghost Drinker said...

I do like the way some CAMRA members take the views of a brewery (Wychwood's views not there own, or CAMRA's) and impose them upon others like they said what the brewery said. Seems like some of them see the goblin as a bit of a mascot for CAMRA.

Anonymous said...

I really hate the 'Lagerboy' campaign it does CAMRA no favours. In my experience the campaign still has the problem that the majority of its 'characters' hold branch and area positions so this is the portrayal that the general public sees.

Also can someone lock Roger Protz in a box and leave him somewhere out of the way. His views are so outdated and the way he gets these cringe worthy sound bites every time CAMRA gets a mention doesn't help either.

Birkonian said...

I'm a devout CAMRA member of 35 years but I've also resigned from my local branch committee twice and more recently stood down as branch chairman becasue of the frustrations of trying to get my views across. The 'ticking' wing of CAMRA are probably the most at fault. They refuse to countenance beers from regionals and large breweries and force micros into producing uneccessary new brews just so that they can mark it down on their way to 10,000 scoops or some other ridiculous target. These are the ones who insult everyone who is not in their dysfunctional circle.

Rob Nicholson said...

>The CAMRA national forums are full of the type of people that view anyone that enjoys a lager in a truly disgraceful fashion.

Sorry Cookie - can't let this one pass. The forums are NOT full of such people as well you know as a frequent poster. A handful maybe, but definately the minority. This is mis-information from Cookie but expected as that appears to be his reason d'etre.

Rob Nicholson said...

Mr Protz definately does not speak for all of CAMRA!

Fishter said...

Anonymous "I really hate the 'Lagerboy' campaign it does CAMRA no favours. In my experience the campaign still has the problem that the majority of its 'characters' hold branch and area positions so this is the portrayal that the general public sees. "

Although it's already been mentioned I think I need to emphasise that the 'Lagerboy' campaign was nothing to do with CAMRA. It's all Wychwood!
However, it is embraced by a section of the membership as a mascot.

Cooking Lager said...

@Rob, It is not mis-information, it is an opinion. Just as yours is opinion.

The CAMRA forums are public, free to join, why not let people decide for themselves what the forum is full of?

Anonymous said...

You can have my JDW tokens - please, take them all.

Stono said...

@Cooking Lager I have to admit when you said national forums, I thought you meant the AGMs or branch meetings (which suprised me because they arent like that IME) not the web forums (which doesnt in the least surprise me). I mean you can debate all day the characteristics of your average internet forum poster and probably not get very far forward, and the Camra forums are frankly so underutilised as to be next to worthless anyway but I would hate to think anyone took them purely as CAMRA opinion or a majority held opinion among the organisation, simply because CAMRA hosts them.

@Fishter totally agree I do seriously think that point shouldnt be lost as its something Pete could have made more of in "Man Walks into the Pub" as well, because you can dump all the stereotypes you like at CAMRAs door, but that tshirt, that ad campaign is from a brewery, and not an insignificant brewery either Wychwood are a subsidiary of Marstons thesedays who clearly dont see their role as appealing only to the "anti lager" types.

it would be more interesting IMO than simply raking over CAMRA stereotypes all the time to find out why Wychwood, who have even faced an ASA adjudication on it, and as far as I can tell are the only cask ale producer who use that kind of tone in their advertising, why they feel that campaign works for them.

Phil said...

Anon - I'll take them off your hands with pleasure. I've had very few "that's wonderful" moments at JDW's, but I've also had very few "dear God what was that?" moments - and a lot of good beers along the way.

And of course, marketing to group A by insulting group B and telling group A how superior they are is a very bad thing[1]. Wychwood were clearly trying to build up a spurious cult appeal by marketing to insecure beer snobs. Can't be doing with that. Bad brewery[2].

[1] At the risk of ruining my own jokes, perhaps I should just say that there's no sarcasm here - I do think it's a very bad thing.
[2] Sarcasm[3] kicks in around here.
[3] Highest form of wit. Yeah, right.

Pete Brown said...

Stono/Phil - fair points raised about Wychwood. It's one I've been thinking about a lot, and then I remembered I'd addressed them in some detail after the GBBF when these T-shorts were unveiled - my third ever post on this blog, which was, as far as I'm aware, the first UK beer blog, here: http://tinyurl.com/64tvy5s

There are quite a few opinions I've have changed since then (such as my opinion about proof reading entries before posting them) but I was about to write something now, four and a half years later, and found I'd written it all then.

Personally I don't like the Wychwood campaign. But having spoken to the brewery, whereas I used to believe it only appealed to the hairiest real ale, D&D playing nerds, they tell me that it's successful in recruiting new drinkers to real ale, that 'lagerboys' get the irony, take the challenge, and embrace it. I'm not entirely sure that it doesn't turn off as many novice drinkers at the same time, so I'm not convinced. But the point I made in '06 was that they are one beer brand - it's kind of up to them if they want to piss people off.

But CAMRA claims to be a consumer organisation representing all beer drinkers (yes it does - go and look at their website). When they take Wychwood sponsorship and use their creative work in a different context, adopting this attitude as an official stance, I think the irony evaporates. I don't think the volunteers at beer festivals were wearing them ironically.

And the thing that I'm most angry about all over again after rereading and reliving my GBBF '06 blog post, is the appalling, offensive way that some of the most senior members of CAMRA expanded upon it, betraying everything Mike Hardman just said.

Paula Waters - then chairperson of CAMRA, one of the top two officials in the organisation - stood on stage on the trade day, in front of publicans, brewers, beer journalists and any mainstream media attending, and told them that the Great British Beer Festival was "definitely not for lagerboys".

People like Tandleman have taught me that I was wrong to tar all festival volunteers and branch activists with the same brush. But someone like Waters and the views she represents - and airs at the very highest level, on the most high profile day in CAMRA's year - is a cancer at the heart of the organisation that does more to damage the appreciation of real ale than all the big lager brewers combined. Thankfully she's no longer in office. But we all know that people holding her repellent views still hold many senior positions.

Phil said...

Pete - excellent summing-up of the pros & cons of lagerboyism (Wychwood: leaves a bit of a bad taste but probably OK on balance; CAMRA: no).

But...

But we all know that people holding her repellent views still hold many senior positions.

Do we?

Curmudgeon said...

Just spotted that the original FT article recommends the (reputedly) awful Bree Louise in London NW1 as one of "five great alehouses".

"The interior has the charm of an Eastern Bloc consulate, but the beers make this one of London’s best alehouses."

Trenchfoot said...

The big irony of the "Lagerboy" campaign is that Wychwood's Hobgoblin doesn't have a great deal of taste itself. Its flavour profile is notoriously lacking in any complexity. Check out the reviews, eg. http://bit.ly/dNgeug