Monday, 13 February 2017

What is left unsaid

One of the proposals included in CAMRA’s Revitalisation Report is that “CAMRA should permit the stocking of British beers that do not meet the definition of real ale at CAMRA beer festivals.” Now, this is a significant concession, although it must be said that CAMRA festivals are already allowed to stock non-“real” foreign beers, in both keg and bottled form, and some interpret that pretty widely.

But it is interesting as much for what it doesn’t say. Does it extend to bottled as well as keg beers, meaning that a festival would be entirely within its rights to offer bottled Old Tom, Boltmaker and Ghost Ship? Does it also extend to ciders, where the definition of “real” is far more obscurantist than that for beer? And does it go wider to encompass a more general acceptance that quality may be recognised and celebrated in beers that don’t quality as “real”?

I find myself aligning neither with the “all non-real beer is crap” diehards, nor with the modernisers who wish to extend CAMRA’s remit. I firmly believe that, in terms of campaigning, CAMRA should limit itself to doing what it says on the tin – supporting real ale, the breweries that produce it and the pub culture that surrounds it. But, on the other hand, I feel it has always been too narrow-minded in refusing to accept merit in any beers that fall outside the definition, and in too often insisting that “real ale” is inherently superior to any other form of beer. I would welcome a relaxation in the rules about what CAMRA spokespeople and publications can praise, but danger lies in any attempt to draw a hard-and-fast line somewhere else.

As I suggested in the linked post, while I wouldn’t expect to see CAMRA branches rushing to stock Carling at festivals, surely they’d be fully entitled to have a British Craft Lager Bar featuring the likes of Leeds Brewery Leodis and Hawkshead Lakeland, which could be a good way of attracting both publicity and punters.

And it would be interesting to see how this would affect CAMRA’s quarterly glossy magazine BEER. Currently, I find this to be a profoundly unimpressive publication, full of vapid puff-pieces and more like an in-flight magazine than anything with pretensions to serious journalism. It is hamstrung by its inability to discuss any products that fall outside the definition of real beer and cider. So might its perception be improved by being able to extend its remit to include some wider-ranging drinks journalism? As referred to above, a big feature on British craft lagers would be a good example. And maybe a feature interviewing licensees of keg-only pubs asking them why they don’t stock cask?

39 comments:

  1. As an outsider looking in one of the issues I have with CAMRA (or the perception I get of CAMRA media and hearsay) is they've taken an arbitrary point in British beer history (most probably the one the founders remember fondly) and used it as a yardstick that everything else is measured against. As someone that doesn't remember British pubs and ale of the 70s/80s fondly (mainly due to being too young to drink) I'm much more interested in the history of British brewing as a whole and the promotion of that - whether that's funky 8% barrel aged monsters of the 19th century, milds as young beer not as the CAMRA definition, real ale (as short period of that history), the craft beer movement now and whatever direction we go in in the future - than what I perceive CAMRA to be pushing.

    That's not to say I think CAMRA should change it's remit - if people love that period and want to maintain it then who am I to tell them otherwise - just that CAMRA doesn't feel relevant to me because of it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think stocking quality keg products at CAMRA beer festivals is a good idea, simply to encourage people to become more enthusiastic about beer and pubs, and there's always an opportunity to attract visitors who usually drink processed beer and encourage them to give the cask a try. (Then again, there's also a good chance that some die-hard cask drinkers will have their ideals shot to pieces). In terms of campaigning, and despite increasing membership, I think CAMRA's narrow focus will eventually kill it off if there's no move to become a more broad-based consumer champion. This can only happen once the beards and keg-haters have been eased out of the door, perhaps into a new single-issue campaign?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just tone down the rhetoric on method of dispense. Maybe if CAMRA didn't spend 90% of the time bickering about what does and doesn't qualify as "real ale", they'd have more time to talk more about British beer and its incredible quality, variety, tradition, innovation - things that the public might actually be interested in and might actually persuade them to try beer when previously they had written it off.

    It might also bring in some younger volunteers who are put off by the current rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny - I've been going to local CAMRA meetings and, a few times, the national level AGM for 30+ years, and I have to say very little time is spent bickering on what qualifies as real ale. It certainly isn't as much as 9% of the time, let alone 90%.

      Delete
    2. and yet every piece of CAMRA promotion you find gives a detailed definition of real ale, as if anyone outside of this bizarre little old man camra bubble actually gives a shit.

      The whole thing is just a marketing nightmare. Front page of the website reads "CAMRA was founded by a few real ale enthusiasts in 1971, when the traditional rich-flavoured ales, still fermenting in the casks from which they were served, were being replaced by brewers producing beers with less demanding production and storing techniques."

      "rich-flavoured ales"? "still fermenting"? That sounds absolutely revolting. If you wanted to come up with some descriptors expressly designed to put people off drinking cask ale, you couldn't think of anything better. No wonder consumption has fallen by over 75% on CAMRA's watch. No wonder the % of volunteers under the age of 60 is tiny and shrinking further every year. CAMRA are an embarrassment, totally incompetent.

      Delete
    3. Why do you get so excited about it? Yes, CAMRA routinely puts a stock description of real ale in its publications - so what? You make a lot of noise for someone who affects not to care about the campaign. Protesting too much, I'd say.

      As for your suggestion that no one could care less: the vast majority of real ale drinkers are not CAMRA members, and presumably most of them do care about real ale (otherwise, why drink it?), despite being outside the bubble, and even if they're not familiar with the precise detail of the definition. Again, so what? It's only you getting in a tizzy about it.

      And your abusive language: why?

      Delete
    4. Several illogical statements to deal with:

      "Yes, CAMRA routinely puts a stock description of real ale in its publications - so what?"
      Because as I've already explained, this level of obsessive technical detail is incredibly off-putting to any potential converts. Start waffling on about secondary fermentation and people's eyes glaze over and they decide they're going to stick with their Bacardi and Coke.

      "You make a lot of noise for someone who affects not to care about the campaign. Protesting too much, I'd say."
      I care about british beer, and I care about cask beer, and camra do more than anyone to endanger both. So yes, I'm forced to care about them because their activities are actively detrimental to something I care about.

      "presumably most of them do care about real ale (otherwise, why drink it"
      I eat pork chops, I don't really care about pork chops. I just eat them because they taste nice. Same way that most people drink cask beer without really caring about it. Not every action is a political statement, you know.

      "your abusive language: why?"
      What abusive language? You're making things up.

      Delete
    5. I am one of those life long real ale drinkers and never been a member of Camra,i started getting interested in real when i was 18 and i had been drinking in pubs well before that,i am now 54 and still try and drink it whenever i can.
      I am also glad i never became a Camra member if it entails all of this bickering and the like.
      I think i will now go down to the pub with my wife for a few pints of real ale.

      Delete
  4. But I see CAMRA as essentially a preservationist movement which aims to preserve *a specific thing*. If it is turned into a general "Campaign for All Good Beer" then it becomes something entirely different and, I would suggest, basically a beer snobs' club. In which case it forfeits my interest and commitment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's already a beer snobs' club, rejecting anything that doesn't fit their definition of beer. Maybe if a broader campaigning approach was taken, the die-hards could form some sort of paramilitary wing with the SPBW?

      Delete
    2. No, "real ale" is just a category, like Georgian architecture or Morris cars. It isn't inherently snobbish - and don't forget that, when CAMRA was formed, it was the drink of the working man. That is less so now, but in some areas still holds true.

      If it just becomes a Campaign for All Beer, then it basically ends up as a Beer Drinkers' Union. But if it decides to become a Campaign for All Good Beer, then a definition has to be arrived at to exclude the knuckle-dragging plebs who like Carling and John Smith's. And that's when it turns into a snob organisation.

      I can't see why the people who seem to want that kind of body can't found their own rather than constantly trying to turn CAMRA into one.

      Delete
    3. yes, but it doesn't do a very good job of that - with its fogeyish image and its off-putting obsession with minor technical details, it actively puts people off drinking cask ale.

      I like cask ale too and I value its heritage and I want to see it preserved, and I want people to be encouraged to drink it and pubs to sell it where they can do a good job of it. But we need to understand that the attractive thing about cask ale is NOT the fact that it is served from a cask. Its the things I mentioned before - the tradition, the innovation, the quality, the variety - that are going to attract people to try it and stick with it.

      If you believe that cask ale is the pinnacle of British brewing, then surely by simply promoting the best of British brewing, you are automatically promoting cask ale, without having to explicitly denigrate other methods of dispense - which only acts to confuse people and turn them off altogether.

      Have some confidence in the product!

      Delete
    4. And therein lies the point. Like it or not there is a definition of Real Ale. I, for one, would be delighted to see a definition of "Good Beer".

      Delete
    5. @Stewart Taylor - and the challenge is to come up with a definition that includes Pilsner Urquell but excludes Peroni ;-)

      Delete
    6. @py - but surely the defining feature of cask beer is that it *does* come from a cask, and, inter alia, is unpasteurised, unfiltered, not artificially carbonated and not pressure-dispensed. Obviously people wouldn't buy it if they didn't like it, but those are the elements that distinguish it from other beers.

      And surely your third paragraph is exactly what I am advocating, that CAMRA needs to drop the "all other beer is crap" rhetoric and the unthinking belief that cask is intrinsically better than everything else.

      Delete
    7. Keep pushing the technical aspect, keep putting young people off drinking cask ale, watch cask ale slowly disappear. That's what is happening. Ask yourself: why not try something different?

      Definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Under the watchful eye of CAMRA, cask ale sales by volume have fallen by 75% since 1980. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

      Delete
    8. Well, either you have *a* definition, or you have no definition at all, and it ends up just like "craft beer". As I've said before, once you stop believing in *something*, you'll believe in anything.

      And the decline in cask volumes is due to the rise of lager and the overall decline of beer volumes in the on-trade, neither of which CAMRA was really in a position to do much about. Cask has gained market share within the on-trade ale sector.

      Delete
    9. You can still have a definition of real ale (although you and I both know that the current definition is not fit for purpose), but just don't use it in your promotional material or campaigns, because it puts people off.

      I disagree that there was nothing that CAMRA could have done. The rise of lager can partly be explained by the twiggy, fuddy-duddy, unsophisticated image of cask ale that CAMRA bestowed it with.

      CAMRA was, is, and continues to be, a major factor in the decline in cask ale. When its run by a bunch of out-of-touch pensioners who only ever talk to each other and have the worst case of group-think I've ever seen, what do you expect?

      Delete
  5. "BEER. Currently, I find this to be a profoundly unimpressive publication, full of vapid puff-pieces and more like an in-flight magazine than anything with pretensions to serious journalism."

    OK, obviously I'm biased, since the magazine semi-regularly prints pieces by me, but while there is certainly room for improvement, I don't think it's as bad as that, and it's certainly a challenger for the best publication of its type in the UK. What's Brewing really IS dull, an almost complete waste of time and newsprint, but if Beer was turned into a monthly and allowed to cover non-politically correct subjects it could be very good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I genuinely look forward to receiving the “BEER” magazine, and I think it’s a shame it only appears once a quarter. Mudge’s rather disparaging comments about the publication are unfounded and un-called for. It would be good for it to become a monthly magazine. There are enough beer writers around to provide sufficient copy and providing the magazine attracts sufficient advertising to cover both printing and postage costs, then there’s no reason why it couldn’t appear monthly.

      “What’s Brewing” is a totally different kettle of fish, and I fully agree with your comments, Martyn. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but I wonder whether CAMRA have deliberately dumbed it down in order to persuade members to opt for the electronic version. They would then be able to kill it off altogether.

      ps. Previous comment removed due to grammatical error.

      Delete
    2. I take the opposite view to Martin and Paul: WB isn't too bad and at least has some news in it, but Beer is uninteresting; just another self-regarding lifestyle mag based around the topic of beer.

      Delete
    3. I dont think WB is worth the paper its printed on thesedays, when you see or rather read the top 3 CAMRA branch magazine/news publications in comparison, in theory every month there should be oodles of things to cover even in the real ale beer scene as news for WB, and yet it barely has more than a page I bother reading anymore, and most of thats just the ads to see if theres any interesting beer festivals.

      as for BEER, its better than WB,but I think there are lots of people who write about beer,but I dont there are very many good writers who write about beer, and BEER shows that up. It suffers often from the same people who often perhaps unwittingly in some cases, in others it feels deliberate, mirroring each others style, and there never seems to be enough space for some articles, you want a mix of short and long indepth pieces, but everything seems to be about three sides of A4, like its a school essay contest.

      Delete
    4. I agree with previous commenters'. I rarely read anything in WB, to the level I've ignored editions and still have them in the plastic. Meanwhile I enjoy reading the large and interesting articles in BEER.

      Delete
    5. Another defence of Beer. I read it cover to cover in paper format. What's Brewing is scan read online before going in the bit-dustbin - and I really only dwell on the letters page. But of course the future of What's Brewing is currently a very hot debate on Discourse. Sure it's not a technical publication and that's most definitely by design. I leave my copies in the local barbers.

      Delete
  6. Maybe it deserves its own blogpost, but to my mind BEER really is pretty poor. Its key faults are:

    (a) an unrelentingly positive, gushing tone. For example, in the latest issue, "Ooh shinee! Strange ingredients in beer!"
    (b) a lack of serious articles about wider industry events and trends, especially ones that may have a negative aspect
    (c) the fact that it is hamstrung by being unable to discuss any non-real beers or ciders

    To be honest, all I normally read is the pub preservation section and the letters page.

    "What's Brewing" is far from perfect, but at least it does include relevant news items, an entertaining letters page and sometimes the odd opinion column that pricks the CAMRA bubble.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You need to post that on Discourse and get Tom engaged in the conversation. We've talked a lot of the future of What's Brewing. Maybe time for focus on Beer?

      Delete
  7. It seems to be a bit of a thing for festivals to do lager these days - cask lager that is. I'm not sure if it's a particularly Scouse thing, but I enjoyed cask lagers from both Peerless and Liverpool Organic last year. Maybe that is an angle that CAMRA could particularly encourage?

    The obvious dividing line between Real Beer™ and Carling is the presence of live yeast, regardless of container. Which seems to be the direction that CAMRA is heading down with the acceptance of eg the Moor cans. The only other option would probably be a definition that says keg is OK if it's made by a microbrewery, defined as paying low-rate duty. I'm not sure you're going to get anything objective that differentiates between the Buxton and Cloudwaters on the one hand, the Meantimes/Urquells and the Carlings. Unless CAMRA becomes the "Untappd rating >3.4" club.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cask-conditioned lager is a contradiction in terms. It's basically a lager-style ale.

      Delete
    2. It’s a bit late in the evening, but surely at one time; even lagers were naturally conditioned (carbonated)?

      Delete
    3. I suppose some still are naturally conditioned when they're being properly lagered. It's the processing that comes after conditioning that's changed.

      Delete
    4. Lager by definition is stabilised during a period of storage, i.e. "lagering". Once put into a container for final sale it is no longer capable of a secondary fermentation.

      Delete
    5. The point I was trying to make is that true lagers have a lengthy brewery conditioning so their flavour is developed regardless of the storage and dispense method, whereas products like Fosters and Carling (still top fermented?) are not true lagers and have little brewery conditioning.

      Delete
    6. Elec
      "The point I was trying to make is that true lagers have a lengthy brewery conditioning so their flavour is developed regardless of the storage and dispense method"

      I could possibly go for that.

      The problem with the term "larger" is modern parlance has lost its true and original meaning. For example lagers not only include bottom fermented pilsners but also bocks, Marzens, alt beers etc. And a "lager" is not restricted to bottom fermenting yeasts either though they work better in cold.

      During the second fermentation i.e. the lagering stage, the beer is stored close to 0C and it (eventually) sits on the yeast (this will sink). This is the first reason to lager, to get clear beer. The second is that the "bad" reactions associated with the styles happen slower than the good ones at cold temperatures so you get your "maturing" flavours dominating. Obviously (?) there is no point in mixing everything up again, so you get a crystal clear product that should have no fermentation possibility.

      On an interesting note if you do the Pilsner Urquell tour, your free beer(s) will likely be one that has not finished lagering. So it will not be crystal clear and in fact murky.

      Delete
  8. It's painful the lengths CAMRA wallas seem to want to go to have a pint of ice cold fizzy keg lager.

    Why don't they just accept the hypocrisy of their position and neck lager on the sly?

    Like catholics and contraception.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have never believed that being a member of CAMRA debars me from drinking non-real beers. Indeed I enjoyed an ice-cold fizzy (craft) keg lager at last week's beard club bunfight without being thrown out on to the street :-)

      Delete
    2. A lot of beard wallas seem to want CAMRA approval for it though eh? That's the point of this milarky, it would seem. Surely it's more fun if it's a bit naughty and you run the risk of the wrath of an old timer.

      Delete
    3. I think it's more the diarrhoea-inducing murky craft keg stuff they want to embrace.

      Delete
    4. I was at a London CAMRA young persons piss up 2yrs ago (I call it that as everyone was there for the free booze if you sit through a presentation, much like a timeshare).

      At this meeting they asked who in the last month has drunk a lager and all hands went up. Same response on the ale front.

      And even the elder CAMRA guys overseeing the event put hands up to the lager question.

      Don't believe anyone seeks approval. I myself drink whatever mood (or pub limitations) take me

      Delete
  9. Ok so if I take this idea to fruition, does it spell the end for key keg at festivals?

    ReplyDelete

Comments, especially on older posts, may be subject to prior approval. Bear with me – I may be in the pub.

Please be polite and remember to play the ball, not the man.

Any offensive or blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted.

See this post for some thoughts on my approach to blog comments.