Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Miles better beer?

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.


  1. I was with you until you said Doom Bar.

  2. I make no comment as to how good or bad Doom Bar is - the point is simply that it comes from a brewery 300+ miles away and is often seen in the free trade.

    In fact I had a spectacularly awful pint of Doom Bar a few weeks ago in a pub I will not name, but it is in Greater Manchester and in the 2009 GBG.

  3. It's all very well attempting to encourage licensees to stock at least one locally-produced cask beer but the big problem, as usual, is the tie.

    The tie prevents micros from attempting to sell to about 9 out 10 pubs. Eliminate this restriction and beer miles can be drastically reduced. As it is, micros are forced to seek customers over wide fuel-guzzling areas.

    Until CAMRA uses its alleged campaigning power to challenge the stranglehold of the tie system I'm putting "LocAle" in the bullshit file.

  4. Well, the tie is a completely different issue, and we should never forget that, without the tie, real ale would have been effectively wiped off the map in the UK in the 60s and 70s.

    The free houses of the day wanted heavily-promoted national brands, not that peculiar flat old-fashioned stuff.

  5. ...but it ain't the 60s or 70s no more!

  6. I'm always a little suspicous about people who claim to be sceptics of man-made global warming. However, as a fully paid up believer, I must agree with your views on beer miles. I can't help but think that CAMRA find them a convenient tool to promote real ale and see the whole idea as something of a gimmick.

    Good point about the tie. It's one that advocates for removal often forget.

  7. The tie as it applies to small and medium sized independent breweries is a completely different animal from the tie as exercised by the giant pub companies.

    Remove the former and it would lead to a major loss of choice and diversity in the on-trade beer market.

    The USA may have a thriving brewpub and microbrewery scene, but the vast majority of bars just serve heavily promoted crap.

  8. My stance on global warming is similar to Tyson's, but wasn't sure quite how to put it. Like the tie, the climate is something we might be sorry about when (if) it's changed.

    I, for one would be prepared to see how we got on without the tie, history of the 60's and 70's aside. However, the environment, I don't think is something we should risk, just in case it turns out to be true.

    Is LocAle good? I thought it was a nice idea. But on reflection some of your points, Curmudgeon do make sense to me.

  9. "Is LocAle good? I thought it was a nice idea."

    Yes, the point of the article was that it is good, and would be even better without the "beer miles" gloss. Real ale is a quirky, individualistic, artisanal product, and it makes sense for pubs to give some recognition to real ales produced in their local area.

    It is good to see how the Crown in Stockport, which was one of the three losing finalists in CAMRA's National Pub of the Year award, always gives strong, although never exclusive, representation to local micro-breweries.

  10. Yes I agree. LocAle is an excellent way to promote local beers. Nothing wrong with that. Just leave the beer miles baggage out of it.


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