One of the recent initiatives promoted by CAMRA is LocAle, which encourages pub licensees to stock at least one locally-produced cask beer. Now, up to a point there’s a lot to be said for this, as it makes sense to promote the distinctive products of your own area rather than every pub serving the same range of beers. It’s disappointing to say the least to go into a pub in Cornwall or the Lake District and find Pedigree, Bombardier and London Pride on the bar. However, when they go on to claim that it also helps in the fight against “global warming” by cutting “beer miles” and thus reducing CO2 emissions from transport my eyes start to glaze over a bit.
While it’s really outside the scope of this blog, I have to say I am somewhat sceptical about the claims made about man-made global warming, which all too often seem to be just another excuse for those who want to curb prosperity and freedom of movement. International trade has over the centuries greatly enhanced people’s lives by widening the range of goods they have access to. And, even if you accept the theory, given the vast range of drinks stocked by pubs, changing to a local source for one cask beer will be no more than a drop in the ocean.
But, if you want to take the issue of beer and CO2 emissions seriously, it raises some awkward questions. Ironically, many of the activities of CAMRA, in encouraging people to take an interest in different beers rather than just accepting the same old standard product, have increased the amount of beer miles, which on a per-pint basis must be far more than they were when the organisation was founded. A free house in Manchester offering Sharp’s Doom Bar from Cornwall, and Orkney Red McGregor, isn’t exactly promoting localism, yet that’s where you’ll often find the activists drinking rather than the tied pub round the corner offering beers brewed only a few miles away.
And surely, recognising that international beer brands are not going to go away, the advocates of reducing “beer miles” should be campaigning for them to be brewed locally under licence rather than making a virtue of authenticity of source.
Cask beer is not a homogenous commodity product, and promoting its diversity and local distinctiveness is to be encouraged. LocAle stands up purely on those terms and would be better without the “climate change” gloss. If we couldn’t drink anything from the other side of the world – or even the other side of the country – our drinking experience would be much diminished.