Saturday 8 February 2014

Driving blind

In the February issue of the CAMRA newspaper What’s Brewing, there’s a very interesting letter from Tim Webb that will certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. I won’t repeat the whole thing, but he concludes:

Uniquely among beer consumer groups, CAMRA has championed a bureaucratic device to inform its members what sort of beer is good – as in the term Good Beer Guide. Thirty years ago this mattered little, as decent beer and cask ale, in Britain at least, were synonymous. But then things changed and will not return to where they once were.

The challenge for the Campaign is how to adapt to the much-improved world of beer it helped create. Luke warm acceptance of, or being not against the greatest improvements to beer tastes in a century, is not a good enough stance. To younger eyes it makes CAMRA look like a much-loved grandparent who wants to keep driving even though they can’t make out the road ahead.


  1. Totally agree overall although there are many pockets of CAMRA members who see the wider picture.

  2. Absolutely, including several chairmen of local branches ;-)

    Probably if you took a poll of the entire membership the diehards would be very much in the minority.

    However, the "we campaign for real ale" attitude remains very vocal and still, for example, prevents any recognition being given to brewery-conditioned bottled beers in BEER magazine.

  3. Tim doesn't say what he wants though. That's a lot harder I suppose.

    Difficult to know what to make of it. CAMRA has come a long way but there are still threats. What does he want and expect?

    To use his own analogy, he is like the spoiled kid who doesn't want to eat what's put in front of him, but won't say what he would like.

  4. I'm not sure the question of "what he wants" is ultimately resolvable.

    "Real ale", whatever its limitations, is at least some kind of objective standard to divide sheep from goats.

    If CAMRA abandons this and just becomes a campaign for ill-defined "good beer" then it risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    But if it continues to nail its colours to the real ale mast and give at best very grudging recognition to anything falling outside that definition, then it risks losing credibility and long-term marginalisation.

    So I don't know what the answer is, but that doesn't mean the question isn't worth asking.

  5. Untill recently (July 07)**I spent
    50 years ,7 nights a week supping the "black stuff",in which time I met many worthies in quest for proper ale.Decent chaps,a worthwhile cause albeit not my own
    Nice folk,some of them Morris Dancers,plenty of academics with just the odd one or two blacksmiths or farriers.
    With the obvious decline of the Pub are such campaigns an help or

    ** Not allowed to clarify Schhhh

    Missing my local

  6. Sadly, I missed the letter, having allowed my membership to elapse. Clumsily, rather than by intent.
    The argument that the campaign is 'for real ale' and not anything else is pure fiddlesticks. It also supports real cider. To ignore or condemn good quality British keg beer, whilst actively promoting apple based products seems a bit of a cognitive disconnect to say the least.

  7. It's a question that CAMRA need to ask and answer, soonber rather than later, or they'll see membership numbers dropping. Even 'keg' is becoming a clouded (sorry) definition: Pasteurised or not, filtered or fined, or not. As I've often said, even the definition of cask has been taken advantage of by some larger brewers who dose filtered or racked beer with yeast to create a secondary fermentation. That's abiding by the definition of cask-conditioned, but not, in my opinion, the spirit. Then there's the increasing numbers of 'cask conditioned' beers that appear to have a little sediment but no trace of secondary fermentation, and don't get me started on that 'fast cask' thing!

  8. As Martyn Cornell explains in Amber, Gold and Black, historically most "mild" or "running" beers were effectively racked off at the brewery and didn't undergo any meaningful secondary fermentation.

    The whole idea of a tradition of "cask-conditioning" is basically extrapolating the situation of the early 1970s backwards into history.

  9. I think CAMRA have got a valid reason to stick to campaigning for real ale rather than "good beer" in general - specifically, that good beer pretty much sells itself and doesn't really need a large scale campaign to support it, whereas cask ale is a bit of a pain in the arse to keep and not necessarily an easy sell and and could easily go into a general decline (again) without someone to sing its praises.

    On the other hand, what CAMRA do really need to do is collectively accept that
    a) they're campaigning for real ale because it's a Good Thing that could easily come under threat, not because any other means of dispense is entirely the work of satan and
    b) that new wave beer / craft beer / yeasty grapefruit juice is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    It's getting increasingly embarrassing to see CAMRA wringing their hands about how to get more young people interested in cask ale while craft beer bars and craft breweries are going ahead and doing exactly that but mostly being ignored by CAMRA in case the whole thing somehow turns out to be stalking horse that leads to the reintroduction of Watneys Red Barrel.

  10. If it has not got the beard seal of approval it is chemical filth drank by ignorami.

  11. But all these young trendy hipsterish people are drinking the chemical filth.

    What can be done? How can the lovers of real ale fight back? Tell them the Pride is drinking well tonight, maybe?

  12. I was going to comment on this, but have written my own post instead on the subject. See here,, with acknowledgments and thanks to Curmudgeon.

  13. So long as there are good men and true, like you and Dickie, Mudge, real ale will prevail. Those Camra chairmen that drink the craft keg are literally drinking from the devils cup.

  14. What you need is a campaign for the revitilisation of real ale...

  15. "good beer pretty much sells itself and doesn't really need a large scale campaign to support it"

    I don't think this is true today and I doubt it has ever been true. The majority of people have most likely had absolutely no exposure to good beer whatsoever. Alcohol in general, and beer in particular, has an increasingly uncool and unsophisticated image amongst the young.

    If camra are't careful, we will find ourselves nitpicking over pointless technicalities over an increasingly small and irrelevant sector.

    Brewdog have probably persuaded 5 times the number U25s to try real ale in the past 5 years than all the camra festivals put together.

  16. Hardly, Py. Brewdog are encouraging the consumption of chemical filth. Quite literally corrupting young minds and encouraging them to suckle and the very teet of Satan. Saintly Tim Martin on the other hand is running cask beer festivals promoting real beer at pensioner and student prices.

    What is needed is lessons in schools to tell the kids that when they go down the pub they drink whatever a kindly white haired elderly gentleman informs them is drinking well today. In the absence of said gentleman, maybe a smartphone app could let them know what is drinking well today. Sort of a virtual white haired bearded old chap. The kids appear down with such stuff.

    The fact that Dave Cameron has not been doing this and instead pissing about with economic recovery, welfare reform and flooding is testament to the fact he doesn't know his arse from his elbow and is a bit of a cockwomble.

  17. "all these young trendy hipsterish people are drinking the chemical filth"

    Indeed we are....

  18. Maybe the song "The Oldest Swinger in Town" needs to be brought up to date as "The Oldest Hipster in Town" ;-)

  19. Sorry to be a bit late on this but I am busy.

    On the point about me not knowing what I want. there is no reason why CAMRA folk should know this, as they are not allowed to know it, but I have have an 8-page document called "We need to talk about Craft Beer" floating around the higher echelons of CAMRA for two or three years, which details what I think the organisation should do. It has not been circulated - not my fault.

    I am thinking about circulating it further is anyone is interested. - on holiday till 24th Feb.

    On the issue of there being a lot of craft beer out there that is crap I could not agree more. If CAMRA had dared to try to become the voice of good beer in Britain, rather than wimping back into saying that if it's not cask it's crap, then would have been able to assist people discriminating. Sadly it did just that so it gets no more say that anyone else.

    BTW: there is also a lot of mediocre cask beer out there too.

    Finally, any beer lover that resorts to suggesting that bad beer is "full of chemicals" will have their bluff called. You will not find chemical additives in most industrial lagers, though you will in most cask beers, as a replacement for sturgeon's swim bladder as finings, for example.

    The weak point of industrial beers is that they are dull / pointless. Take Carling Black Label or Greene King IPA for example.

    Tim W

  20. One of the main people suggesting that bad beer is full of chemicals is Richard English on the CAMRA forums who is one of the worst adverts for CAMRA imaginable.

  21. Stop bullying Dickie, by telling folk what is drinking well today he has done more to turn the tide of chemical fizz than any beer bloggery.

  22. Look on the bright side Tim, when I proposed that CAMRA be supportive of good keg beer in the same way as they are supportive of good cider, I was told to stuff off and start my own campaign. Apparently there is simply no room for such progressive thinking within CAMRA, heretics must be driven out.

  23. I think you misunderstand, Py. Drinking and supporting the chemical filth isn't heresy, it is blasphemy.

    Heresy is nothing more than opinion contrary to orthodox doctrine. Mudgie is a heretic. I would suggest your view is the offence of speaking and acting sacrilegiously in regard to sacred things, blasphemy.

    The punishment for heresy is banishment from the beard club for life, blasphemy is death by chemical filth.

    Return to the path of cask conditioned enlightenment!

  24. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, for I did drink from the devil's hazy cup.


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