And I think this illustrates CAMRA’s biggest problem, namely “cask exceptionalism”. Founder member Michael Hardman has said “I must point out that we’re not fighting against anything, we’re fighting for something.”, and the national AGM has passed a motion against “anti-campaigns”, but this kind of thing still happens at ground level.
Those who are sceptical about CAMRA widening its remit are sometimes portrayed as blinkered, out-of-touch dinosaurs, but in reality I personally have always recognised merit in many non-real beers and taken the view that CAMRA was being too dogmatic in dividing the beer world into black and white. Much the same applies to Phil of Oh Good Ale and, as Tandleman says in this excellent blogpost:
Crikey, even I drink lager and craft beer from time to time and apart from a small minority, I reckon most CAMRA members do. It can't really be a hatred of keg then surely? Or non real ale - I repeat our members by and large drink it.I don’t see any fundamental inconsistency in campaigning to support and preserve a unique and distinctive British beer tradition, and the pub culture that surrounds it, while at the same time being happy to recognise merit in other types of beer. There is still the view that CAMRA cannot be seen to refer positively to any non-real beers in national and local publications, for fear that it might undermine real ale. But surely it can afford to be much more relaxed about this, and that could reap benefits in terms of a more positive public imagine which could reinforce the position of real ale. For example, as someone who enjoys the odd drop of good lager, I would really like to see a feature on British craft lagers in BEER magazine.
I’ve also often argued that it is wrong to treat bottle-conditioned beer as the direct bottled equivalent of cask. This attitude is historically ignorant, as bottle-conditioning had largely died out decades before cask became endangered, and was never such a core part of our brewing tradition. Nowadays it only serves to hinder the development of a thriving and innovative bottled beer market. In my cupboard I currently have next to each other bottles of White Shield and Thornbridge Jaipur. Both great beers, but CAMRA approves of one but not the other, which is simply daft.
So the conclusion is clear – campaign for real ale (and maybe just cask beer), but be happy to enjoy and accept other quality beers that don’t qualify. And nobody should be criticised for coming along to a CAMRA social event and having a half of Guinness.
It’s also interesting to see that I was making much the same argument five years ago.
(The pub sign in the photo is from the Live and Let Live at Bringsty Common in Herefordshire. I just happened to come across it when Googling for a suitable image, but obviously it’s right up my street. I’ve never visited the pub personally, but apparently it was an unspoilt, basic gem that was saved from closure, but only by going rather “gastro”)