Saturday, 13 August 2016

Craft beer: snog, marry, avoid?

Well, here are the results of my poll on whether CAMRA should formally embrace non-real “craft” beers. There’s a clear majority against of almost 2:1, which has remained fairly constant throughout the period the poll has run.

My personal view, which I have often expressed on here, is that CAMRA needs to abandon the view that cask is inherently superior to all other forms of beer, but that it is a Campaign for Real Ale, and that is what it should concentrate on. However, Real Ale should be promoted as a unique British tradition worth preserving and championing, not the acme of Good Beer worldwide. Next month’s Opening Times column will trenchantly put across this point of view.

One of the key problems with embracing non-real beers is where exactly do you draw the line. It all too easily can become a subjective exercise in beer snobbery. To be honest, I just can’t see it happening, and a lot of people who bang on about the need for CAMRA to abandon its principles reform are going to be disappointed.

It’s interesting that SIBA has recently launched a project to identify genuinely independent producers of craft beer in the UK, which has been dubbed “Craft Marque”. They’ve also produced an interactive map of the member brewers. The objective is laudable, but I suspect it won’t really resonate with drinkers.

“Craft beer” means very different things to different people, but for many it represents innovation and cocking a snook at tradition. I can see many gibbing at the inclusion of brewers such as Arkells, Felinfoel, Black Sheep, Holts and Robinsons, even though they are entirely independent and come within the 200,000 hectolitre (122,000 barrels) annual production cut-off. Likewise some of our local microbreweries such as Coach House, Storm and Weetwood who mostly produce beers in traditional British styles.

12 comments:

  1. I've been surprised how many drinkers in St Albans of your vintage (well matured - like an aged Thomas Hardy Ale?) are actually open to CAMRA including keg beer because they've had some very good examples of it from newer breweries. With the people I've asked about the Revitalisation Programme however, the only consistent thing I get in people's opinions is that it should campaign for pubs. Difficult to argue with the results of your poll, though.

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    1. I am certainly not against keg beer, but for CAMRA to formally embrace it would be extremely divisive and counter-productive.

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  2. Actually you can argue with the poll results. Like all of these blog polls the respondents are relatively few in number and entirely self selected. The poll has no statistical validity whatsoever - makes decent blog copy though I suppose.

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    1. Err, that is rather the point of it, John. It's just a talking point.

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  3. The SIBA scheme has been the source of some sniggering amongst the crafteratti. I don't think Coach House and Black Sheep are what most hipsters would class as 'craft'.

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    1. "Craft" in the UK has developed all kinds of connotations that it never had in the US. It's clearly not enough to be small, independent and artisanal - you have to have a particular attitude of mind.

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  4. I follow a simple rule.

    Any beer described as "craft" I avoid.

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  5. The results of the latest revitalisation survey should give a slightly more statistically accurate picture although even then the validity if questionable as it's possible only those with strong feelings will answer and I suspect in the "don't adapt" camp. A random telephone poll might given a fairer answer from the wider membership. Depends I suppose why you think the campaign needs to revitalise (a VERY good word IMO). This is not about today - it's about ten years down the line. A lot of emphasis has been on "craft" and I think that's detracted from the main issue - succession planning.

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    1. Succession planning is certainly an important issue, but it's lazy thinking to assume it will be solved by changing/deleting the message. Maybe young people are just not as interested in volunteering and "committee work" as our generation.

      CAMRA's not going to disappear, but in the future it may have to accept that the balance between central and local activities changes.

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  6. The 'Uniquely British' argument is a fallacy, and CAMRA's failure to expand its remit to cover the rest of the world has come back to bit it squarely on the arse.

    Until the middle of the last century, almost all beer, everywhere in the world would've resembled something we recognise as 'real'. Maybe the specific emphasis on secondary fermentation in the cask was more a UK thing (though not exclusively) but beer was brewed, stored and consumed for centuries before keg came along. Keg is not an ancient tradition anywhere.

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    1. The difference being that it remained a live tradition in Great Britain but had effectively died out everywhere else in the world.

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    2. I don't think that's much of an argument. Brewing almost died out altogether in the US during prohibition, and non-industrial brewing (for want of a better word) was pretty much dead there until relatively recently. Came back though, didn't it?

      Entire styles of beer almost disappear and make impressive comebacks - Porter, Saison, Gose, this happens all over the world.

      There was no good reason to allow a tradition to die out and at the very very least, CAMRA should've been taking ownership of the narrative and framing this as a conscious choice not to revive it. Instead they chose to join hands with sister organisations in other countries that didn't give a fuck about real ale and serve 'traditional' keg at their beer festivals. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

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