Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Ale Shrine

The George in Stockport has recently reopened after a period of closure. How long for remains to be seen, but at least they have made the effort to put on some cask beers including Taylor’s Landlord at notably reasonable prices. However, there have been complaints about the volume of piped music in the pub, with one person asking why they can’t “leave one or two areas free of noise so that the serious real ale drinker can enjoy the beer without unnecessary distraction?”

This raises an interesting question about the attitude of many beer enthusiasts to the whole pubgoing experience. Forty years ago, virtually nobody would go to the pub just for the beer. You might choose one pub over another because you preferred the brand of beer they sold, or the landlord kept it better than other pubs, but drinking beer wouldn’t be an end in itself, it would be a social lubricant, or an aid to quiet contemplation, or even a road to intoxication. But you wouldn’t say “I am going to the Skinners’ Arms tonight for the sheer pleasure of drinking Marston’s Pedigree”.

This increasingly changed with the rise of beer enthusiasm and the beer exhibition pub, and for many people the beer itself did become the primary reason for visiting pubs. Of course pubs meet a lot of different needs, but it seems to me this misses one of their core reasons for existence, which is to provide a kind of rumbustious, slightly anarchic escape from the cares of the everyday world, somewhere to let your hair down a bit and swear and fart and flirt. They can’t understand how anyone could have a good time in a keg pub, or even drinking the same beer all night.

This reminds me of this comment from IanB from last year on Dick Puddlecote’s guest column:
... if you do a sociological analysis on the IanB Scale, a scale of Puritanism which I invented several seconds ago, CAMRA are a heavily puritan social formation. Puritans come in a number of guises, and can, on the surface seem to be promoting something notionally libertine, such as imbibing an intoxicant. Nudists are another example of a puritan formation that you have to look more closely at to see it. Try bumming a fag in a nudist camp and see the reaction you get.

The thing about the average CAMRAman is that he's after this pure unadulterated ale experience; ale is healthful and nourishing and natural, not like artificial, chemical, adulterated keg beer. Hence the general CAMRAman support for the smoking ban; the solitary purpose of a pub is to supply healthful nourishing ale, so tobacco smoke is an unnecessary and distracting impurity in the experience. On the IanB scale, they score a 10, I'm afraid. As a result, they see themselves as on the side of the angels and are entirely unable to understand what's heading their way.
While CAMRA often extols the virtues of “community pubs”, I suspect many of its members (not all), if they came across a true community pub, where such still exist, would stick their head around the door, take one look and beat a hasty retreat. You sometimes get the impression they would prefer to sit in sepulchral silence nursing their half-pints and discussing obscure hop varieties, undisturbed by loud voices, singing, piped music, cooking smells - or tobacco smoke. They may love beer, but they don’t get pubs.


  1. Nice piece Mudgers,but it would seem the Camra chappies still have their blinkers and earmuffs
    I raised the issue of the CAMRA
    types with my two stepdaughters both married to normal men,they noted they did'nt know any woman
    married to one of the Hopalongs.
    Upon reflection, of all the frothers I have known ,they all were single loners,busily analysing cloudiness and bitterness.I do not criticise their fondness for fresh air but
    forcing their likes on ALL others
    shows them up for what they are,
    suburban and rural Weasels.

    The disenfranchised majority

  2. " of their core reasons for existence, which is to provide a kind of rumbustious, slightly anarchic escape from the cares of the everyday world..."

    Which is why, I think, the government was happy to see their demise in the wake of the totally unjustified smoking ban. There is no place for "rumbustious" or "anarchic" in today's politically correct, propagandised society. Any behaviour deemed unacceptable by the ministers of the new high church of health is to be discouraged. We must regard our bodies as temples to this new religion, which eschews the pleasures of the flesh.

  3. I just learned a new word - "rumbustious". Never heard it over here in The Colonies.

    I like it. It rolls around the tongue. I'm going to encourage it to some extent in my pub.

  4. Well Mudgie, as Ricky Tomlinson might say "My Arse!"

  5. He shoots, he scores. Well put Mudge.

    On a note, can we put a sign up outside "ale shrines" so the rest of us know it's full of RATS and give it a wide berth?

    The group that wish to protect pubs don't really. Only the pubs they like. Only the pubs that fit a narrow criteria of acceptability.

  6. Not really my experience of CAMRA.

  7. I grew up in a pub with a jukebox which was always on, except when there was live music; and my Dad's always played in pub bands, so I tend to feel much more at home in a pub with some tunes.

    Footage of pubs from the 1960s on the BFI "Shadows of Progress" documentary collection and "London in the Raw" makes them look like music venues with incidental beer.

  8. As a local CAMRA magazine editor who gets around a fair number of pubs in several towns, both socially and to do with the campaign, I don't recognise your description of CAMRA types, or that by your guest columnist. For most people I know in the campaign, beer drinking is an adjunct to some kind of social activity. Yes, there is the occasional prat in CAMRA, but there are prats everywhere, even among some people who post comments on beer blogs and quote their largely unjustifiable caricatures as though they were gospel.

    Anon: which particular disenfranchised majority do you belong to? As your stepdaughters' experiences, male CAMRA members constitute around 0.27% of the male population, therefore 99.73% of males in the UK don't belong to CAMRA. So your point is?

  9. What real pubs like The Albert in withington??

  10. Definitely not my experience of highly rated 'CAMRA favoured' pubs in Liverpool...

    The Roscoe / Lion / Ship 'n Mitre / Belvidere / Grapes all sell great beer and have a fantastic friendly atmosphere.

    As for background music, it certainly can be a real pain, the same dull mainstream pap played too loud just gets in the way of group conversations and seriously detracts from having a laugh.

    It's hard to flirt when you're grinding your teeth over the same bloody coldplay song again...

  11. Martin, Cambridge13 April 2012 at 13:20

    I read a lot of the local CAMRA newsletters (S&SM being the best), and you DO get an impression that the active members on crawls spend 15 minutes per pub testing halves of the rarest beer. A relaxed hour over a pint of John Smiths, Courage or GK IPA and a game of darts is rarely mentioned.

    There are also a limited number of branches where basic locals serving only Hydes Original or Unicorn (or equivalent) regularly make the Beer Guide. Conversely a poorly kept micro beer is often the key driver for inclusion.

    However, I'm prepared to accept that those who stick to specialist beer pubs make up less than 10% of the branch membership.

  12. Well, Martin, I know you're right, because I have read such elitist nonsense myself, but you won't find it in my mag. When we mention pubs, we usually state what real ales were on at the time of the visit, but I regularly have articles about music in pubs (my own particular interest), and other pub activities when people write about them. The mag isn't perfect, but I try to keep it local, interesting and relevant. I googled S&SM, as I've no idea what it is: Surveillance and Spectrum Management came up.

    There is nothing wrong with a pub that serves only one or two beers getting into the GBG, even though you may not like the beer concerned. I don't in one instance locally and if it were up to me it wouldn't be in, but then it's not Nev's Beer Guide.

  13. The point of this post was not to say this had become a general or indeed majority view in CAMRA, but to discuss in broader terms how a growing number of people, not necessarily members of CAMRA, had come to see "the appreciation of beer" as the core purpose of pubs.

    This, as set out in the quote from IanB, is the only explanation why people who profess to be champions of pubs can, otherwise to me incomprehensibly, support a policy that has proved to be disastrous for the pub trade and has also set a template for what is now being done to alcohol consumption in general.

  14. S&SM is Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA. A branch that, unlike some others, still does put independent brewers' tied houses in the Good Beer Guide.

  15. I keep on having a pop at CamRA on the MA.

    I get quite dissapointed that hardley anyone seems to want to stick up for them.

    The peanut gallery is 99% silent. The truth is I have a soft spot for CamRA and I wish it well but I think that it has lost perspective.

  16. "the appreciation of beer" as the core purpose of pubs?

    That is always going to be case among those who are crap at darts, to gormless to like footie or unable to chat up lasses.


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