The announcement of CAMRA’s Revitalisation Project resulted in all kinds of misleading newspaper headlines, of which this was one of the worst: Thanks to the hipsters, has the Campaign for Real Ale pulled its last pint? Err, no. CAMRA has not been defeated by hipsters, and it is not going to wind itself up.
There seems to be an expectation in some quarters that this will result in a dramatic upheaval of CAMRA’s priorities, and a sudden embrace of all kinds of beers, whether real or not. One of the worst examples is this response by Chorlton Brewing Co. to the CAMRA consultation. So CAMRA is hurting your business by its championing of real ale? What is it in the name that you didn’t understand? It’s on a par with moaning that the Kennel Club woudn’t allow you to enter your cat in a dog show. And there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of opportunities to sell craft keg beer at the moment anyway.
The wider view is expressed by the Campaign for Really Good Beer. Their argument is that CAMRA should drop its rigid insistence on cask- or bottle-conditioning and judge every beer on its own merits.
We should be allowing our brewers to make the beer that they want to make in the manner that they think best suits their product, and that we should be judging them solely on whether the beer that they make tastes good. If a brewer uses finings and you don’t like that method then stop using that brewer. If that brewer pasteurises their beer but it still tastes good to drink, then keep drinking it. It’s not for a small group of people to lay down laws.But the problem is that, once you abandon an objective standard, even if an imperfect one, then what are you left with apart from “beers I happen to like”? G. K. Chesterton once said “When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything,” and that is something that can easily be paraphrased to refer to beer.
I asked the question of Des de Moor on Twitter and he started going on about “brewing process, character, complexity, length of finish” etc, which are all very well, but largely subjective, and even if they can be defined by quasi-objective standards, are obscure criteria that aren’t remotely obvious to the general drinking public.
If you are going to draw a line at all, you have to define it. If you don’t, then you’re implying that CAMRA should support Carling. There’s nothing wrong with Carling, but I don’t think that’s what anyone is advocating. And if, for whatever reason, you end up excluding some of the more popular cask beers like, say, Doom Bar, then it starts to come across simply as an exercise in beer snobbery. Some real ale may be a bit dull, but at least it’s drunk by ordinary people in ordinary pubs.
I’m still mulling all this over and haven’t arrived at any firm conclusions, but I have a lot of sympathy for the view expressed by Phil of Oh Good Ale that CAMRA should concentrate on being a Campaign for Real Ale (and even maybe just a campaign for cask beer) rather than a campaign for everything. At the same time, though, it needs to accept that real ale is not inherently superior to all other forms of beer, and be prepared to recognise other styles and methods as worthy of praise, although ancillary to its core purpose.
I was also much struck by this comment by Ian H on Boak & Bailey’s blog.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, CAMRA is a people-powered cultural heritage organisation in all but name. Traditional drinking culture is what links real ale, real cider/perry, historic pub interiors and community pubs. Embrace it! By all means show craft more respect (the same respect shown to Belgian beers and quality German and Czech lagers, for instance), but don’t water down the central purpose of CAMRA.I really like the idea of CAMRA as a “people-powered cultural heritage organisation.” For me, its core character has always been primarily that of a preservationist body. Far from leading to a Clause Four moment and a bold march onwards to the sunlit uplands, I can see the outcome of this review being deeply divisive. I honestly can’t see CAMRA reinventing itself as a generalised campaign for all good beer, because that’s never what it was meant to be in the first place.