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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, 30 May 2011

CAMRA. Shotgun. Foot. Again.

So CAMRA have been inventing new enemies again.

Zythophile informs us that, according to chairman Colin Valentine, beer bloggers hate CAMRA, hate cask ale and wish everyone would just drink keg beer.  We have no respect for history and can't even define our beloved 'craft beer' properly.

What's set Colin off is the growing contention that keg beer has changed over the last forty years, and that some brewers who create amazing cask beers now also produce amazing keg beers.  In Colin's strange little world, the fact that one has some carbonation and the other doesn't makes the one with carbonation evil.  Some bubbles make, say, keg Camden Pale or Punk IPA more similar to Watneys Red than to their respective cask versions.  And if we tolerate them, we'll all suddenly want to drink really shit keg beer again.

"What's Brewing, Mr Ludd?"

CAMRA chairpersons have form when it comes to creating imaginary enemies on which to vent their spleen and look tough.  One of my first ever blog posts saw me first try out my ranting style when Col's predecessor, Paula Waters, thought it would be a good idea to use the one occasion when CAMRA has the ear of the national press to suggest that lager drinkers who might be curious about trying real ale were not welcome at the 2006 Great British Beer Festival.

But I'm not going to rant here.  I don't need to.  As I tweeted over the weekend, it's far more damning simply to draw attention to what these people say.

It's just such a shame that when CAMRA is doing so much good, the chairperson - of all people - publicly says something that takes it back to the dark ages, that deliberately antagonises people who are by and large on the same side - people who are in total agreement when it comes to CAMRA's stated aim: "CAMRA promotes good-quality [sic] real ale and pubs, as well as acting as the consumer's champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry".

The fact that as one of the more visible of those nasty bloggers who has argued passionately for good quality keg ale, I also write the annual Cask Report which has been credited with doing quite a bit to spread cask ale in pubs, is something which seemingly does not compute in this paranoid, binary 'us and them' world. For Colin and for Roger Protz - who has also recently attacked 'noisome bloggers' for daring to suggest that, after having largely achieved its aim in saving real ale, after forty years CAMRA might just be able to, y'know, evolve to take account of the fact that it's not 1971 any more - we don't want to encourage CAMRA to evolve; we want to destroy it and all it has achieved.

I really am not interested in going over the same old "the clue is in the name, idiot" arguments.  Instead, I want to make one observation.

Over the last four years, while I've been doing the Cask Report, I've spent a great deal of time reviewing research on the reasons why more people don't drink more real ale more often.  Some of the most important pieces of research have been done with CAMRA.  We work very well together.

The main barriers to cask ale - according to the people who don't drink it, or drink it only occasionally, are as follows:

  • Lack of knowledge - people simply don't know where to start
  • Lack of confidence - linked to the above, not knowing what to order.  People regularly say that if samples were offered, they would try them.  The irony is that those who already know real ale are perfectly comfortable asking for samples; those who really need to try samples are not.
  • Lack of a reason - they're perfectly happy with what they're already drinking.  (To them, lager is not horrible 'chemical fizz', and you're not going to convince them it is by telling them they have no taste.  And wine is a perfect drink when you want flavour, complexity, sophistication, and something to match with food.)  For most people, while many of the stigmas around real ale have disappeared, there's nothing about it that makes them think they have to try it.  It lacks the social currency and image values that would make it a cool choice at the bar.  (Remember, this doesn't apply for everyone - just the vast majority of people who don't drink it).
  • Issues around quality - it's inconsistent, and a bad pint can put off a novice for life
  • Image - from some.  It's important to distinguish between two negative stereotypes here.  The geeky, socks and sandals image of real ale does not exist for mainstream non-drinkers - it's only people who go to beer festivals already who worry about this stereotype.  But the other negative stereotype - which happens to be completely untrue when you look at the stats - is that it's a drink for old men with flat caps and whippets.  In the words of one focus group respondent, drinking real ale on a night out is not going to help you pull. 
He's actually far more likely to be drinking John Smiths Smoothflow, you know.

Those are the main barriers to "promoting good quality real ale" in pubs.  CAMRA know this - they are an active and vital part of the coalition that directs me to write the Cask Report, and some of this is from their own research.  So you'd think that these would be the issues that CAMRA would devote most of its time to addressing.

Instead, an admittedly unscientific trawl of press releases, online chatter, articles and speeches by people like Rog and Col, suggests that in many of their most visible interactions with the public, CAMRA mouthpieces spend most of their time addressing the following:
  • Cask breathers are bad - thou shalt not put a blanket of CO2 on top of thy beer to extend its life
  • Keg ale is bad - bubbles are dangerous
  • Lager is horrible chemical fizz - i.e., it's bad
  • The tie operated by large PubCos is bad
  • Not being served a full pint of beer is bad
  • Big brewers of real ale buying smaller brewers of real ale is bad
  • Pretty much anything that's not 'traditional' (whatever that means) is probably bad
Now let me be the first to point out that beer festivals, particularly the Great British Beer Festival, the Good Beer Guide, campaigns like Mild Month and so on, do a great deal to promote cask ale in a really positive way.  A lot of what the professional arm of the Campaign for Real Ale does is excellent.  And there are one or two of the issues above that I actually agree with!

But I'm suggesting that what the campaigning arm of CAMRA talks about most is parochial, uninteresting to 95% of beer drinkers, and does nothing - absolutely nothing - to address what CAMRA knows are the biggest barriers to achieving its stated aim.

I've never heard CAMRA calling for a widespread campaign to give samplers out to novice drinkers.  I've never seen them effectively trying to address the image issue (please, no one even try to suggest the horrible 'pint head' thing does anything other than damage real ale's image further.) In terms of education, one might argue the Cyclops scheme addresses this - except I've just been involved with two separate research projects among real ale drinkers and not one person in 15 focus groups across the UK has ever seen it.

MISSING: Have you seen this beer rating scheme?

Keg versus cask, cask breathers etc are of deep, passionate interest to the most committed, active, vocal CAMRA members.  They're of no interest whatsoever to the average beer drinker - the potential real ale drinker.

Those advocating that CAMRA might consider evolving to reflect the reality of the modern beer scene do so because they recognise that CAMRA has a vital role to play in the promotion of good beer.  We do so because we recognise that setting up a 'campaign for good keg beer' entirely misses the point - it makes issues of dispense method and carbonation when these are NOT the issues, and it formalises an antagonistic relationship between two factions of people who are equally passionate about great tasting beer.  I don't want to bring up the Judean People's Popular Front again, but seriously, can you not see the parallels?

Whenever I or anyone else says anything like this, the same thing always happens.  Many CAMRA members write to say they agree with me.  One or two, Tandleman being the main example, usually disagree with me but do so in a way that is based on rational argument, engaging with the issues raised and challenging my view of things in a reasonable, constructive manner.  But the people with the loudest voices and the biggest potential to engage in constructive debate shy away from direct argument, retreat to their heartland and make tub-thumping speeches at conferences and in What's Brewing where they seem genuinely offended and outraged that these newly-imagined enemies of CAMRA even DARE to suggest such heresies, because if CAMRA were to, I dunno, allow Meantime keg beers or Freedom lagers to be sold with gas at beer festivals, before you know it we would all be zombies drinking Watney's Red - itself miraculously back from the dead.

These two beers are EXACTLY the same.  Can you not SEE that?

Guys - you are doing your campaign - and real ale - a grave disservice.  I know you'll never agree with me, but can you not at least see that in making this post, I'm not attacking real ale?

Most beer bloggers are passionate real ale advocates - it's just that we, like the public, judge a beer on how it's made and how it tastes rather than how it's served.  And for that, Chairman Col et al think we are the enemy.

The irony is that thanks to his hostile, knee-jerk approach, with this constant paranoid focus on the wrong targets, keg-drinking bloggers like Mark Dredge, Zythophile and RabidBarFly do more to usefully, truly promote real ale to new converts than someone like Colin Valentine ever will.

53 comments:

Richard said...

"CAMRA promotes good-quality [sic] real ale and pubs, as well as acting as the consumer's champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry".

CAMRA's mission statement. They promote real ale and pubs by denying everything else is valid competition for real ale. Fair enough, it's their campaign, after all.

But your point is spot on Pete, it's time for them to concentrate on promoting real ale to new drinkers - to truly be the 'consumers champion' rather than 'members champion'.

If they want to attract new members and new drinkers - and they must want to, surely - then now is the time, otherwise these hordes of rampaging lagerboys might discover kegged beer and be lost forever...

Jason Potts said...

Yep, Unfortunately, as a drinker of all variety of beers, I don't waste money on CAMRA membership. Their small minded commitee politics & unwillingness to accept outsiders, ESPECIALLY lager drinkers, & barking up the wrong tree about the reasons why pubs are shutting down totally puts me off. They need to broaden their horizons, modernise their image & take a sociable, out-going approach to their campaigns. After all, that's what drinking is all about isn't it?
Oh yeah, Why do they accept cider drinkers into their fold over lager drinkers?

Curmudgeon said...

Most people who are potentially going to try cask beer will be "repertoire drinkers" who will also drink other types of beer, and to tell them that Carling is vile chemical fizz and they're idiots or dupes for drinking it is insulting and counter-productive.

It is perfectly possible for CAMRA to take the line "we exist to promote cask beer, but we recognise there are plenty of good beers in the world outside that definition, and we're perfectly relaxed about that". Some of its members do, but sadly all too often that is not the message that comes across.

And Colin Valentine must have been feeling a little bit rattled otherwise he wouldn't have adopted such a defensive and confrontational tone. You don't need to do that if you feel supremely confident about your message.

stephanos_lemon said...

In answer to your final question, of course you aren't. I think Colin's speech at the AGM was designed to provoke a reaction, but perhaps hadn't thought through that bloggers would be reporting on the AGM. He was trying to curry favour with the AGM attending CAMRA old guard, which as has already been pointed out are conservative (small c) of the status quo and are very unlikely to vote against the national executive. Any progressive motions tend to be resolutely defeated and even the "fit for purpose" review seemed to not actually answer the questions people wanted answered; i.e., "Has CAMRA met with its aims" and if this is the "Should CAMRA now have a new set of aims" or even "Should CAMRA disband". Until the old guard start to move on the active members with more modern ideas will continue to be trampled upon.
I do however think in this instance the difference between adressing your members at a members only event and a public statement has been neglected and thus the reaction to Colin's comments has been OTT.

Gareth said...

Another great article. As an ex-publican for a small real-ale chain and a Wine and Spirits diploma student I find it saddening to see CAMRA's exclusive attitude and attempts to damage the reputation of beers we should be proud of.
I don't see the wine trade engaging in this sort of petty back-biting. In following wine bloggers it is noticeable how there is much more of a inclusive attitude - wine drinkers are wine drinkers - without needing an attitude that suggests that drinking the wrong sort of wine makes you a lesser person. Like it or not, the wine industry needs supermarket wine to get people drinking wine rather than some sort of lurid coloured alcopop, and in a similar way, much as we might dislike admitting to it, those of us who enjoy craft beers need the big breweries to get people to try beer, any sort of beer, in the first place. Craft beer, good real ale and well made wines are an acquired taste, and setting rules about what should or should not be tried that are over and above the relative merits of the drink itself is not only making CAMRA look stupid, but jeopardising the whole industry that they rely on for their much-vaunted ale. It’s the hand that feeds you guys!

jesusjohn said...

A very good article. I agree totally with this and, unlike some, do see:

a) a danger down the line that CAMRA will look less and less relevant;

b) annoyance - even among CAMRA members - that there is insufficient focus on the real issues you mention of popularising cask beer and lining up to defend and promote the industry against its powerful foes.

However, I do also agree with Tandleman that in essence CAMRA is a membership organisation and it will take members, putting motions and turning up to meetings, to change it.

Now I think it's a bad show that the AGM feels so unrepresentative - anyone can take the weekend off and go and vote but individual online or proxy voting should be possible for an organisation boasting 125,000. And efforts to engage the slient, supping majority into becoming active members are notable by their absence. Even What's Brewing has - how best to put this? - a parochial voice that I'm guessing won't have your average 'joined at a beer fest' member racing to get involved.

But as with those who left Labour after the Blairite excesses, those jumping ship or not getting involved - and I've not volunteered for a long, long while I must admit - will only have ourselves to blame if the organisation isn't built as we would like.

Tandleman said...

Funnily enough, I don't really disagree with Pete on that much. On some things yes, but not all.

I do take issue with the new wave of keg beers being well over gassed for example (and serving of cask beer suffers from its own flaws too.) Nothing is guaranteed at the point of dispense by either method regrettably.

Don't forget either I was the joint instigator of the CAMRA review and its 50 odd recommendations. One of these concerns more attention to be given to quality issues and there are plenty more. These recommenadtions have now been passed on for implementation and will be monitored closely by me and the Review Group and we will hold the NE to account.

It is my suggestion that CAMRA meet SIBA and IFFB at least twice a year to discusss common issues. SIBA can bring keg beer up there. In other words I am not the enemy either, as some would have it, but there is more than one way to skin a cat.

I think too we have all seen pejorative attacks on CAMRA and its members by various bloggers and tweeters. So Colin has hit back? Big deal. Like me he probably hates to see his friends denigrated. Wouldn't anyone?

JesusJohn says "individual online or proxy voting should be possible for an organisation boasting 125,000"

The problem with that is that it is the activists that have to implement things. A recipe for disaster. No what you have to do to change is convince people by rational argument to the point that they want to come along and vote for your policies and proposals.

And finally Pete carbonation does matter. It affects taste and enjoyment.

Andrew Bowden said...

As a CAMRA member, the "CAMRA stance" is increasingly looking hypocritical to me.

I mean if CAMRA did nothing but promote cask ale, then fine. There's no problem.

However it's got a sizeable cider and perry wing. This has nothing to do with cask ale.

It does pub based promotion and campaigning. This is marginally linked with cask ale but arguable.

It promotes and spends a lot of time talking about foreign beers - Belgian and Budvar in particular. This has nothing to do with cask ale.

CAMRA is already acting way outside of its original and "standard" definition. embracing Belgian keg beers whilst not embracing British keg ones is just hypocritical in my book.

I'm a cask fan. I will drink craft keg beers but I'd always prefer a cask version (Meantime's London Pale Ale for example, is far superior in cask form than keg IMHO) but I am increasingly struggling to reconcile the CAMRA line.

Of course we could try and change this. We could be the ones at the AGM trying to change CAMRA. Are we going to rise to the challenge?

Andy said...

At the risk of raising my head above the parapet, by taking an alleged comment made by the current CAMRA chairman as the views of CAMRA as an organisation, I think that you are making the same mistake of over-generalising. CAMRA as a whole is not anti-lager - it is opposed to the bland rubbish produced by beer factories that is passed off as lager, but how much of that beer is actually lagered? I agree with your point that life is not as black and white as the most bigoted CAMRA activists suggest - some(/lots of?) real ale is very poor quality and some(/lots of?) keg beer is good quality. The biggest problem I have with CAMRA in recent years that the importance of quality has been forgotten. Despite being one of the stated aims of the Campaign, the only regular activity to promote quality is the production of the Good Beer Guide. Even then politics prevails in many areas, with quality barely mentioned as a selection criteria - the range of beers is more important to many of those who select the pubs for entry to the Good Beer Guide. Most CAMRA press releases seem to stress the importance of choice and diversity. Taking that approach to its logical conclusion, promoting keg beer should fit in nicely...
I agree that it is about time that CAMRA woke up to the fact that not all real ale is good and not all keg beer is bad. Ensuring that all the real ale sold at CAMRA beer festivals is good quality would be a great start, but there's no sign of that happening anytime soon. The only way to change CAMRA's policies are to discuss them with the relevant people within CAMRA and persuade members at the National AGM that your proposals would be in the best interests of the Campaign. CAMRA is not the only organisation that promotes beer and it would be better to work together, but partnerships should still be allowed to have differences of opinion.

Pete Brown said...

Some fair points - Andy, I totally take your point about generalisation and have tried in recent posts such as this not to criticise CAMRA as a whole, and to recognise the different views that exist within it. My beef here is that the chairman speaks on behalf of the organisation, and what the chairman says often represents the most alarmingly backward sections of membership.

Tandy - glad we agree on much of it. I've seen your comments about Colin's right to attack bloggers, because bloggers attack CAMRA, and to a point that is fair enough. I will also take on board the point made elsewhere that it was to members rather than to a public forum. All I would say in return is that I can't speak for anyone else, but I try to keep my criticism linked to specific policies, actions and speeches. I like to think I'm accurate. By contrast, what I've seen of Colin's speech, beyond the basic fact that bloggers drink keg ale, seems to be false and inaccurate to the point of being delusional.

jesusjohn said...

I suggested CAMRA use online or proxy voting for the AGM:

Tandleman replied: 'The problem with that is that it is the activists that have to implement things. A recipe for disaster. No what you have to do to change is convince people by rational argument to the point that they want to come along and vote for your policies and proposals.'

I'm afraid that won't cut it in an age where people expect a say. Those with a Nationwide account get a vote at the AGM in the post. As a member of the Labour party, I had a postal vote on the leader of the party and - no sniggering at the back, you get my point - effectively the potential prime minister. My vote in the referendum came in the post.

Even a blinkered real ale fanatic - and I do *not* mean you, Tandy - would have to concede these votes are rather more important. And yet the emphasis is reaching out, not expecting others to travel across the country.

I rather suspect AGM would be better reclassified as a Conference, where CAMRA branches send elected delegates (perhaps Chairmen ex officio) who are mandated to vote along the lines adopted by their own branch in a series of votes. No reason why individual members should be denied the opportunity to go as observers, of course.

From my experience of various volunteering organisations and political bodies - the trouble is this arcane stuff (the set up of meetings, the constitution, the electoral/policy making process) is genuinely fundamental to the success of an organisation.

Yet it is the least exciting aspect of it and the most alienating to outsiders.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the underlying problem the bureaucratization of ideas around consumer choice and personal taste? Reading about falling in line with a system of committees of committees or being castigated for being part of a problem is all a bit Orwellian. Add to that the cloud of personal interest from position and even employment, it is really difficult to follow what is actually being discussed.

Alan
A Good Beer Blog

Tandleman said...

Pete - I think I was trying to convey saying that one can't really be surprised rather than anything else.

JJ - I take your point, but you'd have to change a lot of CAMRA's rules to do what you suggest. Maybe even the articles of association and that'd have to go through the AGM. Surprisingly the AGM attendees are fairly open minded to the reasonable.

Thomas said...

There is an online vote for the next guy, I voted for Tim Webb of course.

The CAMRA hirearchy sysem is clearly not doing them any favours. I've had arguments on scopergen saying keg beer is good just as cask ale is but it's conditioning and how it is served over how it is dispensed.

I am still passionate about cask ale, however to wrongly criticise a whole group of blogerarti and young keg drinking hipsters isn't going to become attractive for the casual drinker.

Camra are forgetting that they need to grow and become diversified for their future. They aren't targetting this. They are pretty out of touch with the rest of society so for them it is easier to attack it then to encourage it to drink their style of dispensing.

I am sub 30 and I have grown up with both keg and real ale. I don't have a problem with either. What I do have a problem is with how they are conditioned and served. If they are not conditioned properly I will be angry.

Camra do a lot of great and have shot themselvese in the foot again. I don't see younger members being enticed to drink real ale if people they are aware about are attacked, if bloggers tell them cask ale is good they will eventually try it.

I am deeply upset by Mr Valentin's aggressive speech and have recently quit Camra. I know they send casks out to America for American brewers to make their beer for however what is stupid is often they don't educate American brewers on the cast style so it's entirely pointless.

They need to educate people on cask instead of spending vital agm time with wind up calls against an online community they clearly perceive as a great threat to their rigid and old organisation.

Don't forget one of their founding members also fell out with them. It is an old guard organisation and old habbits don't die easily. Camra get in touch and recruit bloggers like us to explain to the public what cask is before humiliating us in public.

Great post as ever Pete.

Thomas said...

Cara have indeed shot themselves in the foot again. I fully agree with your post Pete and am inclind to wonder if any positives were made out of the recent AGM as it appears there isn't.

Mr Colin Valentine is the puppet for the old guard. The anti keg cask ale only short-sitedness that is why Camra isn't going in any other direction than backwards.

They have recently denied fruit flavoured ciders which is sad as fruit flavoured ciders are stunning. Next up they will probably ban lambic from the foreign beer stalls at their regional festivals. Say no to added fruit. It's not real fruit.

I'm particularly upset that Mr Valentine hasn't taken any time out to read the online blogerarti's opinions. I've not seen him with bloggers I regularly see in public. I've NEVER shared a pint with him. I've shared a pint with many a blogger though.

Mr Valentine and this hirarchy are not easy to find to ask to discuss opinions with. Camra is very political in terms of its system yet you can oust someone in terms of a voting-teir system.

If Valentine has convinced his followers and Camra that bloggers are full of keg swiging lisers then he needs to look at himself. He's not read the blogs we write. He's not seen us consume polypins of cask conditioned beer.

It's rediculous for him to be this judgemental. I have quit Camra this year and I am very pleased I have done so. Until someone like Tim Webb is in the hirarchy or if someone stands up for common sense then I will re-join.

However I don't like being told how to drink my beer by an organisation that clearly knows no better and this is exactly what Camra currently is.

We now need to work extra hard to convince young people to drink ale as Mr Valentine isn't advocating that when he should be at the AGM's.

Jon Jefferson said...

I realized something from the comments as well as the reading of this post...

The battle between real ale and keg beer in your country is very similar to the battle between mass market lager and craft beer in my country (the US). This tends to fall mainly in the attitudes that one side has toward the other.

It is interesting to note that you can find good and bad on either side but the pundits will fight strongly to defend their positions.

Tandleman said...

"They are pretty out of touch with the rest of society"

It is tempting to say something cutting here, but I'll just shake my head sadly. The certainty of the young that the world revolves around them eh?

It was nice while it lasted of course, but it doesn't.

Ian Garrett said...

Like Tandleman I can agree with a lot of what Pete says, but at the end of the day CAMRA is about preserving Real Ale, that's what it was set up for and how its constitution is framed.
Some have questioned why CAMRA supports REAL Cider & Perry, it's quite simple really and should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense. Motions were put to the AGM and adopted, simples!
Now all those who wish CAMRA to campaign for the vaguely monickered craft beer can follow the lead of those who thought it a good idea to support REAL Cider & Perry.
As for the suggestion that on line voting should be available for the AGM, well we live in a participatory democracy, as a Labour Party Member I too can vote in a leadership election, BUT I can't vote on conference motions if I'm not at conference as a delegate. CAMRA doesn't have a delegate system.
As for Pete's points about the barriers to cask ale I have to admit I find some of them contradictory, if there is lack of knowledge about cask ale then how come there appears to be knowledge that allows someone to choose Carling? And why is there no lack of confidence in choosing said Carling?
Thomas, yes we've been sending casks to USA, it's our way of encouraging the American brewers to produce more cask beer for the home market. It's been happening for many years as a reciprocal arrangement with NERAX. And there's no such style as cask!
Finally a point about Colin hitting back, it's sad that many bloggers have been highly critical of CAMRA yet get in a tiswas when Colin snaps back. Some bloggers have been insulting about CAMRA and have denigrated the work it has done, if the 'bloggerati' continue to behave like a pack they must expect, and accept criticism.

jesusjohn said...

Ian said: 'As for the suggestion that on line voting should be available for the AGM, well we live in a participatory democracy, as a Labour Party Member I too can vote in a leadership election, BUT I can't vote on conference motions if I'm not at conference as a delegate. CAMRA doesn't have a delegate system.'

...and as I suggested, I believe CAMRA ought to consider a delegate system so more members are involved in national decision making at branch level and do not have to fork out as individuals to spend the weekend somewhere to be heard.

Anonymous said...

GET A LIFE SO CAMRA DONT WANT TO SPEAK TO YOU DO YOU WONDER WHY ?

Andrew Bowden said...

"Some have questioned why CAMRA supports REAL Cider & Perry, it's quite simple really and should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense. Motions were put to the AGM and adopted, simples!"

Absolutely. There is no reason why a craft beer motion couldn't be put to AGM. Would it be adopted? Probably not because of the blinkers that the hardcore who go to AGM wear.

This battle has been waging in the pages of What's Brewing as well - there are plenty of people in CAMRA who recognise this. But are they in a majority at AGM? I doubt it.

Pete Brown said...

Hurrah! The return of the anonymous poster!

Hi Anon, just wanted to thank you for clearing something up for me. I've been puzzled for a while as to why people who write comments like yours never leave their names. You just made me realise: it's because you're too fucking stupid to spell it.

Pete Brown said...

Hurrah! The return of the anonymous poster!

Hi Anon, just wanted to thank you for clearing something up for me. I've been puzzled for a while as to why people who write comments like yours never leave their names. You just made me realise: it's because you're too fucking stupid to spell it.

John Clarke said...

Pete - yes and we were treated to block capitals too. Shame you can't comenet in colour 'cos you just know it would be green don't you?

Bt the way - largely agree with most of what you've said. While I am unpersuaded that CAMRA should "adopt" craft keg, or whatever you may wish to call it, there needs at least to be a grown up acknowledgement that it:

a) exists and

b) can be pretty good and

c) is not filtered and pasteurised "chemical fizz" and

d) can co-exist quite happily with cask

By the way - bit surprised by the inclusion of Camden Pale Ale in your Top 50. I found it very dull - and this is a view shared by others I know who have tried it. And yes, I had it on keg too.

Martyn Cornell said...

Ian Garrett: "CAMRA is about preserving Real Ale, that's what it was set up for and how its constitution is framed. Well, no - Camra was set up to "revitalise ale", to try to reverse the tidal wave of appallingly poor beer that was washing across Britain in the early 1970s (I was there, and keg really was undrinkable). The expression "real ale" was invented after Camra was founded, and the name of the organisation was changed because Campaign for Real Ale was a lot snappier than Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. Unfortunately the whole idea of "real ale" quickly became fetishised to the point that "real ale" as defined by Camra came to be seen by many activists as the only "good beer". Which, much though I love it myself, it ain't. And if Camra really wants the title of "the consumer's champion" then it should be championing good beer, not just "real ale".

Phil said...

Maybe I've led a sheltered life, but I've never met anyone who would own up to believing that all good beer was cask ale, or for that matter that all cask ale was good beer. CAMRA doesn't cover all good beer and never has done - nor should it. Nor, for that matter, does CAMRA necessarily stand for choice and variety in beer, or for innovation in styles. CAMRA is a campaign for the revitalisation of cask beer, not a tickers' club.

As for the idea of craft keg as a Trojan horse, which Pete pours scorn on, I have to say that I'm glad to see this raised even as an object of ridicule, because I think it's worth taking a bit more seriously. I've had keg beer from a brewer whose cask beers I regularly rave about; Tandleman has blogged about a similar experience, although I think it was a different brewer. Our tasting notes agreed: the beer was too cold and too gassy, and it didn't have the depth of flavour that might have been expected. Also (in my case at least) it was more expensive than I'd have expected the cask beer to be. A commenter on Tandleman's post conceded that keg beers might have a less complex flavour profile than their cask counterparts, but pointed out that at least they lasted longer and were more consistent!

Scores on the doors for 'craft keg':

Pro: shelf life, consistency
Con: flavour, temperature, carbonation, price

Remind you of anything?

Rob Nicholson said...

>are very unlikely to vote against the national executive

I think you will find that this is not the case at all esp. with one very critical motion this year. CAMRA's core structures are well overdue for an overall and as Tandleman hinted at, the review he help instigate will be the starting point.

I don't like the trade-union like way the AGM runs. It makes me feel very uneasy. It is also very undemocratic. If a company had to run by only making decisions once a year...

Rob.

Rob Nicholson said...

>And if Camra really wants the title of "the consumer's champion" then it should be championing good beer, not just "real ale".

That is a question CAMRA needs to ask itself very seriously and whether it really belives it. These so-called hardcore members seem to gloss over the other aims.

Gary Gillman said...

Real ale itself is a chapter in the story of beer's development. It is not an age-old process. Its essential characteristic is the completion of a secondary fermentation in the pub cellar over a short period. This is stimulated, or rather hastened, by adding priming sugar or stopping the brewing short of the target attenuation. The use in England of finings or a fast-flocculating yeast (but more commonly the former) ensures the correct palate by avoiding excess yeastiness.

Had CAMRA started in 1700 when finings were not commonly used, probably it would have supported long-matured beer as the classic way to brew since that was the way at the time to ensure a product with a completed secondary fermentation and good clarity.

However, by the time English eyes were looking at beer in lobbying terms, real ale in its modern sense - what it meant in 1970 and still today - by a kind of odd chance, ended up producing the best palate! This is why CAMRA has endured and prospered, because the kind of beer in use for 150 years or so by 1970 happened to be the best form of English ale possible. You got a particular mixture of maturity and freshness in real ale. Something that probably started as a quick-aging technique turned out, by accident in my view, as the most superior form of the product. Keg beer, even unpasteurized, doesn't come close to the savour and subtle qualities of real beer.

I certainly believe CAMRA should accentuate the positive. But I would continue to focus on real ale and why it is the ideal form of English beer. I think to enlarge the mandate of the group will water down its focus and effect.

Gary

Rob Nicholson said...

>I think to enlarge the mandate of the group will water down its focus and effect

One of the recommendations of the review is to REDUCE the number of campaigns because the feeling is we are trying to do too many things not very well as opposed to a few things very well. It's the infamous focusing on your core aims. It could be that cider & perry is removed (devil's advocate!!) but in light of this, expanding the brief would seem counterintuitive. I can relate to this - CAMRA may well have 120k+ members but the number of *active* members has not increased by the same ratio. Yes, there's a wonderful world of beer out there but it's not our job to campaign for it. I have enough on my plate with the current brief!

But actively campaigning for one thing (real ale) is very different to campaigning against something else. The former is positive. The later is destructive and I don't want to be a member of a campaign that sees it's job as this. Hardman emphasised this recently in the 40th birthday interviews except he did say it was so easy to take pops at the big breweries of the time because their beer was visibly so poor.

So given what Hardman had so recently said, the speech (rant) by Valentine made me uncomfortable (see previous post re unions). It felt as much a rant against new media (blogs) as other styles of beer. Rather ironic as another recommendation in the review is that key members of CAMRA should blog themselves (I can see Pete waiting with bated breath). It may have spurred the hardcore membership on but it equally turned off a lot of other members. It was uncalled for IMO esp. as one thing CAMRA is poor at is embracing new media. It could be that Valentine's aim was just to re-emphasis our focus but it didn't come across that way.

Whilst the focus in Beer magazine should of course be about real ale, it does take all sorts to make a world and I cringe when I read yet another complaint about a non-real ale article in the letter's page of What's Brewing.

I've just realised - I usually enjoy seeing a new RSS blog post from one of the blogeratti. I just yawn when I see the CAMRA press releases.

Now if he'd given a speech by the guy who spoke later (whose name avoids me) about the threats to pubs, then it would have been different.

Cheers, Rob.

Gary Gillman said...

Beer bloggers will inevitably be looking at a broader range of beer than cask ale, even in England.

Beer today is more international than ever before. People want to talk about and try new things. Sometimes this can lead to odd results (in the view of some. I was interested to see on a recent trip to England a number of cask ales, made in that country, using American hops. To me, good as some American Pale Ale is when served chilled and fizzy, it generally does not submit well to cask treatment. It is turning a silk purse into a sow's ear to do this in England in my view again, but there you go: people want to try something different, and of course tastes differ.

But hey, if CAMRA's interests and those of bloggers and beer writers diverge to a degree, so be it. That is a natural cleavage which is all to the good provided each sticks to his knitting. Accentuate the positive as you see it and the market will have the greatest choice and make its selections.

I believe real ale made in the traditional English way (traditional for upwards of 200 years anyway) is robust enough to stand out and survive. The Bard said good wine needs no bush. That cannot literally be applied to real ale today but its inherent quality is such that given enthusiastic boosting it should at least retain its present market share if not grow it a few points.

I think the final frontier for real ale is to reach the status of the great gastronomic specialties of Britain. It isn't quite there yet despite the great work of its proponents such as the late Michael Jackson, Roger Protz and CAMRA in general, and indeed most of the beer-writing clan since almost all whom I've read love English real beer.

But it's coming, perhaps in the next ten years real ale will be regarded on a par, nationally and internationally, with farmhouse English cheddar, traditional York ham, Dover sole, Colchester oysters, and English strawberries. It's coming.

Gary

Anonymous said...

"...perhaps in the next ten years real ale will be regarded on a par, nationally and internationally, with farmhouse English cheddar, traditional York ham, Dover sole, Colchester oysters, and English strawberries. It's coming."

I have no doubt it is already there but also that Canadian cheddar, Virginia ham, Norwegian sole, PEI oysters and pretty much anyone's strawberries are equally and singularly interesting. If CAMRA is really an industry lobby group funded by disinterested members buying the discount coupons, then it should be treated as such. It it is really interested in goodness as opposed to "realness" (its version of the US BA's "smallness" crypto-definition) then it should be interested in all forms of the good. Otherwise, Mr. B is spot on - this is no better than a well organized lobby club for fried food and nothing else.

Alan
A Good Beer Blog

Gary Gillman said...

It is already there in fact (real ale, gastronomically) but not in the broader public perception IMO. The taste-makers who chronicled quality English food and drink in the 1900's rarely mentioned beer. There were one or two welcome exceptions I am aware of. But generally English beer was not viewed on a par with England's great gastronomic resources, and still is not.

It would be a mistake for CAMRA to take on good beer in general. The image and distinctiveness of real ale would get lost in the process or seriously diminished I believe. English real beer deserves special protection. There are other forms of good beer to be sure but real ale's history and gastronomic excellence puts it on a separate plane.

Gary

Gavin said...

"I think the final frontier for real ale is to reach the status of the great gastronomic specialties of Britain. It isn't quite there.......
But it's coming, perhaps in the next ten years real ale will be regarded on a par, nationally and internationally, with farmhouse English cheddar, traditional York ham, Dover sole, Colchester oysters, and English strawberries."

Perhaps but I hope that its availability isn't as poor. I have to grow my own strawberries to get a good English taste and the right maturity and as for A good farmhouse cheddar, until a specialist delicatesen opened in my the city centre it was very hard to get a traditional, unpasteurised cheddar that had been matured in the cloth. The most traditional cheese I can get locally is a cellophane wrapped piece of stilton everything else is block cheese but I can get an ok pint of cask, twenty years ago all the pubs round here were keg only.

Ben McFarland said...

Hello folks,

I know I should do this more but it's rare that I get involved in this kind of thing.

But motivated partly by shameless self-promotion and Pete's excellent article I just thought I'd mention that myself and Tom Sandham wrote a book about the American craft beer scene on the West Coast.

That was entirely keg beer and it was published and paid for by CAMRA.

The word 'paid' almost being an entirely ethereal term of course. Please do buy a copy though. Seriously.

Anyway, I agree with Pete - it's almost too easy to criticise CAMRA. Lest we forget, CAMRA is a bit like a religious faith. Like Catholicism or Islam, it's very easy to expose the absurdities of some of the beliefs (homosexuality is kind of like keg beer) but as soon as the "believers" concede you may have a point, it undermines the whole thing, it's the beginning of the end and all that campaigning, a lot of it brilliant campaigning for which we should be grateful, is cheapened.

The battle may be over but the soldier is still deaf.

But not only that, he might as well be mute too as, in the real world, no-one is really listening and no-one can hear him - unless, of course, those with an audience write about it.

So I'll stop.

Barm said...

Ben makes an excellent point: CAMRA already does promote plenty of beer that isn't real ale, like most US craft beer. You can't open What's Brewing without reading Protz going on about Meantime or Budvar. What exactly are they being asked to do additionally?

So far the only concrete proposals are saying that some Dutch beers and some British lagers should be served on keg at CAMRA festivals. I have no idea whether the average punter would even notice this. To be honest the quality of some of the cask beer at some CAMRA festivals is a much more pressing issue. I've drunk many a pint that I would have immediately handed back had it been offered to me in a pub.

Tandleman said...

I agree with Barm. CAMRA should be campaigning strongly for better and more consistent quality cask. That's also why it is useful to name and shame.

Anonymous said...

I feel I have to comment on this as my own personal journey into the passionate world of beer appreciation began at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival last year.

I've always opted for ale over lager but the GBBF really opened my eyes to the array of beers and flavours on offer. CAMRA is one of those organisations of which outsiders often have an unfashionable cliched view of its members. However, for me, being at the festival and receiving a free copy of Beer magazine with the front page dedicated to an inside feature on online beer writing, CAMRA seemed new and relevant.

With my CAMRA membership not even a year-old, I'm now massively disappointed to be part of an organisation that quite frankly stifles my exploration into beer by promoting a sneering attitude towards beers that are served in ways that I don't even fully understand.

Beer blogging for me has opened my eyes and introduced me to so much good 'real ale' as well as craft beer.

Ultimately, I feel that if the brewing industry of 40 years ago had been in the position it is now with the number of craft and artisan brewers growing week by week, there would be no need for an organisation like CAMRA to be founded. When brewers like Meantime fall completely outside the remit of CAMRA's work and its members are so passionate against inclusion of such brewers, I'm not sure I want to be a part of such an organisation.

I want to say so much more, but I'll just be rehashing old arguments. I just think so much is about semantics and technical details without there being a focus on good, varied beer.

Chris Hall said...

I simply cannot understand why the chairman would kick this hornet's nest. Is he worried that people will no longer turn to CAMRA for published beer-related content? Are they losing subscriptions or advertising revenue or something? It's bizarre rants and moans like this that stop me from becoming a member.

The new boom in real ale started years ago, and CAMRA are still finding things to moan about. It used to be all about promoting availability and championing pubs. As others have said they need to focus on quality now, especially at their own events, which is where they're going to win people over.

Thomas said...

I would like to point out that the people whom write in what's brewing are independent and separarte from Camra. They may belong via subscriptions but have no place in the hirarchy of Camra.

If you would have read more Protz articles you would have noticed that he does not agree with everything Camra says.

Mark Dredge also writes a lot for the Cama magazin and also is similar to Protz in this aspect. He wrote about his perception on Valentine too in a recent blog

Please don't get the freelance writers mixed up as hardline Camra fanatics.

jojocope said...

Good points extremely well made Pete.

Gary Gillman said...

I think it will be useful to point out that when CAMRA started, keg beer meant brewery-conditioned beer, served from kegs or tanks or even casks in some cases, that was almost always pasteurized for stability and usually force-carbonated. It didn't help that the beers seemed less hopped, often, than draught bitter and mild.

When you pasteurize beer, it changes its nature to a certain degree. In distinction to this new form of beer, pub-conditioned beer, fined but not filtered and of course never pasteurized, using good quantities of English malts and hops, was seen and rightly so as superior.

Now, today you might argue, we have filtered but unpasteurized beer, the Americans used that as the basic form of revival craft brewing, so CAMRA's mission needs to change because of "facts on the ground".

While I agree that modern (i.e., craft-made) keg beer is much better than circa-1970 British keg ,there is still a fundamental difference in my view between the two forms. One form has a much fuller taste, much less fizziness - fizziness was a major issue for CAMRA - and often a pleasant, fresh hoppiness. The other may be quite hoppy and/or malty but its chill and fizz make it more like a mass market beer. (I didn't say identical).

Again, I am not knocking good craft keg, if it's good, it's good and most of what I drink here is in that category (or its bottled/canned equivalent) since it is hard to find real ale in North America served in the traditional English style.

One more thing: when you make true cask beer with American hops, it is true cask beer, yes, but it does not much resemble the traditional British pint. In other words, the availability of such beers tends to blur the meaning of the British pint. The latter, multifarious as it was and still is I hope, had a unique footprint. A good example is Old Hooky, the equivalent of a great Chateau-bottled wine in every way. It's not just a production method that needs protecting in view, but the taste of English real beer as it has been for the last 200 years. Because it's very special.

If one day it ends up that half the cask beer in England is the American taste, I'd say CAMRA should change its mission because English beer has changed its essential nature. I hope that never happens though.

Gary

Birkonian said...

I'm a former CAMRA branch chairman who resigned in despair at the insular 'drinking club' attitude of the committee. I wanted to hold tasting nights where we offered free samples of real ale to pub locals which seemed a better use of branch funds than subsidising another coach trip to some beery Nirvana. Inertia nipped that in the bud. Merseyside branch have a deliberate policy of ticket sales for their beer festival which means that the general public who don't know the score are unlikely to obtain tickets.
I love real ale, it's what I want to drink but it doesn't mean that I won't drink a keg Abbey beer in Belgium or seek out Odell or Flying Dog in a specialist British bar. 95% of my blog is about real ale but I reserve the right to praise other styles.

Anonymous said...

Pete,

I accept your comments about not all kegged ale being bad. You've raised some interesting points about some kegged ales tasting really nice. Now all you have to do is persuade the pub companies, the big brewers, the wholesalers and the delivery services to handle these ales and make them available as guest ales at some of their tied venues. It will be a massive project as the access to many kegged beers is completely different. Massive amounts of money would need to be spent on converting cellars to accept new kegged beers as guests. hose are the practical issues.

I have a pub in the good beer guide, Smugglers Den, Morecambe. I love cask ale, I love good lager, cider, perry. My choice of kegged ales is extremely limited as the pub is tied on everything except one cask ale line (we have 6). Oh and I am a member of CAMRA, and like many pubs am fighting for my very survival. I have cask marque accreditation and we do offer samples of real ale to all customers, many of my locals now expect it to be offered knowing full well that they will never purchase a real ale. Next time you are in Morecambe pop in and we'll chat, I won't hold my breath.
Chris

mudskipperbeerlife said...

The typical image of a real ale drinker is a flat cap old man with a whippet?

So the typical real ale drinker is a yorkshireman?

BeerClubGuide said...

I think the market should decide. If customers / beer drinks enjoy Cask better than it will stand on it's own two feet. But perhaps people won't tell the difference.... how noticeable is the difference?

Thomas said...

many pubs fighting for survival, yes this is a key point, what has CAMRA done to help these? I am not entirely clear on this, is there a document we can view stating how much they help? The transparity here is not that clear. If I knew how many breweries and poubs they saved I'd re-join

Rob Nicholson said...

@Thomas: it's not that black & white. CAMRA promoted a beer style that was at risk of disappearing. They did it primarily via marketing a vision. There are specifics but their main success was/is more in engendering pride in a very British drink as opposed to saving pub XYZ or brewery ABC(although this does happen). As a branch we campaign for real ale and pubs to drink it in. We do not campaign against lager, wine etc. That is a small but important point.

vlad said...

Somebody mentioned earlier on that the problem with keg beer was them being too cold and over gassed.And without proper thick head I would add.Well, I do agree, but do not blame the beer. It is the pubs.Try well made czech lager or any good continental beer here in the UK, then go to Europe and you will feel like drinking a completely different beer.I love unfiltered czech Bernard lager but here in London it is tapped in away that makes it hardly drinkable for me.

Guns said...

I am also agree with 'Barm'. CAMRA should campaigning strongly for better more consistent quality cask.

Adey said...

I've tried cask beer in a wide range of pubs in Newcastle, Yorkshire and London. All of it was flat, warm and weak. Having worked in Germany I got a taste for German beer. Recently moving to the Brooklyn really opened my eyes to what beer should taste like. All I can say is consumers will flock to keg craft beer and CAMRA just look stupid for not supporting it. Its real ale, and substantially better tasting than anything I've ever had out of a cask. Why would you choose flat, weak, warm beer over cold, rich real beer with a head. Craft IPA vs. Keg Bitter, no contest. Its all in the taste and the IPA wins every time.

Adey said...

I lived in Brooklyn, New York. Amazing keg craft beers are available in virtually every bar. Coming back to London I am trilled that the craft beer revolution has started, and I have a bottle of BrewDog Punk IPA every evening after work from my fridge.

Does CAMRA seriously think that flat, warm, inconsistant quality cask beer is what people want to drink and will save the brewing industry. We have has 40 years of their campaign and yet I have tried cask over the last 6 months in everything from a pub in the Yorkshire Moors to Sheffield city centre to Borough Market; absolute rubbish. The only pint I have even finished was Dark Star. The rest was worse than a pint of lager that's been left to go flat over night. Truly nasty.

Keg and bottle craft beer is the future of British brewing. Cask is just not a product that has the quality or marketing potential that will get punts back into bars.

Adey said...

CAMRA need to get with the times. This is my local pub in Bradford that is rammed every day and night, something that can not be said for pubs who only sell real ale;

CASK

Mallinsons Epicurion (3.9%)
Redwillow Heartless (4.9%)
Durham Bombay 106 IPA (7%)
Arbor Mandarin Dream (4.5%)
KEG

West Hefeweizen (5.2%)
Quantum Citra Centenial IPA (8.1%)
Flying Dog Doggie Style (5.5%)
Nogne O Python Pilsner (9%)
Bernard Light Pilsner (3.8%)
Bernard Unfiltered Pilsner (5%)
Bernard Dark Pilsner (5.1%)
Broadoak Vintage Cider (4.5%)
BOXED CIDER

Gwatkin No Bull (4.5%)
La Cantina Raspberry (4%)
GUEST BOTTLES

Anchor Summer Beer (4.5%)
Green Flash West Coast IPA (7.3%)
BrewDog IPA IS DEAD – El Dorado, Dana, Goldings & Waimea (6.7%)
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA (6.6%)
Odell 90 Shilling Ale (5.3%)
Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA (7.5%)
The Kernel IPA Citra + (7.2%)
The Kernel Pale Ale Simcoe + (5.6%)
The Kernel Export Stout London 1890 (7.1%)
The Kernel Export India Porter (5.7%)
The Kernel Imperial Brown Stout (7.9%)
Redchurch Great Eastern IPA (7.4%)
Redchurch Bethnal Pale Ale (6.5%)
Redchurch Hackney Gold (5.5%)
Oakham Green Devil IPA (6%)
Camden Hells (4.6%)
Ska True Blonde Ale (5.3%)
Ska Pinstripe Red Ale (5.2%)
Arbor Down Deeper (12%)
Wild Epic Saison (5%)
TO OL Black Ball Porter (8%)
Mikkeller Beer Hop Breakfast (7.5%)
Maui Mana Wheat (5.5%)
Ska Modus Hoperandi (6.8%)
Abbaye Des Roc Brun (9%)
Goose Island Pepe Nero (7%)
Mikkeller Tripel (9%)
Harbour Douple IPA (7%)
Stone Old Guardian (11%)
Flying Dog K-9 Winter Ale (7.4%)
Odell IPA (7%)
Brooklyn BAMboozle (8.6%)
Saison Dupont (6.5%)
Gueze Boon (7%)
Mikkeller Dim Sum (5%)
REGULAR BOTTLES

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen (5.1%)
Anchor Liberty Ale (5.9%)
Anchor Porter (5.6%)
Anchor Steam Beer (4.9%)
Bernard Alcohol Free (0.5%)
Birra Moretti (4.6%)
BrewDog 5am Saint (5%)
BrewDog 77 Lager (4.9%)
Brewdog Alice Porter (6.2%)
BrewDog Hardcore IPA (9.2%)
BrewDog Punk IPA (5.6%)
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10.6%)
Brooklyn EIPA (6.8%)
Brooklyn Lager (5.2%)
Chimay Rouge (7%)
De Konink (5%)
Duvel (8.5%)
Erdinger Dunkel (5.6%)
Erdinger Pikantus (7.3%)
Erdinger Urweisse (5.2 %)
Flying Dog Raging Bitch (8.3%)
Flying Dog Snake Dog (7.1%)
Fruh Kolsch (4.8%)
Goose Island Honkers Ale (4.2%)
Goose Island IPA (5.9%)
Goose Island Urban 312 Wheat (4.2%)
Greens Gluten Free (various%)
Jever Pilsner (4.9%)
Kwak (8%)
La Chouffe (8%)
Maredsous Blond (5%)
Mc Chouffe (8%)
Orval (6.2%)
Rochefort 8 (9.2%)
Schlosser Alt (4.8%)
Schneider Weisse – Original (5.4%)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%)
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (7.2%)
Silly Saison (5.2%)
St Bernadus Pater 6 (6.7%)
Timmermans Framboise (4%)
Timmermans Kriek (4%)
Timmermans Peche (4%)
Vedett Extra Blond (5.2%)
Vedett Extra White (5%)
Westmalle Tripel (9.5%)
Zywiec (5.5%)