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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 March 2011

We've got to acc-en-tu-ate the positive

Sorry - really long post - really big topic.

I’ve seen lots of conversations recently that all come together around a central theme that is, to my mind at least, one of the key themes for beer this year.  Namely this: factionalism and blind prejudice – on various sides – is threatening to kill, or at least stall, the beer revolution.

The people's front of Judea and the popular Judean people's front.  Or is it the other way round?

It first struck me when Martyn Cornell expressed his dismay that seven of the supposed ten best beers in the world are Imperial Stouts, which began a war of indignation that has currently run to almost 150 comments on his blog.  Then, after my recent posting on a very good-natured and enjoyable beer versus wine matching dinner, Cooking Lager temporarily dropped his comedy mask to make the very good observation that in wine, you never hear people promoting good wine by slagging off cheap wine.  And, last week, I was talking to Zak Avery about my growing concern over negativity in the beer scene, and he said, ‘wait till you see my next column’.  Zak published his thoughts on the subject yesterday, arguing for more inclusivity and tolerance.

As Zak says, the passion that people have for beer can only be a good thing, and I would never want to deter anyone from expressing their passion.  I’d just ask you to think about the way in which you express it (and by the way, I’m not exempting myself here – I’ve been guilty too).

When I first started writing about beer, I was infuriated by CAMRA because it was the only voice in the UK championing good beer, and it did so in a way that I felt was blinkered, bigoted, and downright insulting to beer drinkers who were not already part of the club.  CAMRA-friendly beer writers would not only dismiss mainstream beers as ‘industrial yellow fizz’, but also their drinkers as brainwashed morons.  It was only half a step away from the nasty abuse of ‘chavs’ or ‘pikeys’ under which class prejudice hides today – sometimes not even that far.

CAMRA has since changed and become more open, and has seen its membership double.  I think the two are not unrelated.  (From now on, I’m going to refer to the rump of unreconstructed CAMRA diehards who hate anything new or different as Old CAMRA, to differentiate them from the broader-minded but still real ale-loving mainstream CAMRA).

But CAMRA is no longer the only voice championing good beer.  We now have what Zak refers to as the ‘crafterati’ – beer bloggers and other vocal drinkers who champion great beers from or influenced by the North American brewing scene.  I’d like to believe I was among the first of these in the UK.  But now I look at what Martyn calls ‘the extremophiles’, and I’m seeing a similar unpleasant snobbery to that of CAMRA ten years ago – just coming from a different direction. Where the rump of Old CAMRA members still dismiss even quality Czech and German lagers as ‘yellow fizz’, the extremophiles similarly deride ‘Boring Brown Beer’.  Each dismisses vast swathes of beer, denigrating perfectly good brews simply because they are not of the style they prefer.

Old CAMRA and the extremophiles do at least agree on one thing – that any beer brewed by a big brewery must be shit.  In the US, the definition of Craft Beer hinges on the size of the brewery rather than the ingredients and processes used, or the passion of the brewer.  Over here, Old CAMRA now forgets that it was regional brewers like Young’s and Greene King who kept real ale alive long enough for the micros to arrive, casting them in the role of evil big brewers oppressing the micros, while extremophiles dismiss their beers as hopelessly square and bland.

All of this is childish, and ultimately damaging for beer – all beer.

I just got back from the SIBA conference, where one of the prevailing attitudes was inclusivity about what makes good beer.  During the closing panel session, Roger Protz cut an increasingly isolated figure as he defended CAMRA’s stance on only promoting cask ale.  One minute he said CAMRA could only ever promote real ale because that is what it is for, suggesting that this forty year-old body is simply incapable of changing to reflect changing times. The next minute he boasted that CAMRA had proudly defended Budvar for twenty years.  The brewers of quality British lager – some brewed locally – who were in the room were left scratching their heads as to why CAMRA could promote a foreign quality lager but not a British one.  Roger confessed to enjoying some quality keg products and exhorted fans of them to form a campaign for keg ale.  But in doing so he missed the whole point – it’s not about cask or keg.  It’s now about a broader championing of good beer in an age where method of dispense is no longer the key differentiator of quality.  The audience - comprising mainly of cask ale brewers - was then asked if they thought CAMRA should broaden its remit.  A show of hands revealed roughly 80% believed CAMRA should – and I repeat, these are brewers of cask ale.  Roger said he was ‘horrified’ by this result.

At the other end of the scale, we had a Guild of Beer Writers meeting last week, and after the meeting, we all enjoyed pints of Gales Seafarers, Adnams Bitter and London Pride.  These beers were perfectly kept, wonderfully tasty, but some of us who might be counted as ‘crafterati’ (me included) felt a need to justify or at least comment upon the fact that we could enjoy these ‘boring brown beers’ as much as we did.  I’ve enjoyed great pints of Greene King IPA on occasion – in the right pub at the right time – and I now reject a beer scene where anyone needs to be defensive about that, just as much as I reject a beer scene that says cask ale is the only beer worth drinking.

There was a different aspect of the same thing with some of the criticism of the Proud of Beer video.  Why was Carling in there? Wasn’t this supposed to be a video promoting craft beer?  Well, no.  It was supposed to be a video promoting the British beer industry.  Because if Old CAMRA, the extremophiles, those arguing that SIBA brewers are parasites, those who believe Molson Coors are going to close down Sharps (even though the Cornish brewery has just had some brand new fermenting vessels delivered), those who hate beer tickers, those who say cask is dead, those who say keg is de facto shit, those who think any beer with under 50 IBUs is shit – if you could all just lift your heads out of you navels and look around for a bit, you’d see the real picture. 

There’s a war on drink at the moment, and beer is the scapegoat.  Every article on Britain’s binge drinking epidemic uses the pint as its frame of reference, despite the fact that beer sales overall are nose diving while wine and spirits sales increase.  Tax on beer has gone up by 26% in the last two years, and will go up by another 7% in this month’s budget.  Beer is massively under-represented in popular press coverage, and most people in the general public still perceive it as uninteresting and not for them.  Pubs are closing at the rate of 29 a week.

So if you care about beer enough to write about it, or evangelise it in any other way, it would be really great if you could do so positively.  Anyone who looks in on our industry, our beer scene, from the outside, sees a pack of squabbling kids.  If you’re a curious drinker who might try beer, it puts you off pretty quickly.  If you’re a minister wondering whether the industry deserves a break, you see a fragmented and ineffective lobbying body.  By focusing on internal battles, we’re allowing wine and spirits on one side and teetotallers on the other to reposition beer as something not worth bothering with.  We simply don’t make Planet Beer look like a very attractive place to be.

I’m not saying don’t be passionate about your favourite beer or favourite beer style.  But I would ask you to try one experiment.  If you do write about beer, and you write something about a beer you like, and you use what you regard as a crap beer as a point of comparison, save it and put it to one side.  Then, try to write the same piece without slagging off inferior beers.  Now, find a friend whose opinion you trust, who isn’t as passionate about beer as you, and ask them which they think reads better, which makes them want to try your beer – the one that praises the beer on its own merits, or the one that slags off what it is not?

Also – anticipating the first wave of comments and cries of hypocrisy here – I’m not saying never be critical, and I’m not saying don’t call bullshit when you see (or taste) it.  But do judge something on its own merits.  

Think of, say, a Jay Rayner restaurant review.  He does negative reviews – and how – but he does these on the basis of the restaurants own merits or lack of them, visiting it, and taking it on its own terms.  He doesn’t slag off a kebab shop for not having a Michelin star, or a provincial family-run restaurant for not being in the West End.  

See what I’m saying?  I hope so.  When I slagged off Stella Black, for example, I did so on the basis of tasting it, judging it as the super-premium lager it claimed to be.  It was revealing and sad that Cooking Lager expressed surprise that I had actually tasted it before slagging it off – what does that say about our perceived prejudices? 

What I am saying is two things:

Firstly, let’s not draw these ideological lines in the sand any more.  Let’s try to celebrate beer

Secondly, when we celebrate the beers we love, let’s do that, rather than constantly using what they’re not as a frame of reference.  Because you know what? It’s lazy, and it comes across as really insecure.

I look forward to all your positive, inclusive and constructive comments, people.

79 comments:

Kristy said...

Brilliant brilliant post Pete. Couldn't agree more and I'm a fully paid up member of the beer revolution!!

Mark said...

Could not agree more. We should talk of the great things that this category does. I love cask beer, I also grew up drinking Carling and then moved through to cask when my palate asked me to do so.
Do I think Carling is bad because I no longer drink it? Do I heck as like, it was the drink I consumed whilst at the football and watching great live music and I bloody loved it. Put me in a music venue and I'll work my way through a few pints (responsibly of course)

In my younger days I would drink white wine in preference to red and now mostly drink red. I do not point fingers at white wine drinkers...

We should absolutely reference the merits of a brand based solely on that brand and not in reference to a generic category. I cannot recall Top Gear test driving the Aston Martin and constantly referring to an Audi A4.

It's bollocks and its boring

We need to get with the times, lets champion great beer - NO MATTER WHAT IT IS and lets also slag off the shit ones when we need to - There's plenty in of both in all categories.

Now is it too early for a pint?

Dan Tasker said...

As a brewer with a background in sales and marketin it has always been impressed on me that it's not a clever strategy to sell your own product by denigrating another. I agree with the vast majority of Pete's comments especially the isolation of the cask beer sector in relation to wines and spirits and tee-totallers! We should be really aware of this especially as beer will be heading northwards price-wise very soon!

Pub Diaries said...

Without sounding negative from the outset will this tribalism ever be broken down? Probably not in it's entirety. But To take you back to the point about an ineffective lobby. An over arching lobby seems lacking to bring all these factions together when required. Maybe it exists?

Nick Boley said...

I agree with you 100%, Pete. These things needed to be said, and you say it very well. I'm saying this as a CAMRA member of 35 years, and Chair of my local CAMRA branch. At a recent meeting the branch agreed that CAMRA needs to be more inclusive; when a beer festival has a foreign beer bar but can not serve the beers in the way the brewery recommends, and serves them in their native country, well that's plain daft! Yes, GK IPA can be good, as can Young's, although GK IPA is ubiquitous, which is a much greater issue with me - why can't pubs be less blinkered themselves in what they sell? Micro beers can be poor or hit & miss. I actually prefer some non-bottle conditioned beers to bottle conditioned because they are less fizzy and taste better, it all depends on the individual beer. Good beer is good beer; poor beer is poor beer. Well-kept cask ale is a joy; poorly-kept cask ale does the brewer or the drinker no favours. Foreign trips and foreign beers are an exciting voyage of discovery. There's no more to say, except that there many of us in CAMRA who have huge respect and affection for Roger Protz but don't always agree with him.

Anonymous said...

Great *opens a carling*

Martyn Cornell said...

I am genuinely going to slap the next person I find being dismissive about "boring brown beer".

SteveF said...

I agree with your sentiments Pete but I'm not sure whether the wider significance is as great as you think. I suspect that most of these debates happen within a relatively select group of people and that the mainstream is largely unaffected. They just carry on drinking their beer of choice, without worrying about keg vs cask, boring brown vs imperial stouts and so forth. I might be wrong, but that's my sense and so I wouldn't be too worried. But it definitely couldn't do any harm to generally be positive about beer.

Ron Pattinson said...

There was a great example of squabbling devisiveness at the weekend. There were two beer festivals in Belgium: the ZBF and the ACBF.

The ZBF is a celebration of Belgian brewing, with a wide range to different types of brewery. It attracts a wide public, too, not just die-hard beer fans.

The ACBF is deliberately exclusive and attracts of 100% geeks. Yet that's being portrayed as the "future of brewing". Not very clever.

Guess which one I went to.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

As a fervent lover of the likes of Adnams Best, Brains Dark, Augustiner Helles, Dupont, Otley, Freedom, Cotswold, Jaipur keg etc etc, I concur with a hail of silver trumpets from my own specially anointed heralds (and of course I shall be doing penance for my use of the name of Stella in a review of Italia as so penetratingly observed and excoriated by Cooking Lager in your link — as Easter approaches the nails await).

Pete Brown said...

Steve F, that's kind of my point - while we are riven by these internal debates and squabbles, the mainstream WILL remain unaffected by craft beer and will carry on drinking what it always did. I'd like to see that change.

Paul Jones said...

I am new to the brewery industry, having only worked in this area since November and I have just returned from my first SIBA conference.

I must say I that agree 100% with Pete’s argument that a dark cloud of negativity is being to gather within the industry, much to the delight no doubt of the wine and sprit trade, which threatens to destroy all the good work that has been done over the last decade.

I believe that now it the time for the Beer industry to forget the petty arguments of the past, and concentrate on they many areas we all agree on, and present a united front to the media and the politicians, in the way the wine industry has done.

Only then can we hope to achieve what I believe should be beers main goals, to get the message across to the general public that beer is the great community and social drink, and to provide a commercial environment for all breweries to succeed in.

One point I would make it’s that I believe that Roger Protz argument for CAMRA’s stance was not given a fair hearing, I believe he has no personal problems with how beer is made as long as it tastes great in the glass, but CAMRA was not set up to fight the corner of all beer just a small but important part of the industry, and to expect them do to more than that is going to prove futile.

Its time to realise that CAMRA is not fit for the purpose of promoting BEER and its time for a new organisation to build and expand on the work done by CAMRA and present the case for the whole of the beer industry not just one section of it.

Fishter said...

Roger then asked an audience comprising mainly of cask ale brewers if they thought CAMRA should broaden its remit. A show of hands revealed roughly 80% believed CAMRA should – and I repeat, these are brewers of cask ale. Roger said he was ‘horrified’ by this result.

Spot who's out of touch.

Oh, and thanks, Pete, for pointing out the difference between "OldCAMRA" and us normal people!

Eddie86 said...

Couldn't agree more. It's time for a fresh image of pubs and beer in general.

SteveF said...

Pete, I agree about these internal squabbles being generally unhelpful (though obviously a bit of squabbling can be fun if it's good natured). But if, as you note, it's internal then I don't see the squabbles and debates themselves as having a particularly negative wider impact. Not directly anyway. Which is what I took to be the point of your post. I highly doubt whether people nerding out over Imperial Stouts affects anyone really.

I imagine most of this sort of thing flies below the radar of 90% of mainstream beer drinkers. In my original comment by mainstream I was actually referring to mainstream ale consumers, but I should be thinking of the general beer drinking community and I think the point still applies. I don't think that 90% of people look at us and see a bunch of squabbling kids because I don't think that 90% of people actually bother looking at us at all. They just drink beer.

Having said that, after writing the above, I just re-read your post and noticed you're saying a bit more than this. I think perhaps things can be divided into two parts here - direct and indirect impacts of the squabbling. I've essentially been arguing against any significant direct impact. As I say, I could be completely wrong about this, but that's my sense (though you may have a point about a minister who is looking). But I missed you discussing what I think can be called indirect effects. As you say, "by focusing on internal battles, we’re allowing wine and spirits on one side and teetotallers on the other to reposition beer as something not worth bothering with." And also, from your comment, if we aren't generally being positive, how can we then reach out to the mainstream I generally agree with this and do support your calls for more positivity.

Ghost Drinker said...

Whilst I do like to write about the crazy new 'craft beers' which we can get our hands on, I am certainly in the camp which also appreciates every single aspect of beer, because they all have there place. I wouldn't have a job if we didn't sell many mainstream brands. I don't mind a bit of constructive debate but we should be bringing the beer world together!

Pete Brown said...

Paul - Roger was a little ambushed there, I agree. And on his day, he does champion great beer of whatever style, and I wouldn't want to imply otherwise.

What I disagree with is this idea that CAMRA can't change and we should therefore have a new organisation to champion great beer. CAMRA's been around for 40 years and is well known. A new organisation would simply compete with it, muddy the waters, and contribute to the in-fightiong I'm talking about.

My argument is that cask ale has been saved. CAMRA has achieved its initial objective and it's time to move on. Organisations do change, and CAMRA has changed in the past - when it was formed, it wasn't even called the campaign for 'Real Ale' - they only came up with that because it was snappier than 'revitalisation'. My contention is that most of CAMRA's 120,000 members just love great beer and don't really care too much about method of dispense. I regularly conduct focus group with younger rank and file CAMRA members who couldn't even tell you what cask ale is, and how it's different. Political parties evolve their aims and focus all the time. So do pressure groups like CND and Greenpeace. So do countless other societies and groups. All it takes is a change to the constitution. I totally believe that the people at the top of the CAMRA don't want to change. But to say it can't is simply not true.

Cooking Lager said...

Ta for the link. Currently busy with my own proud of beer video. The intention with my post was not to point the finger at Adrian but to use an example to illustrate my own point. Adrian’s writing is memorable and as such it was easy for me to find. I enjoy Adrian’s writing. My original point wasn’t to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be writing. It’s a free country and whilst I disagree with those that claim Carling is shite, I defend their tight to say it if that is what they think. However as so many consider themselves part of an evangelical movement that wishes to encourage more people to drink beer or drink what they consider to be better beer, I wished to question an approach that can only evangelise about something by slagging something else off. Any movement needs an enemy. Without fear of the devil there is no need for God. If some form of unity or movement is the goal, then an enemy is always required. Maybe the enemy can be the treasury or even the prohibitionists, rather than your fellow supermarket shopping citizens.

SteveF said...

I can understand why some CAMRA members are reluctant to expand the remit of the organisation, but I do think it's probably necessary. It doesn't even have to take place via a vast shifting of the CAMRA tectonic plates, it could simply start at beer festivals (i.e. at the grassroots) with a few kegs alongside the foreign beers maybe. Gradually introducing change from the bottom up like this would hopefully ease the concerns of all but the most diehard.

Tandleman said...

A small point. CAMRA will change if the members want it to change. All it needs is those that fancy changing the remit to to construct a motion,put it to the AGM and of course, convince the members.

Heck Pete if you are a CAMRA member, you could, as long as you could find a seconder.

deadmanjones said...

Roger Protz's horror is horrifying. He edits a book that claims it will direct me towards "Good Beer". As a newish non-participatory member of CAMRA, I've quickly worked out all it actually directs me to is 25 pubs with a known landlord who uses a particular dispensing system which has been visited by the majority of active CAMRA members in the area during the last year.

This is not my definition of "Good".

It doesn't help me find anything new or interesting or diverse, and it's a definition that implicitly labels the pubs that don't appear in it "Bad". And Roger Protz's comments seem to suggest this is intentional.

I don't want Roger Protz to change his opinion, and I don't care if CAMRA doesn't diversify. If they want to remain the cask only real ale campaign, they're welcome to. And it would be silly to expect one book to be a 100% inclusive compendium of beers and pubs for the whole of Britain.

But it's the book that looks silly rather than its readers. Now we've got the interwebs, the Good Beer Guide is the absolute last place I look to find Good Beer. Not because it finds me bad beer, but because all it tells me is which pubs allow the local CAMRA branch to hold meetings in it.

I want to find new flavours and I want to try new beers. I want to find good beers I don't like. To do this, I know not to listen to people who give me a closed definition of Good Beer, whether they be Real Alers or Brown Beer haters.

BLTP said...

Great campaigning orgs change all the time: The RSPB was set up to save the birds who's feathers were used in the Victorian hat trade and who's numbers we being annihilated to meet demand. Once that problem was addressed it evolved many times nowadays it's main goals are more towards habitat protection even if many of its members are initially interested in feeding blue tits in their back gardens. In fact the parallels are striking as Camra could become a more general protector of beers' "habitat" (pubs, brewers, taxation, off sales, festivals, tv coverage etc) not just rare species of real ale.

Cooking Lager said...

@Tandleman Not a criticism of CAMRA, but a question. When we had a lager and a natter together at the CAMRA NWAF German beer bar, it wasn’t cask beer yet it was decent beer and I much enjoyed having a pint with you. If a British brewer provided a keg of lager brewed to the same authentic specifications as the German lagers (as some of them do), why couldn’t they showcase their beer at a CAMRA festival? If the German lager is acceptable then why would it require a radical rethink of CAMRA to stock the same thing brewed in Blighty? I ask as you are the man to ask.

Curmudgeon said...

It's all very well saying "you can change CAMRA via the AGM" but by definition there is only a limited number of members who are able and willing to make the effort to turn up, and there is a disproportionate representation of "old CAMRA". In practice, if it changes at all, it will change little by little from the bottom up, as beer festivals serve up a more eclectic range of foreign beers and newsletters drop the "fight the keg menace" line and celebrate a wider range of quality beer – as some are already doing.

kester said...

Ron Pattinson wrote:-

There was a great example of squabbling devisiveness at the weekend. There were two beer festivals in Belgium: the ZBF and the ACBF.

Maybe that's in itself a bit divisive. There were two beer festivals. One started on Friday and finished on Saturday at 4. The other started on Saturday at 12 and finshed on Sunday at 9.

One is organised by a craft brewery that invites their mates from around the world (majority non-Belgian brewers there). I'm afraid I never saw the line "future of brewing" in their publicity. The other is organised by a confederation of Belgian beer tasters groups and is a celebration of just Belgian beer and breweries.

The two live side by side absolutely fine; and it's easy enough to go to both (well except that Alvinne Craft brewery is in the middle of b..... nowhere).

Beer said...

Superb post, Pete. I agree with every word. Snobbishness about beer newcomers to beer off, so let's drop it and get more people drinking it.

RichardB said...

Great post Pete, completely agree about not denegrating certain beer styles over others, its all beer. I do perceive a genuine change happening in the market place though and its in spite of CAMRA not because of them.. If they choose to continue with the line that Cask ale is the best way for all beers to be served, and refuse to accept different methods of dispense they will continue to lose credibility.

By the way deadmanjones has hit the nail on the head...

Jeff Pickthall said...

I quite agree that slagging off other people's beer choices is no way to promote good beer.

My beer choice was slagged off recently at the MWAF by a salesman for a northern regional brewery. He declared my unfiltered Czech pilsner to be "puffs' beer".

His sales technique rendered me even less likely to drink his employer's beer.

Kirsten said...

Really enjoyed reading this post.

Negativity breeds negativity.

Ron Pattinson said...

Kester, you should read what some of those attending the ACBF said about the ZBF. About it being boring. And the ACBF being the "future of brewing":

http://www.babblebelt.com/bbb_classic/readpost.html?id=1299479270

Most of those travelling for the ACBF didn't bother going to the ZBF. And, whereas previously the two festivals didn't overlap, this year they did. Now why exactly did the ACBF choose to do that?

Chris King said...

But who is really in a position to quantify what great beer is, if it then goes against the tastes of others – is it simply because they want to push an ideal on to others? Others that already think their beer is great?

The notion that we should be more inclusive and accept things, not on face value but after careful consideration – flies out of the window once a CAMRA member makes a statement that goes against the Beer Revolution’s approved mantra. Then it is CAMRA this, CAMRA that – no consideration that it is an individual speaking out.

Will this state of inclusiveness run past the next offering of an easy target on a plate, which allows for a quick blog post about branding, marketing or view points?

If there is to be a Beer Revolution, setting out the arguments needs to be done in a way where it doesn't just read like a constant moan about the “Kevins” of the world. As occasionally, when the anger burns strong in the revolutionaries, it’s hard not to feel slightly sympathetic for the (misguided??) cause of those being targeted - when all they want is to maintain the quality of their great beer.

Barm said...

How can we be positive when the likes of Greene King are fighting against consumer choice every step of the way?

Ben said...

Really well thought out and balanced post Pete, and a sound argument. My main criticism of a lot of smaller regional breweries (particularly local to me in Lancashire) is that they've mastered a couple of traditional styles, and that's about all they seem to make.

Fair play to them, a lot of them do it really well, and they're perfectly pleasant beers, but there's a serious lack of choice in local pubs and bars as a result. I'd love to see more local breweries showing a bit of creative flair and trying their hand at new styles and techniques, as well as continuing to do a great job at the 3.5% session bitter.

However, perhaps I'm being unfair, as the lads at Hawkshead readily inform me, local landlords are very very reluctant to put on anything outside of their narrow comfort zone, despite them wanting very much to brew new stuff and experiment.

Perhaps we all need to work together to positively educate drinking establishments and their staff on the merits of the vast array of styles that beer encompasses?

More "meet the brewer" style events in pubs/bars would be as good a way as any to provide more education for staff and punters alike I reckon.

Pete Brown said...

Chris, kind of get what you're saying, but (re)read the last few paras of my post.

Pete Brown said...

Chris, kind of get what you're saying, but (re)read the last few paras of my post.

Nick Boley said...

Tandleman, if Pete puts forward such a motion, I will gladly second it.

Chris King said...

Read and re-read, Pete.

I just feel it is a utopian view that may turn in to hogwash the next time a brand reignites the hatred from within (I expect a highlander "There can be only one" episode should Stella bring out their take on American craft beer.)

I tried Stella Black on Friday night. Thought it an ok lager, in the sense that - as Mark suggested earlier, if i was in a club or football ground and it was that or carling, i'd drink that. Had more going on in it than the carlsberg i had to drink the night before.

I did like the Lazy comment - and maybe now is the time within the revolution to out the movement's own lazy protagonists. I've heard talk of people giving IPA tastings whilst reading from your book and slagging off Green King. Or Brewers declaring that IPA is dead whilst slagging off other IPA producers.

Are you saying now is the time to draw a line in the sand, to make a swear box for any occasion when we slag off a "rival" beer and only promote great beer; that we think is great but we won't push it on to anyone unless they are open to it - and if they're not, and they happen to be a member of an organisation, then we will listen to their view point without hanging them out to dry?

I will continue to watch this space with interest.

Tandleman said...

Cookie: If any brewer is willing (as Bernard, Budvar and otherS are) to have their beers served by air pressure, I have it on the highest authority, that they will be considered for GBBF through the normal nomination routes.

Mudgie: Democracy is a bugger isn't it?

Jeff: I agree that generic slagging off other people's choice of drink, or method of dispense, is entirely unhelpful and inappropriate.

Curmudgeon said...

"Democracy is a bugger isn't it?"

But with no postal voting or representative delegate system it's very much a "democracy of the committed" and not necessarily representative of the wider membership.

Curmudgeon said...

Of course another area of conflict which means that the beer industry cannot speak with one voice is on-trade vs off-trade ;-)

Birkonian said...

The crticism of Alvinne's ACBF compared with ZBF was most unfair. As a CAMRA member for 35 years and former branch chairman I’m hardly in the craft beer terrorists’ camp and I’ve never ticked a beer in my life. I went to both festivals and found ACBF to have a wonderful range of beers from around the world that I would otherwise not have the chance to try. Plus Zyhtos is ridiculously busy and is not a pleasant experience anymore. Don’t forget that a number of Belgian microbreweries don’t attend Zythos I believe because of the fees charged.

Anonymous said...

Actually its not quite as easy to try and change things within CAMRA by entering a motion at the AGM.

We were naive enough to try this in 2008 because we wanted to get the campaign to move in a different direction and launch a new campaign. We gave the reasons for it and wanted to debate it at conference.

We submitted the motion and received a reply that it wasn't an avenue the campaign wanted to go down. An apparently democratic organisation didn't even want to put it to conference and instead a few blokes in a room decided what could and couldn't be debated.

Ironically they decided they did like the idea because they ran with it 18 months later, amid much fanfare in Whats Brewing about their brilliant idea!

Pete Brown said...

One error in the original version of the above post - I've been reminded that Roger did not ask the room to vote on whether CAMRA should expand its remit - that was Julian Grocock, who was chairing the debate. I've now corrected that in the post.

stephanos_lemon said...

First off I have enjoyed reading this post and the many comments. I agree that more should be done to present a united front on behalf of British brewers to get a fair deal for all involved in terms of taxation and availability. Perhaps a collective group similar to how the national cask ale report is comissioned could co-ordinate a joined up approach between the various campaigns.

I have to agree with the comments made about it being very difficult to get CAMRA to change direction when the AGM tends to be attended by poeple with free time available (i.e., the oldCAMRA retired members less open to change)and most progressive motions tend to be voted down. Last year a "fit for purpose" review was approved and I look forward to the findings of it next month.
I muat disagree that the good beer guide pubs are selected on "willingness to host a CAMRA meeting" perhaps some branches take that into consideration but has never been mentioned in any branch selection I have been a part of. Its solely on consistency of cask beer quality. It ia by no means an exhaustive list as branches only have a fixed number of entries allowed and inevitably some pubs would miss out.
One point is that if CAMRA should widen its remit is that the name would no longer hold true as the definition of real ale is integral to the organisation and that is something specific; so without changing the name it would be difficult to officially widen the remit. What is needed is something more all-encompassing.

I think that people need to be able to disparage beers that they do not like in order to encourage people to try something new. People won't be willing to try new beers if tehy see no problem with what they currently drink, we need a way to educate people positively so that the demand is there for beers other than national lager brands.

I disagree with the person that says they drink carling at gigs/clubs because they enjoy it, you drink it there because there are no other options available and some beer is better than no beer at all.

Martyn Cornell said...

One point is that if CAMRA should widen its remit is that the name would no longer hold true as the definition of real ale is integral to the organisation

Well, no, what is now called "real ale" only became known as that after Camra changed its name from "The Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale" to the snappier version. And as Pete points out, it looks like many younger Camra members couldn't give you a technical definition of "real ale" anyway.

There is nothing to prevent Camra promoting all sorts of good beer except the prejudices of what is now likely to be a small minority. Camra needs a Clause 4 moment.

And Tandleman - do those people who insist that Budvar can only be served at GBBF via air pressure also insist, when they're in Budovice, that they'll only drink air-pressure-served Budvar?

stephanos_lemon said...

I can Martyn...I'm 24 and have been a CAMRA member for almost 5 years.

But yes the real definition was created to suit the purposes of the organisation, I know it is possible for it to be changed but we need enough non oldCAMRA to turn up an AGM to get any motion through for aq top-down reorganisation. If even a motion to allow cask breather at dispense is overturned (and some oldCAMRA are for this) then anything more drastic is going to be laughed out of the venue unfortunately.

SteveF said...

Here's a good chance for beer lovers to put aside their differences. Prof Nutt has written another absurd anti-alcohol piece in the Grauniad:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/mar/07/safe-level-alcohol-consumption?

It's this kind of utter shit we should be joining together to fight. Nutt is dangerous because he is a scientist (though you wouldn't always know it) and sometimes says sensible things and has credibility as a result.

Tandleman said...

Tandleman - do those people who insist that Budvar can only be served at GBBF via air pressure also insist, when they're in Budovice, that they'll only drink air-pressure-served Budvar?

You'd have to ask them, but I know that Budvar don't mind at all. In fact they and Bernard supply their own air compressors to do so. Maybe you ought to tell them they are wrong and shouldn't do so.

The beer is fine too. If that matters.

rich! said...

Camra's voting system is clearly broken. So is their book of approved pubs.

But.

Until SIBA has a electorally-significant number of members, we have one major campaigning organisation.

Pete's point about the squabbling in the face of the Treasury and BMA assault on beer is the key point here.

Invite your MP down a local pub with good beer. Or to a brewery you love. Show them how this is part of being a community. Hell, encourage them to debate with the punters at the bar!

Accentuate the positive.

And remember not to annoy our potential allies. How many farmers sell to Carling? Brewdog? Greene King?

Tandleman said...

"Camra's voting system is clearly broken. So is their book of approved pubs."

Yawn.

Am I the only one that doesn't see why we shouldn't all work together on this? CAMRA, SIBA, BBPA and any other trade bodies.

Why does everyone or anyone have to change their beer beliefs to gain some political momentum? Sit round a table, thrash things out, set some points of commonality and work TOGETHER!

Rob Nicholson said...

Curmudgeon is completely right about the AGM process. The first thing CAMRA needs to sort out is it's archaic processes & procedures. Once that's sorted, we can move forward with more speed and not restricted by what can be shoehorned into a few short hours in Sheffield. The minority of members who get to the AGM do not represent the majority of CAMRA members.

And yes of course CAMRA needs to change as does everything.

We, in Macclesfield & East Cheshire, must be "new CAMRA" as we've just awarded our pub of the year to an aforementioned regional brewery pub - a Robinsons pub.

Rob Nicholson said...

May one also point out that CAMRA's aims are NOT JUST REAL ALE:

http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=about

In fact, real ale isn't mentioned in the list of aims instead it's "Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of our national heritage and culture".

Unfortunately, many CAMRA members, esp. those die hards, tend to overlook the other aims.

I'm tempted to see if we can give a non-real ale pub an award ;-) Like "Best community pub"...

Tandleman said...

Rob - That was the basis of the motion (which I seconded) that brought about the CAMRA review.

And CAMRA doesn't sort out its processes per se. The members do. That's you son.

Pete Brown said...

Tandleman's right in his last-but-one comment. Come on, although this post contains what I believe to be valid criticism of CAMRA, that was only part of what I was saying - I was saying the whole industry/beer community (if there is such a thing) is guilty of factionalism and internal strife, and that we should all put aside differences (at least sometimes) to work towards the common good -that is, the survival and promotion of beer at a time when it's under attack from all sides. I don't necessarily disagree with the comments made, but this thread is now turning into another anti-CAMRA tirade.

Can't we broaden the discussion back out a little? OK, so forward-thinking CAMRA members should work together to try to reform the organisation. But what else needs to happen? What else could brewers, bloggers, retailers, publicans do to make beer seem a little more positive and appealing?

Mark VP said...

Ron Pattinson wrote:

you should read what some of those attending the ACBF said about the ZBF. About it being boring. And the ACBF being the "future of brewing"

Like you said, some of those attending the ACBF said ZBF was boring. It's not the ACBF organisors who portray their festival as the future of brewing.

Most of those travelling for the ACBF didn't bother going to the ZBF. And, whereas previously the two festivals didn't overlap, this year they did. Now why exactly did the ACBF choose to do that?

I was a volunteer on both ACBF and ZBF, and many ACBF visitors did make it to ZBF. Even the ACBF organisor went to ZBF.
ACBF was forced to open on Saturday to make it at least viable for the organising brewery. Don't forget they paid the hotel rooms for all visiting brewers and their staff on Thursday and Saturday.
I wasn't happy about the overlap with ZBF either, but it couldn't be helped. I would have been even less pleased it ACBF and ZBF would have catered for the same crowd, but as you said yourself, they have completely different aims.
I realise that some die-hards find traditional Belgian beers and festivals dedicated to those beers, like ZBF, boring. It's a shame that they can no longer enjoy a "simple" beer, but that's their problem.
And I don't agree (and I'm sure neither do the ACBF organisors) that the beers featured on ACBF are the future of brewing. The beers of the future are those that people will drink. The average Belgian hasn't even discovered the beers featured on ZBF yet. I can't honestly see the average Belgian drinking the beers featured on ACBF on a regular basis. (Heck, you can't even find them in Belgium, that's why ACBF is so interesting for the advanced beer lover).
There's definitely room for both festivals.

Mark VP said...

Birkonian said...

Plus Zyhtos is ridiculously busy and is not a pleasant experience anymore. Don’t forget that a number of Belgian microbreweries don’t attend Zythos I believe because of the fees charged.

No, Zythos doesn't charge fees. Of course they take a commission on all tokens sold, but the brewers get their pitch for free.
All beers cost 1.20 euros (15 cl) to make it as easy as possible for the visitors. We hope to attract as many novices as possible and don't want to raise too many obstacles and thresholds. Naturally this makes it harder for the brewers who bring more expensive beers (matured beers, special ingredients,...). So a lot of the beers on ZBF will be beers considered by some die-hards to be boring. But then again Zythos' aim is to promote the Belgian beer culture. They need to reach new people, and the best way to do that is to offer them nice, easy, quality beers that the consumer can easily find in the off licences and that won't scare him away because it's too extreme. So you don't need huge amounts of more extreme beers anyway.

The problem with ZBF is that the venue is too small. Like you said, ridiculously busy on Saturday. But there's only room for 60 brewers, less than half of the total numbers of breweries in Belgium.
ZBF is commited to Belgian beers and wants to give all Belgian breweries a chance. That's why they are looking for larger venues (without a dramatic raise in the costs, to avoid having to charge fees from the attending breweries).

Martin Boz said...

Old CAMRA need to look at their own product before slagging others. My son has just turned 18 and as a long standing CAMRA member myself I thought a trip to Wigan Beer Festival would be a good education on beer styles, flavours and on sensible drinking. After a few different halves of warm, really flat over ripe ales were sampled, we retired to the foreign beer bar where we enjoyed non-cask beers from America, Belgium and Germany. I will not preach CAMRA to my son as I am a lover of great beers, however kept and presented. Not a great start if we want to encourage younger drinkers to cask. At least CAMRA allows a foreign beer bar at most festivals - otherwise we would have made an early exit.

Ed said...

I think the BBPA are more to blame for the drinks lobby being disunited. CAMRA and SIBA do their bit but it seems Diageo stop the BBPA getting involved.

Curmudgeon said...

I see Old CAMRA are proposing a motion at the 2011 AGM:

MOTION 12
This Conference recognises the importance of beer festivals to CAMRA in promoting real ale, real cider and real perry. As such, it instructs the Organisers of National events, such as the Great British Beer Festival, the National Winter Ales Festival and the Scottish Real Ale Festival, not to offer to the public, either directly or indirectly, alcoholic drinks other than real ale, real cider and real perry. Quality bottled beers from overseas countries that do not have a "Real Ale in a Bottle" tradition may be allowed at the Festival Organisers' discretion. It also encourages the Organisers of other CAMRA beer festivals to do likewise.

Proposed by Ron Elder
Seconded by Roger Preece

Pete Brown said...

OK, so Ron Elder and Roger Preece depress me beyond words. There are people out there who believe CAMRA is currently too broad in its scope? For fuck's sake people. Anyone who can be so negative, bigoted, small-minded, blinkered, snobbish, elitist, Luddite, UKIP-loving, xenophobic, ignorant, deluded, twattish and plain mean and miserable acts as a cancer upon the promotion of good beer to a broader audience, and the profile of beer in general. Michael Hardman must fucking love them.

Having said that, my comment from earlier today still holds. CAMRA members (I'm not one) please do all you can to defeat this motion. But CAMRA are not the only guilty parties here. What else can the beer industry and beer lovers do to promote more positivity in beer? To present a more united front? To make beer seem more appealing and less trainspotterish than these two twats would have you believe?

Anyone?

Anonymous said...

You're becoming such a bore Pete, a real bore!Try promoting the enjoyment of good beer instead of moaning about the factionalism amongst various model railway enthusiast boredom groups that you are anally obsessed with beyond the caring of even their members

Pete Brown said...

With reference to my new policy on anonymous criticism, as detailed under my Proud of Beer post:

Yeah, cos I never do anything at all to promote great beers do I, you clueless, spineless, chickenshit little dickwad.

(anyone who cares to make a similar criticism without the veil of anonymity will find a much more reasoned and less abusive response. Fair enough?)

Lee Williams said...

Pete, Very well written argument as always.

For me, the debate is a little more political.

The reason I only review beers from independently owned and operated or state run breweries on Hoptopia, is because I truly believe that macro breweries (and global food corporations for that matter) have, and continue to negatively affect society (local and global) from the ground up. I concede that it's a small gesture, but it's one I feel very passionately about. I simply do not want a small handful of businesses producing and controlling all of the worlds beer (and food.) That is a scary prospect for a plethora or reasons.

I believe in voting with my wallet as well as my palate. I would go as far as to say, that in 2011, it's arguably more powerful than voting via a ballot slip every couple of years.

Cheers,

Rob Nicholson said...

I won't be voting for the aforementioned motion because it dissuades (female) partners from attending which I don't think is a positive step forwards, not because I think having a foreign beer bar somehow detracts from real ale which is maybe the main reason for the motion.

But on the other hand, I can appreciate where the motion is coming from. If one has rules, one has to stick to them.

Whether those rules need reviewing is a different topic.

Rob Nicholson said...

Pete - something isn't stacking up here re: UKIP rant versus the "Proud" video from SIBA

Pete Brown said...

Rob - stacks up perfectly in my eyes. Read the intro to my post on the Prod of Beer video and that's exactly what I'm talking about. I don't believe you have to be a xenophobic bigot to be proud of what you're good at - other countries around the planet seem to manage it perfectly well. There's nothing in the SIBA vid that's 'anti' anyone else.

Tandleman said...

Re the CAMRA motion. I'll be tere and speaking against it in pretty vitriolc terms. It's just plain blood stupid.

The key bit anyway is this "Quality bottled beers from overseas countries that do not have a "Real Ale in a Bottle" tradition may be allowed at the Festival Organisers' discretion.".

Even if passed which I doubt, it is unenforceable.

DJ said...

I agree with Tandleman totally on this there needs to be a united front from CAMRA, SIBA, BBPA and other trade bodies. They can surely find enough common ground to use their combined power and lobby Government. Ultimately there is only only real issue that they need to agree on and that's the success of the beer industry in this country.

Paul Jones said...

As I said I am new to the industry so I am unsure about the history of co-operation (or otherwise) but when was the last time the people at the top of CAMRA, SIBA & BBPA sat in a room together and asked themselves do we have in common and what can we do to work together to promote beer in this country to save pubs and create jobs.

And if they have not done this in the last 6 months how can they justify their positions in their respective organisations.

TaleOfAle said...

Completely agree with Pete on this.
In Ireland we took what CAMRA did and stripped out the bolloxology of "cask only ale" and formed beoir.org

We promote good beer in general. Mostly Irish of course but we are all about consumer choice of good beer in general so we are very happy if an American or English craft beer makes it to our pubs.

And when it comes to talking about beer I can happily say that I never judge a beer without trying it. I may have assumptions that a pale lager is going to taste like very little at all but I will taste it and then sometimes be happily surprised.

That goes for the likes of Coors Light. I had a few of them one night because that was all my host had in the fridge(I also had some homebrew to even things out). Even he was not drinking them as they were a gift and I have him converted. I decided that Coors light tastes reminiscent of a lager (beer flavoured water etc) but really it is very good at what it does. It provides refreshment without filling you up. To me that may not be entirely enough to make me want to drink it but on a hot day it would go down very well.

Gary Gillman said...

Trainspotting. Ticking. So many wine drinkers keep notes of what they drink, and some even write books about it. Isn't that ticking? But wine is "different" I suppose... When will these irrational but long-held attitudes finally wither?

Beer drinkers and lobbies should boost beer as a whole, not just any part of it. People may disagree whether Carling, say, is a fine beer, but then there is plenty of dross in the wine and whisky worlds too. It will just confuse people who like to poke fun at the trainspotters and tickers to vaunt just one category of beer.

CAMRA should remain CAMRA because they do a great job to support real ale which is the finest beer in the world. Nonetheless, all concerned with beer should indeed accentuate the positive. The more good things are said and acknowledged about beer as such, the better the chances are its taxation will fall short of confiscatory and the current proliferation of small breweries will continue.

Gary

Stono said...

so Im guessing Brew Dogs latest pr offensive with their "crap beer amnesty" isnt quite what you were hoping for then :(

this isnt just a camra problem however the debate is framed. Pete I know you covered it properly in your post, and its just everyones latched only on to the camra part in the comments (again), but its important to understand it isnt just the old stick in the muds causing planet beer grief, there are shiny new "progressive" brewers going round saying negative stuff like “...fizzy, yellow so-called ‘beers’ pushed on the unsuspecting public by big breweries should be treated as a crime."

Id like to think if CAMRA ever put something like that in a press release, theyd be heavily and rightly criticised for it, Id like to think the same would be true if anyone did frankly.

but then that destroys the whole positivity, planet beer thing, so how do you get around this stuff and get everyone to buy into positiveness.

DB said...

I've got to say Pete that I was pretty disgusted in your foul-mouthed and abusive rant concerning your thoughts on the CAMRA AGM motion put forward by Ron Elder and Roger Preece.

Surely someone like yourself can express their opinion in a more intelligent manner than that? Hardly the kind of reasoned opinion that is worthy of someone who was once a beer writer of the year is it?

Would you not agree that some of the terms you used to describe these two chaps were uncalled for and apologise?

Your blog is usually a good source of opinion and debate and is read by a lot of people so hopefully the standards of this will not slide into petty, childish comments such as that one.

Eddie86 said...

Pete, you keep asking what we can do. Well, as publicans, hopefully we've started:

http://www.thepublican.com/story.asp?sectioncode=7&storycode=69201

Billy Cheer said...

A more balanced post, it has felt in the blogosphere lately that the only people who can't say what they like and dislike are real ale focused CAMRA members. This has surprised me because obsessiveness and dogma are far more of a problem amongst American craft beer enthusiasts. Dogma about style is a good example and this is more annoying because they are usually wrong.

A more balanced post but it does feel a bit like "some of my best friends are CAMRA members". Until I started reading beer blogs I was largly unaware of these divisions. Most of my understanding of these divisions in the world of beer enthusiasm, in my mind, focus around your postings. I see craft beer bloggers writing as if their is some kinda war on but I don't see see it out there, people get just get along with their differences.

Some people like to know if the beef has been hung for 20 days, some people like to know if the beer has been pasteurised, filtered and served by gas and believe that the best beer is the one that answers these questions in the negative. Rightly or wrongly this is how they enjoy beer, label them and insult them for it and you are the bigot.

Think what you like drink what you like.

Henry Jeffreys said...

'in wine, you never hear people promoting good wine by slagging off cheap wine'. This isn't true. Many wine writers compare the manipulated techniques used in making most wines unfavourably with less interventionist techniques used in making artisan products. The whole 'natural wine' movement is a reaction against wine as an industrial product.

Good article though. Thanks

Stewart Ross said...

With you 100% Pete. As a brewer, beer lover and CAMRA member, I see the aim as always being to replace bland homogenous products on the bar with tastes that excite, satisfy and occasionally challenge the drinker. It’s not how its dispensed it’s what it tastes like hat’s the issue. Inclusivity is the key to continuing the fight against multi-national blandness.

Anonymous said...

Please forgive the veil of anonymity... LOBI have offered (albeit indirectly) to provide free beer and install air dispense fonts, all for free, for either the main bars, or even just the Staff Bar, at the GBBF for the last 2 years. There has been no response, other than a comment that "it's not really what we're trying to do..." Personally I've had some excellent UK brewed keg beers, and would have no problem enjoying them at a beer festival. CAMRA's hypocrisy is extremely frustrating.

Barley McHops said...

Pete,
After a brief back-and-forth with Mr. Cornell about "Extremophiles" (mostly from my end as I read his site religiously and I can't imagine why he would have any interest in reading mine), I've spent some time thinking about the recent spate of factionalism in the craft beer world. After some internal debate, I wrote a piece that echoes your sentiments.

Your post and the following comments focus on CAMRA which is understandable considering your mostly UK-based audience. My post reflects the Balkanization of American craft beer drinkers. It seems to be a problem everywhere, unfortunately. I would argue that it's simply a reflection of craft beer's "success" and that such internal friction is inevitable when something goes from "nascent" to "burgeoning". Nevertheless, I agree with you that it's a real problem. We're all in this together and respect should be the watchword of the day. I'm as guilty as anyone of violating that tenet, but I plan on making a concerted effort to correct that problem in the future.

Thank you for touching on this crucial issue and for your eloquent prose, as always.

Slainte,
Brother Barley