Thursday, 7 April 2016

Anything goes

The announcement of CAMRA’s Revitalisation Project resulted in all kinds of misleading newspaper headlines, of which this was one of the worst: Thanks to the hipsters, has the Campaign for Real Ale pulled its last pint? Err, no. CAMRA has not been defeated by hipsters, and it is not going to wind itself up.

There seems to be an expectation in some quarters that this will result in a dramatic upheaval of CAMRA’s priorities, and a sudden embrace of all kinds of beers, whether real or not. One of the worst examples is this response by Chorlton Brewing Co. to the CAMRA consultation. So CAMRA is hurting your business by its championing of real ale? What is it in the name that you didn’t understand? It’s on a par with moaning that the Kennel Club woudn’t allow you to enter your cat in a dog show. And there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of opportunities to sell craft keg beer at the moment anyway.

The wider view is expressed by the Campaign for Really Good Beer. Their argument is that CAMRA should drop its rigid insistence on cask- or bottle-conditioning and judge every beer on its own merits.

We should be allowing our brewers to make the beer that they want to make in the manner that they think best suits their product, and that we should be judging them solely on whether the beer that they make tastes good. If a brewer uses finings and you don’t like that method then stop using that brewer. If that brewer pasteurises their beer but it still tastes good to drink, then keep drinking it. It’s not for a small group of people to lay down laws.
But the problem is that, once you abandon an objective standard, even if an imperfect one, then what are you left with apart from “beers I happen to like”? G. K. Chesterton once said “When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything,” and that is something that can easily be paraphrased to refer to beer.

I asked the question of Des de Moor on Twitter and he started going on about “brewing process, character, complexity, length of finish” etc, which are all very well, but largely subjective, and even if they can be defined by quasi-objective standards, are obscure criteria that aren’t remotely obvious to the general drinking public.

If you are going to draw a line at all, you have to define it. If you don’t, then you’re implying that CAMRA should support Carling. There’s nothing wrong with Carling, but I don’t think that’s what anyone is advocating. And if, for whatever reason, you end up excluding some of the more popular cask beers like, say, Doom Bar, then it starts to come across simply as an exercise in beer snobbery. Some real ale may be a bit dull, but at least it’s drunk by ordinary people in ordinary pubs.

I’m still mulling all this over and haven’t arrived at any firm conclusions, but I have a lot of sympathy for the view expressed by Phil of Oh Good Ale that CAMRA should concentrate on being a Campaign for Real Ale (and even maybe just a campaign for cask beer) rather than a campaign for everything. At the same time, though, it needs to accept that real ale is not inherently superior to all other forms of beer, and be prepared to recognise other styles and methods as worthy of praise, although ancillary to its core purpose.

I was also much struck by this comment by Ian H on Boak & Bailey’s blog.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, CAMRA is a people-powered cultural heritage organisation in all but name. Traditional drinking culture is what links real ale, real cider/perry, historic pub interiors and community pubs. Embrace it! By all means show craft more respect (the same respect shown to Belgian beers and quality German and Czech lagers, for instance), but don’t water down the central purpose of CAMRA.
I really like the idea of CAMRA as a “people-powered cultural heritage organisation.” For me, its core character has always been primarily that of a preservationist body. Far from leading to a Clause Four moment and a bold march onwards to the sunlit uplands, I can see the outcome of this review being deeply divisive. I honestly can’t see CAMRA reinventing itself as a generalised campaign for all good beer, because that’s never what it was meant to be in the first place.

36 comments:

  1. I understood the questionaire to be a question of who do you think CAMRA should represent.

    Do you think that should narrow or expand.

    It was tempting to vote to narrow it, kick out the Cider pissheads. Be a good laugh, that.

    I opted to expend it to all drinkers as basically I think the only consumer campaign now needed is one that tackles the prohibitionists. I think that option will lose. Too many puritans in the beard club that enjoy the idea that their own chosen poison makes them a better class of sup can.

    CAMRAs current stance that there is good and bad drinks (bitter or lager) or good and bad drinking (pub V home) is piss poor naff snobbery. It's a free country and I'll drink what I like. I credit CAMRA with campaigning to ensure I got an opportunity to like Trad British pong and neck it occasionally. We should be pleased it won and gets to ask an existential question of it's current purpose.

    Other than that CAMRA is basically an enjoyable drinking club for like minded folk. I enjoy being in the gang. It's nice folk. That's a positive, not negative. I'd be happy to vote for it to drop any campaigning purpose and just be an ongoing series of regular piss ups with at least one decent one a month worth going to and maybe crapper more regular ones for the real hardcore pissheads.

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  2. CAMRA has never officially been anti-anything. It originally campaigned for one real ale in every pub. In other words, choice, as reiterated over and over again by the leadership. I've said several times that demanding CAMRA should embrace craft is like insisting the Cat Protection League take in dogs, so it's interesting you have chosen a similar analogy.

    Ultimately, though, all the demands by non-members and non-affiliated organisations that CAMRA should change because otherwise it is irrelevant defeat their own arguments all by themselves. If CAMRA really were irrelevant, very few people would be bothered to comment at all; in reality there is no shortage of opinions flying around from outside the Campaign.

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    1. This process has revealed that CAMRA remain relevant to UK beer geeks. Why else would so many care about its future direction? It remains the only game in town if you are a beer geek and want to be in a beer club and have a subscription to a beer magazine and meet and socialize with like minded folk.

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    2. It was certainly true that, in practice, in the early days, CAMRA was vehemently anti-keg and anti-lager. It's grown up now, but such attitudes still persist, otherwise there wouldn't have been any need for a motion against "anti-campaigns". And it's still very much frowned upon for CAMRA spokespeople or publications to recognise merit in non-real beers.

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    3. Saying that CAMRA is only concerned with Real Ale is a little bit disingenious though, as it's also concerned quite actively in what they call Real Cider. One problem that I see it that CAMRA are very slow to move with the times. I wasn't at the AGM, but was anybody talking about keg conditioned beer, or indeed can conditioned beer, of which there are plenty of examples these days. The problem with having a strict or arbitary line of concern is that it could take years to catch up with things that seem to be outside of the remit, but actually are probably within it. (I believe it's not the method of dispense, but secondary fermentation which makes something Real Ale or not.

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  3. Agreed with Phil and agree with you. I too like the comment of Ian H and agree with it..

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  4. To say "we're only FOR this thing, we're not AGAINST anything" is a nonsense.

    You can't say X is best without implying that everything else is worse. Its logically incoherent. Like it or not, by coming up with an obscure and outdated definition of beer they do support, Camra are implicitly against all beer that doesn't fall into their ridiculously anachronistic system of categorisation.

    How many people must have been put off beer for life and how much damage this stupid and illogical stance has done to the wider UK beer industry is simply immeasurable. No wonder beer sales have collapsed over the lifetime of CAMRA.

    Forget subjectivity, just promote all UK based and UK owned breweries and pubs equally. Encourage members to share knowledge about what beers and pubs are "good" in a non-judgemental way that acknowledges that all views are inherently subjective and that there is no such thing as a right answer, a "duff palate" or a "real" ale.

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    1. The regularity with which CAMRA need to point out it is not a campaign against anything reveals that in practice it very much is. Was it never a campaign against red barrel?

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    2. Ah, so it's now CAMRA's fault that beer sales have collapsed. That's a new one...

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    3. Not really, many informed commentators have been pointing out how the old man image and obsession with promoting unpleasant vinegary beer has been putting people off for generations.

      You don't see cider, wine and spirits having the same problems, because they don't have a version of CAMRA trying to, ahem, "promote" them.

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    4. You can be pro-cask without being anti keg. Nothing illogical in that. You can be pro-cask and pro-keg and pro-cider all at the same time. You can even campaign for all 3 - and there is nothing wrong with the campaigns being seperate. If you think that only cask warrants a campaign, then fine.

      'You can't say X is best without implying everyting else is worse'
      Maybe not but you can say X is best, Y and Z are good too.

      Your comment that people have been put off drinking beer because of CAMRA is just plain wrong. Where did you get that idea? How would that work, even?

      I do agree that the term 'real ale' should be dropped. Cask ale is fine as a description and less condescending.

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    5. Personally I use the term cask beer, and never Real Ale. Both Real Ale and Craft Beer seem to be unnecessarily arbitrary and made up terms. Incidentally, I suspect that if you analysed a cask of D**mbar, it might not actually pass the definition of Real Ale. There's a lot less yeast in a cask of D**mbar than in many kegs of 'Craft Beer'.

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    6. "Real ale" is widely (albeit sometime imperfectly) understood though. Ask your average drinker about "cask ale" and he'll wonder what you're talking about. The normal draught product categories in a pub are real ale, smooth, lager, Guinness and cider.

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    7. Funny, I don't know anyone who uses the term "real ale" in real life. I never hear it in the pub, I'd probably think someone were a twat if I did. People just say "ale", "on cask" or "on a handpump".


      The image of a typical beer drinker, up until about 5 years ago when craft burst onto the scene, was that of old men with BO problems and sexist t-shirts. No-one ever thought "I know what will make me look interesting and sophisticated, a pint of ale". For that you have CAMRA to thank. Millions of people in their 30s and 40s now drink lager or wine because the idea of looking like a real ale twat was so off-putting they refused to even give it a go.

      Look at some of the old promotional material. Its really fucking desperate stuff. No-one seeing this poster is ever going to try a pint of mild, are they?
      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7q9BHjA2IJ0/VUvWa1NhWhI/AAAAAAAANfA/WINZSAHb5Qw/s1600/mild.jpg

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  5. Very much agree with the cultural heritage standpoint but I think the real, oft-overlooked, reason of support for CAMRA is just that there are those of us who simply enjoy our beer less carbonated. Cask ale is the only guarantor that beer will be less sparkling, more wonderfully drinkable and the perfect 'session beer'. A Campaign for Lightly Carbonated Beer would not be unpopular but CAMRA is just fine.

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    1. There is plenty of beer available in bottle, can and keg that is just as lightly carbonated as cask ale.

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  6. PY: Now you have gone from being merely vexatious to being demonstrably wrong. But no doubt you'll just return like a cracked record. Cask beer typically contains around 1.1 - 1.3 volumes of CO2. Packaged beer of any sort will contain typically between 2.2 and 2.8 volumes of CO2.

    Keg and bottled beer will therefore be gassier than cask. that's just how it is. Source? Charles Bamforth - Art and Science of Brewing.

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    1. You've never had a flat bottle of beer? Mudgie has, you should ask him for advice in future before posting ridiculous and ignorant comments.

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    2. What has a flat bottle of beer got to do with anything? And which comment is ridiculous and ignorant? Apart from this one of yours obviously. You are a nutter Old Son. Seek help.

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    3. I have, but not an intentionally flat bottle of beer. And this "plenty of beer available in bottle, can and keg that is just as lightly carbonated as cask ale" - which brands are they, and are they available in the average pub? And please don't include nitro, as that's an entirely different kind of low carbonation and has a detergent-style mouthfeel.

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    4. Take an average bottle of ale from a supermarket, chill to appropriate temperature, open carefully and pour into a tilted glass. You will have less head and less fizz than your average pint from the pub.

      As for sparkled pints with their awful "creamy" head designed to replicate the experience of drinking John Smiths from a can with a widget... yeurch...

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    5. Really? You don't understand how CO2 in beer works. You will get a much lower carbonation by pouring from height into the glass and letting the head subside. Head is not equal to carbonation.

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  7. One question I have is why now?

    It's been apparent for years that as far as real ale, it's job done.

    It's slowly morphed into a pub campaign but without the coherency needed because it's held back by it's own previously established notions of worthy and unworthy pubs.

    Craft beer is not a new thing. Decent keg beer has been available for yonks.

    Is it that many of the activities are staffed by old timers, and they simply want new blood? The deal of free beer & a t-shirt has little attraction if you see little point in the purpose of the activity. It's a fun day out to along and volunteer for a day once a year but not to devote months to organising it or do that every month?

    Is it that they think a new direction will enthuse a new generation? Is it recognised that they may piss off the older generation that give up shed loads of their retired time to it?

    Interesting times.

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    1. Camra has been infiltrated by "crafties" who don't believe in real ale at all. The old fart brigade are slowly losing their grip on power.

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    2. You call them "crafties", but of course, they're extraterrestrial lizards. The world must be told.

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  8. That's a typically well constructed argument Mudge, and not just I agree with it.

    What I don't understand is why what CAMRA thinks is so important. Beer festivals apart (and their relative volumes are tiny), pubs sell the beer they want and consumer drink the beer they want. In Wetherspoons that tends to be lager, wine and coffee rather than CAMRA-approved real ale of any description.

    I remain of the view that CAMRA's volunteers do a great job in tracking down places that serve the best real ale and promoting them in a variety of ways. That's enough for me.

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  9. "What is it in the name that you didn’t understand?" is a reasonable question for Chorlton Brewing Co. (and Brew Dog et al) if "Campaign for Real Ale" were the most visible public face of the organisation. It isn't. Good Beer Guide is, with its undeniable inference that only Real Ale is Good Beer (in a continuing limit of 4,500 pubs). Chorlton Brewing Co. don't attack the organisation so much as a certain class of member that definitely exists (I haunt our local CAMRA messageboard, and they DEFINITELY exist among the sensible majority), who will happily dissuade everyone from drinking anything except cask, and will trainspottingly transcribe all the specific technicalities of this whenever the opportunity ariseszzzzzzzzz.

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    1. So what? Chorlton bleats on about their stuff in their particular way, a small number of CAMRA members bleat about theirs in their particular way; so on ad infinitum.

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  10. >Is it that they think a new direction will enthuse a new generation? Is it recognised that they may piss off the older generation that give up shed loads of their retired time to it?

    Damned if you do cookie and damned if you don't. I starting to think there isn't a way out of this.

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  11. Py: don't you get bored being wrong all the time?

    "You can't say X is best without implying that everything else is worse." Logical nonsense, which only works if you are so arrogant that you think your own tastes constitute a universal truth - which perhaps you do, but I certainly don't. Saying something is best for you does not mean that it is intrinsically superior. It simply means it matches your own subjective, personal preferences. In context of beer, "what I like" refers to what my taste buds find pleasurable, and nothing more.

    "I don't know anyone who uses the term 'real ale' in real life. I never hear it in the pub". Well I do. It's narrow-minded to assume your own little life is representative of the world as a whole.

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    1. Its never yet happened Nev. I'll let you know when it does.

      You're clearly not much of a philosopher, best stick to the folk music. CAMRA DOES claim that real ale is objectively "better" than keg beer. If you have failed to grasp that, you have failed to grasp the entire point of the organisation, which frankly, would come as no surprise to anyone here.

      I'm not the one who goes around saying that anyone who likes beer that I don't like have "duff palates". Only the aged crop of soon-to-be-dead Camra dinosaurs are ever that arrogant and short-sighted.

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    2. When in doubt, Py, you resort to abuse. Sums you up really.

      I know rather more about CAMRA than you do. I have heard both the current Chair and one of the founders, Michael Hardman who addressed the AGM this year, say that CAMRA is about choice. Having the choice to drink real ale - it was not founded to take over the beer world.

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    3. "When in doubt, Py, you resort to abuse. Sums you up really."

      says the man whose opening gambit was "don't you get bored being wrong all the time?"

      Talk about pots and kettles.


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  12. Crikey Nev. Don't encourage him. Even when you present a beer fact by one of the world's leading experts on beer dispense, that has no impression. Lost cause.

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    1. You are Chris Morris and I claim my £5 book voucher.

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