There has been a huge kerfuffle in the beer blogosphere in the past week or so about the role of CAMRA and whether it shoots itself in the foot by defining good beer too narrowly. The charge was led by Pete Brown, eloquently backed up by the Zythophile, and their charges were passionately rebuffed by Tandleman. Now, I will happily place myself in the “revisionist” camp, but my complaint really is not that CAMRA defines what it campaigns for too narrowly, but that, all too often, it seeks to campaign against anything that isn’t “real ale”.
My personal view is that, while I am happy to support “real ale”, as the supreme exposition of British draught beer, it is a definition that doesn’t extend beyond that sphere, and there are many other quality beers in the world that don’t conform to that definition. And even, on occasions, I might drink a pint of cooking lager, and will regard it as a refreshing, rather bland, industrial product, and not some kind of vile filth.
Tandleman says “CAMRA is a broad church, but it actually the moderates that prevail. These are the guys you bump into in Bamberg, Brussels and Prague, or at the Great American Beer Festival, or wherever. They seek out beers to enjoy whatever the provenance and are comfortable with being CAMRA members and the odd dichotomy.” That is true of Tandleman, of my local CAMRA branch chairman, of most of the beer bloggers, and of many CAMRA members I know. But it is far less dominant than he suggests, and it is all too common to see the old unreconstructed attitudes surface – not least in the opinions of the most prolific contributor to the CAMRA web forum. The generalised “campaign against lager” and the broad-brush view that bottle-conditioned bottled beers are without exception far superior to their brewery-conditioned counterparts are two prime examples of this. And, regrettably, while it is often ignored at the coal face, these things are enshrined in CAMRA’s official policies.
More worrying, though, is the attitude expressed by one respondent to Pete Brown’s post:
As I've mentioned recently elsewhere (mainly Twitter & other blogs) I think that there's an argument for CAMRA to tighten or at least clarify its definition of what is 'real'.Is that likely to lead to a redefinition of “real ale” as stuff produced by obscure small breweries and consumed by pretentious middle-class tossers?
To my mind, the campaign was launched to try to preserve good British beer, made with decent ingredients, by a quality brewery & beers that had not been overly processed.
For me, there are now many beers that are classed by CAMRA as 'real' that don't fit with various parts of that broad description (& some that do, but aren't classed as being real!).
Surely two of the great virtues of “real ale” are that it has a crystal clear definition, and that it is something that is available to ordinary drinkers in ordinary pubs.
The risk from that approach is that you may end up casting aside the brews upon which the real ale revival was founded, such as Wadworth’s 6X, Marston’s Pedigree and Greene King Abbot Ale, and that you also end up casting aside the pub in favour of the specialist urban yuppie craft beer bar.
I have no problem with CAMRA being a campaign for “real ale”. I have no problem with the definition. I just wish it didn’t, so often, present itself as a campaign against all other forms of beer. Does the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club oppose all other marques of car? I don’t think so. Why not say “We like beer, full stop. But British draught real ale is something very special that is worthy of campaigning for”?