Friday, 20 May 2011

Poppy choppers

The debate over whether CAMRA should support non-real craft beers continues to rumble on, as Tandleman puts it. In the latest issue of CAMRA’s quarterly “glossy” magazine BEER, there is a “for and against” opinion piece, with Tim Webb putting the case for, and Tandleman himself arguing against, although certainly not saying there is no merit in any non-real craft beers.

Now, as you’ll have gathered, I am no cask exclusivist, but on this issue I am inclined to agree with Tandleman, primarily because embracing non-real beers opens up a can of worms. CAMRA does what it says on the tin – it campaigns for real ale, something that has a clear and objective definition. It is not my view that means it should campaign against other beer styles (and founder member Michael Hardman agrees), or regard “real ale” as encompassing the vast majority of what is good in the beer world, although sadly there are still some in the organisation who see things that way.

However, once you start supporting craft beer as such, whether real or non-real, you have to make subjective judgments as to what qualifies. If Tim Taylors, a respected, long-established small family brewer, started making a non-nitro keg version of Landlord, would that be craft? Or Black Sheep, a very successful new brewery (no longer really a micro), albeit one whose cask beers are often thought a little dull? And, if not, why not? How are those beers different in kind from keg Jaipur IPA? And, if keg Landlord, why not keg 6X, or keg Pedigree?

Since the inception of CAMRA, there has always been a strand of opinion that anything widely available and produced on a large scale was inherently dull, and should be shunned in favour of the obscure, extreme and niche. At first this involved dismissing any cask beers produced by the erstwhile Big Six national brewers, then anything brewed by the major regionals like Greene King and Marston’s, then pretty much anything from any established family brewer, then even the products of successful micro-brewers that have expanded into mainstream pubs like Black Sheep and Butcombe. You meet some members nowadays who dismiss out of hand the entire output of brewers such as Shepherd Neame, Wadworth’s and Robinson’s who in the early days were the absolute acme of what the campaign was all about.

By and large, this kind of exclusivity has been rejected, but the advent of “craft beer” enables the issue of sorting breweries into sheep and goats to be opened up again. The embrace of “craft beer” would allow the righteous brewers operating at the cutting edge to be exalted, and those who have committed the deadly sin of achieving mainstream success amongst non-enthusiasts to be cut down as tall poppies.

As an aside, I have yet to encounter any “craft keg” outside of specialist beer pubs. Is this all really something of a storm in a nip glass?


  1. The question is not whether "craft keg" is better than other keg. The question is whether the beer sold as "craft keg" is as good as the same beer sold in cask.

    Since it isn't, there is no reason for CAMRA to campaign for it, and every reason to campaign against it.

  2. As I've said in Beer Magazine, we have no need to campaign against such things, rather, continue to push the merits of what we believe in. To do otherwise in this day and age, just isn't on. They increase choice and that's a good thing.

    There are many issues with craft beer as defined by its adherents, most of which they can't recognise, as they are blinded by the "sexiness" of it. But while I've a blog to write and will discuss it there in more detail, suffice to say it is the uncritical and narrow nature of much of the craft beer movement (an issue that very much afflicts the whole British Beer Industry)that I have issues with.

    At the end of the day though, I believe that keg craft's place is in a very limited niche and it will be at the bottled and strong beer end of the market and in those places where you really would be pushed to serve consistently decent cask. There are complex issues here, but in my view keg craft won't affect mainstream pubs to any real extent.

    As for new and innovative? Well hardly, but that isn't to say it hasn't got a place. It has.

  3. I happen to like "Black Sheep" as my taste is for a traditional smooth creamy northern bitter with a head, as opposed to flat southern beers and those over hopped beers that's like drinking a vase of daffodils that are all the rage.

    I'm not knocking them, but it's all down to personal taste, and I think that having a wide variety of styles is a good thing otherwise we end up with the only choice being homogenised crap from the big breweries along the lines of Watneys red barrel and the like.

    Some beers travel better than others in my experience. Tetleys being one. I remember a few years ago going into a bar in Spain and as soon as I opened my mouth the barman said "Tetleys?". I said "You're joking aren't you?". He said "Why what do you mean?". I replied "Tetleys doesn't travel that well the 8 miles from the brewery to my local, so what makes you think it'll be any better after 2500 miles?".

    Now I'm not knocking Tetleys as when it's bang on, it's top notch (or was).
    There's a skill in keeping Tetleys (and I've no doubt other beers are the same) and therein lies the problem.

    Now back to the point, a real ale (to my mind anyway) is a cask conditioned beer that is always hand pulled. It doesn't matter who brewed it, and just because Clive brews 100 gallon a week in his garage, it doesn't necessarily mean his beer is any better than a beer brewed somewhere up the M6 in a mega brewery doing a million gallons a week, and to be fair the mega brewed beer is likely to be more consistent (cosistently good or consistently bad is another topic).

    Keg's not a real ale (end of), that said I don't see any point in campaigning against it, just campaign *FOR* real ale.

  4. I've never come across so-called craft keg; I'll probably try it if I ever do, in the same spirit that I tried smoothflow. If I actually like it, I'll say so, which didn't happen with smoothflow.

    If you want to challenge people's choice of beer, try saying, "I think this is great. Want to give it a try?" and not "Why are you drinking that chemical fizz?"

  5. Are those who advocate CAMRA's espousal of "craft keg" really just self-promoters who want us to think that they are really, really knowledgeable about beer?

  6. Yes, I think there's a considerable strand of beer snobbery in it.


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