Friday, 8 April 2016

Live and Let Live

A few years ago, a guy who was a long-standing inactive member of CAMRA decided to put his toe in the water and come along on one of our regular monthly Staggers. We called in a couple of pubs where he happily drank the real ale. But then we went in a Robinson’s pub, where he ordered a half of Guinness. “Why are you drinking that? It’s keg!” came the inevitable chorus. “But I don’t like Robinson’s beer,” he replied. I think he stuck it until the end of the pub-crawl, but we haven’t seen him much since.

And I think this illustrates CAMRA’s biggest problem, namely “cask exceptionalism”. Founder member Michael Hardman has said “I must point out that we’re not fighting against anything, we’re fighting for something.”, and the national AGM has passed a motion against “anti-campaigns”, but this kind of thing still happens at ground level.

Those who are sceptical about CAMRA widening its remit are sometimes portrayed as blinkered, out-of-touch dinosaurs, but in reality I personally have always recognised merit in many non-real beers and taken the view that CAMRA was being too dogmatic in dividing the beer world into black and white. Much the same applies to Phil of Oh Good Ale and, as Tandleman says in this excellent blogpost:

Crikey, even I drink lager and craft beer from time to time and apart from a small minority, I reckon most CAMRA members do. It can't really be a hatred of keg then surely? Or non real ale - I repeat our members by and large drink it.
I don’t see any fundamental inconsistency in campaigning to support and preserve a unique and distinctive British beer tradition, and the pub culture that surrounds it, while at the same time being happy to recognise merit in other types of beer. There is still the view that CAMRA cannot be seen to refer positively to any non-real beers in national and local publications, for fear that it might undermine real ale. But surely it can afford to be much more relaxed about this, and that could reap benefits in terms of a more positive public imagine which could reinforce the position of real ale. For example, as someone who enjoys the odd drop of good lager, I would really like to see a feature on British craft lagers in BEER magazine.

I’ve also often argued that it is wrong to treat bottle-conditioned beer as the direct bottled equivalent of cask. This attitude is historically ignorant, as bottle-conditioning had largely died out decades before cask became endangered, and was never such a core part of our brewing tradition. Nowadays it only serves to hinder the development of a thriving and innovative bottled beer market. In my cupboard I currently have next to each other bottles of White Shield and Thornbridge Jaipur. Both great beers, but CAMRA approves of one but not the other, which is simply daft.

So the conclusion is clear – campaign for real ale (and maybe just cask beer), but be happy to enjoy and accept other quality beers that don’t qualify. And nobody should be criticised for coming along to a CAMRA social event and having a half of Guinness.

It’s also interesting to see that I was making much the same argument five years ago.

(The pub sign in the photo is from the Live and Let Live at Bringsty Common in Herefordshire. I just happened to come across it when Googling for a suitable image, but obviously it’s right up my street. I’ve never visited the pub personally, but apparently it was an unspoilt, basic gem that was saved from closure, but only by going rather “gastro”)

20 comments:

  1. Once again, all of the above.

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  2. Amen. I, too, have been saying pretty much the same thing for quite a while now. I love the taste of beer and don't really give a monkey's chuff what moniker it goes under. And, yes, I want CAMRA to support pub culture: the heritage of the places where I drink my pint (or half, or third) of real ale, craft beer, fast cask, Guinness is, for me, every bit as important as the product I'm drinking.

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  3. Much to agree with here. I may be being a bit provocative here but I find more real ale fundamentalism in our Southern members. That comes across at the Annual Conference I feel. It isn't a hard and fast rule though. Maybe just a tendency. Anyone else spotted it?

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    1. Ah yes, "Steve Bury of Souf Arts Branch".

      Possibly because they had real ale wiped out far more comprehensively than we in the North ever did, but that's going back a bit.

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    2. I went to a Revitalization Thingy meeting today - mostly Cambridge folk with a few from neighboring counties - and was generally impressed with how non-dogmatic people were. I stuck my hand up to say roughly the thing that I keep saying in blog comments - namely, that recognizing "good keg beer" as a Good Thing doesn't require that we formally define and actively campaign for it - and didn't get run out of town on a rail. Some other people made similarly "actually some of it's pretty nice" type points. It was generally fairly sensible.

      Could easily believe that Cambridge bucks the trend, though.

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    3. I'm sure that in reality most members are far from the dinosaurs that they're often portrayed as. Campaign for real ale, but be happy to recohgnise that many other non-real beers are "good" too, seems to be the sensible way forward to me.

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    4. Yes but a guy that has recently developed a bit of an interest in beer and thinks CAMRA looks like a local social club for such things and decides to come along one evening and suss it out. Do you think the normals stand out in his memory or the one rude odd ball with a near religious view on a simple pint who seems to equate a personal morality with a choice of drink?

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    5. I share DaveS's impression of Cambridge; like Stockport their meetings and events seem to be full of sensible folk. Remember it only takes a couple of evangelical/zealous types to make a branch newsletter seem over-the-top (as Cookie just said).

      I did attend the odd North Herts meeting in the '90s and they seemed much more interested in the Beer Fests than in pubs. As Mudge said, good real in South Herts hard to find in pubs.

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    6. As I live in the St Albans area I think I'd rather sit at home with a can of Sainsbury's Basics Bitter than go on a local CAMRA social. It's bad enough reading the branch newsletter, only one 'Pints of View'. Such are their rabid views they refused an advert for a local pub's beer festival that included mention of beer in KeyKegs.

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    7. I used to have to deal with Pints Of View folk as a member of North Herts branch. The magazine wasn't great and largely one man's campaign against everything. Little love lost between South & North Herts branches. (And it's fairly important not to conflate Sth Herts CAMRA too much with CAMRA HQ.)

      North Herts branch is possibly evenly split between festivals and pubs. The fests are very time consuming and are what attract most active participation in the branch. But the branch takes pubs seriously, tries to get folk to most of them on organised trips at least once a year (with 200 pubs this isn't trivial).

      My personal 2p as a former active branch member. (I'm no longer a CAMRA member and I live near Cambridge, but I still help out N.Herts fests.)

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  4. It is interesting you mention a story of regular members being rude to a casual member. On the one hand you can put it down to individual rude people. I can think of a few people that echo "the Dickster" and see personal virtue in never letting a drop of booze pass their lips unless it be cask conditioned. Probably the same ones as you, Mudge. To see drinking a beer as campaigning and supporting something and thus drinking something else becomes supporting something else and letting the cause down. Like wearing the strip of a different football team. For some reason some of them think their own world view and choice should be universal and that they can police others if they are in the group. I can recall ruder incidents than you mention above, across a range of branches. Many areas have their own Dickies . These people are by and large bores and to avoid.

    Unless you want to wind them up. Try saying you find a nice bottle of Shiraz preferable to most of the real cider muck. ;) Or even that you find mild to be pointless tasteless piss, so no you are not collecting stickers and anyway you have a cupboard full of T shirts. Know the buttons to press. The “I quite like a cold lager on a hot day” is one to save. It has more power when used rarely.

    What I find interesting is the degree you can put it down to rude individuals or see it as an institutional rudeness. I think it more the latter. Whilst TAND and Nev are right to note most beardy types do not berate others for their choices, those that do are tolerated and their behaviour is never questioned. The more active or longer standing become a more authoritative member and thus less likely to be challenged when they are rude to the new face who when trying a keg wheat beer is pointed at with the horror “that’s not real ale!” This is because these people become characters and you as a regular know they are not bad people. So you appreciate their behaviour as eccentric rather than rude.

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    1. I would agree that it is mainly institutional rudeness, although sometimes (not with any mutual acquaintances) it can be that some people are just obnoxious oafs.

      We had a bit of this at the recent award presentation in the Sam's pub. Quite a few people took the opportunity to sample their excellent Extra Stout. I managed to get away with it, but one person was harangued, in a good-natured end-of-evening kind of way, for drinking it. And I did contemplate trying a pint of Pure Brewed Organic Lager, but decided it would be more trouble than it's worth :-(

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    2. I think I might of been there at the example in the blog but not the one in the reply. There is a difference between banter among friends and rudeness and I would guess you can tell the difference. A new face will be less attuned to this and CAMRA has shed loads of old codgers that appear rude on first meeting them, but later you find out they were joking and you wonder how anyone would ever tell the difference.

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    3. I would have been on the nut brown ale if I'd been in a Sam Smith's, as I always am, so presumably would have harvested some banter too if I'd introduced myself as a member. I've never ever had any inkling of its realness until recently, but over the last couple of months I'm perpetually being told that Sam Smith's do one real ale, so it can't be. This side of Pub Bore-itude is contagious, because I've started using it in beer related conversation too, despite my actual apathy, mainly to get a rise out of other beer sellers. I'm frequently the sort of person I deride.

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    4. I'm a fan of their Nut Brown Ale and would have bought a bottle if they'd had it. I too got away with ordering a pint of Extra Stout at the end of the night without attracting any adverse comments and enjoyed it, it's got a lot more character than the Draught Guinness it replaced.

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  5. Rudeness is rudeness, no matter how it is wrapped up. Familiar joshing among good mates is one thing, even though that gets boring after a while, but if I'd been that first-time pub crawler, I probably wouldn't have come back either, thinking: "It's my money; I'll spend it how I like." Did they really think he needed telling that Guinness isn't real ale?

    I have drunk Guinness in pubs that sell only Tetley Bitter, which I really dislike to the extent of slagging it off in a speech to the CAMRA AGM (my point was relevant to the motion in question). This is despite the fact that real ale is for me the best form of beer by far. I've had modern keg beers that have been quite pleasant, but I find that I still prefer cask. In my beer choices, I probably look more 'fundamentalist' about real ale than you or Tandleman, but I'm not fundamentalist in my attitude: people can drink what the hell they like as far as I'm concerned. There is also the point that, whatever people are buying, they are helping keep the pub open; we all know that few pubs can survive on real ale sales alone.

    For every self-righteous CAMRA member, there are dozens who are perfectly polite about the choices of others. You don't know them as they don't tend to wear beer festival T-shirts or CAMRA badges and don't carry any of the paraphernalia of the real ale zealot. Astonishingly, they just look like ordinary people. I'd guess that there are more than 160,000 in the Campaign.

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    1. I gather the point of the tankard among those that use them is to secretly drink lovely ice cold fizzy lout right under the noses of the the strident ecumenical types.

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  6. I have never been a camra member but have gone out drinking with them back in the late 80s and 90s and had a good laugh,in my opinion camra members seem to be far to serious these days.
    I visited the Grove in Huddersfield in February this year and found it full of Camra types who just seem to talk about beer and hop rates and the like that i know nothing about,all far too serious for me,so i did not really like this pub that much.
    Regarding keg beers i do avoid them in my local area but i have found some really nice ones on my pub crawls apart from London,i had a rally nice drink of keg Bath Ales Dark Side in a bar in a Bristol suburb.

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    1. Agreed - some people seem to take beer *far* too seriously nowadays. If you go out to the pub and end up doing nothing but talk about beer you're rather missing the point.

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  7. As I sit here having just poured a glass of Cromarty Brewing Co. "Happy Chappy" I am reminded that CAMRA's stance in non-RAIB is probably the single biggest annoyance I have with CAMRA maybe closely followed by cask breathers. So one is in full agreement with the comments about that aspect. Ohh and that I think the revitalisation project is asking the wrong question.

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