The subtitle reads “The craft beer revolution has delivered quality ales to the masses, and created a crisis for Camra and its supporters”, which is about as far from the truth as it is possible to imagine. The juxtaposition of “craft beer” and “the masses” in the same sentence is particularly absurd.
Of course in the past fifteen or so years there has been a dramatic rise in beer enthusiasm outside the auspices of CAMRA, which has given many long-standing members cause for thought. “Is this good beer, even if it isn’t real ale?” But the extent of this “craft beer revolution” has been greatly overstated. It’s maybe not surprising coming from journalists who spend most of their time in Inner London, and only visit other parts of the country through excursions by train or plane to other big city centres.
Even within the North, I’ve written before of people “wending their merry way from the Port Street Beer House via the Grove to North Bar without apparently caring that the main A62 road linking those three points is lined with closed and boarded pubs.” It’s still the case that the reach of that revolution is very limited. Get out of the city centres and go into normal community locals and family dining pubs in suburbs, medium-sized and small towns, villages and the countryside, and you will see little or no sign of it.
Some cask beers can be regarded as “craft”, but “craft keg” is the epitomy of the movement on draught. And how many pubs offer anything on keg that isn’t either lager or nitro ale or stout? Even Spoons only have Devil’s Backbone and Shipyard Pale Ale, both brewed under licence by those notorious check-shirted upstarts Marston’s. I’d bet that “craft keg”, as defined above, accounts for well under 1% of the total draught beer market.
The same is true in the field of packaged beer. Yes, go in your average supermarket and you’ll probably see a shelf or two of Brewdog bottles and garishly coloured cans. But the volume they’re shifting is trivial compared with all the mass-market lagers and premium bottled ales. And punters may after a while get tired of paying more for less. Again I’d go for a market share of less than 1%.
Craft in the UK may have made a lot of noise, but it hasn’t remotely revolutionised the beer market in the way that its champions claim. Much of this comes from an inappropriate read-across from the US market to the UK. In the mid-70s, the US had effectively lost all its independent brewers, and the territory occupied by the current American craft brewers is very similar to that held by the UK’s regional, family and established new breweries.
CAMRA hasn’t lost any kind of battle against craft beer, and indeed in recent years cask has been about the only section of the on-trade beer market bucking the general trend of decline. It makes sense to take stock and review the organisation’s values and aims, but it’s certainly not being done from a position of defeat.