Friday 6 January 2017

A campaign designed by a committee

A group of middle-aged men sort out the future of beer
During 2016, CAMRA has been undertaking a Revitalisation Project, which not unreasonably aimed to take a root-and-branch look at the organisation’s objectives and strategy at a time when cask beer itself was not under immediate threat, but there were many other challenges such as the overall decline of the pub trade, the growing influence of the anti-drink lobby and the rise of quality beer presented in non-“real” form.

I offered my own thoughts on what conclusions it should reach in September’s Opening Times. Basically, my view was that CAMRA should draw in its horns a little and stick to the knitting of its core campaigning priorities, but at the same time become less dogmatic and far more relaxed about recognising quality in non-“real” beers. I never really expected that to be quite the line actually taken, but it would be interesting to see how the two visions compared.

An exhaustive series of surveys and consultation meetings was carried out – the photo shows the one I attended at the Gateway in East Didsbury over the summer. Eventually, the project task force came up with their list of recommendations, which was released in December. There have been a number of complaints that there has been little reaction on the beer blogs or Twitter, but it has to be recognised that people have better things to do over the Christmas period, and it’s a long, detailed document that takes time to digest.

I’ve now had chance to read it and offer some random thoughts, although I don’t pretend it’s a fully considered response to the whole thing.

For a start, it’s refreshing to see an official CAMRA document admit that: “The volume of cask beer produced in the UK has collapsed drastically since CAMRA’s formation but has stabilised since 2010.” So often it is incorrectly assumed that real ale was in the verge of extinction in 1971 and since then has staged a dramatic comeback. I’m not saying that CAMRA spokespeople have said this as such, but it’s widely accepted as received wisdom.

I have to take issue with the statement that “CAMRA should promote the virtues of well-produced, well-kept, cask-conditioned beer as the pinnacle of the brewer’s craft.” This sadly represents the narrow-minded “cask exceptionalism” that has been one of CAMRA’s biggest flaws over the years. I am happy to celebrate and champion cask beer as a unique British contribution to the world of beer that, in this country, offers the best beer of any kind you will come across. But it isn’t intrinsically better than every other kind of beer, and I’m sure there are many brewers and drinkers in places like Germany and the Czech Republic – and indeed the USA – who would beg to differ.

One hoary nettle that is firmly grasped is to recommend that “CAMRA should adopt a neutral position on the use of cask breathers.” This is a long-running bone of contention, but surely it’s a classic case of the best being the enemy of the good. A pub with a healthy turnover won’t need to use them, but I’d much prefer cask beer stored under a cask breather than either stale, oxidised cask beer or none at all, and I suspect the vast majority of cask drinkers would agree. I assume this means that branches can happily turn a blind eye to the use of cask breathers when making Good Beer Guide selections or compiling pub guides. However, expect opposition from diehards muttering about “the thin end of the wedge”.

Another thorny issue is to recommend that “CAMRA should permit the stocking of British beers that do not meet the definition of real ale at CAMRA beer festivals.” Fair enough, but it’s more interesting for what it doesn’t say. Does that include bottled beers as well as draught? And does it extend to promoting such beers more generally beyond just stocking them at beer festivals? Plus it opens up the old question of “where do you draw the line?” While I don’t expect to see CAMRA branches rushing to stock Carling at festivals, surely they’d be perfectly within their rights to have a British Lager Bar featuring the likes of Leeds Brewery Leodis and Hawkshead Lakeland.

There has long been a widespread feeling that cider is given too much prominence in CAMRA’s activities, which was reflected in the survey results. However, perversely, the report recommends that the status of cider campaigning should be raised. While traditional British cider is undoubtedly a good thing, the problem is that it’s an entirely different product from beer and the read-across is more limited than many imagine. Most cider drinkers tend to stick to cider – there isn’t a large population of repertoire drinkers regularly switching between cider and beer.

And, given that it doesn’t enjoy a secondary fermentation, the definition of “real” beer cannot be used. Instead, CAMRA’s cider campaigners have come up with a complex and hard-to-fathom set of rules that fails to resonate with the drinker at the bar. I can’t say I ever drink cider, real or otherwise, in the pub, but I do sometimes enjoy the products of independent producers like Sheppy’s and Weston’s at home. Those don’t qualify as “real”, but I’m not really remotely bothered. It also has to be said that real cider has never gained much traction with the general drinking public. Anyone reading this blog could easily come up with a list of ten popular and widely-distributed real ales. Could they even name a single real cider? There has also been a marked rise in “craft keg” cider which seems to have completely passed the CAMRA cider community by, apart from perhaps to have a little sneer.

I would have preferred to see the role of cider campaigning downplayed to some extent, and APPLE instructed to come up with a much simpler definition of “real cider” that included many more real-world products.

It’s good to see a CAMRA publication acknowledge that “There is also a view from some that the Campaign has become unreasonably prejudiced against larger brewers and pub operators – for example, it has been suggested that certain branches favour microbreweries and independent pubs over more established competitors,” even if it doesn’t fully accept the point. There is far too much “tall poppy syndrome” in CAMRA, with popular beers from established brewers passed over in favour of the often mediocre and inconsistent products of tiny start-ups. No brewer deserves a free pass just because they are small, or are struggling to make a living. And, in some areas, the prime criterion for Good Beer Guide entry seems to be the stocking of obscure beers rather than actual beer quality as such.

I very much welcome the recommendation that “CAMRA should be at the forefront of challenging the anti-alcohol lobby”. It really is long overdue that this threat is recognised. However, they immediately piss in their own pot by adding the caveat of “and promoting the benefits of responsible, social drinking in the on-trade.” Sorry, guys, but you won’t get anywhere until you recognise that you are, essentially, on the same side as Tesco. There is still an all-too-common mindset in CAMRA that the anti-alcohol lobby do sort of have a point when they’re attacking the things that other people drink.

And, while it’s right to place a strong emphasis on championing pubs as the home of real ale, the recommendation that “CAMRA should champion the drinking of real ale in communal settings and should not increase its support for the off-trade” does come across as somewhat Canute-like. The tipping point has now been passed when over 50% of beer sales are in the off-trade, and that trend is only going to continue. Yes, ideally it’s better down the pub, but does CAMRA really want to accept that it has nothing to say to home drinkers?

I also find it disappointing that there is no mention of pub preservation or the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. To my mind, this is one of CAMRA’s greatest achievements and deserves to be given much more prominence in its activities. It will endure when currently fashionable breweries, beer brands and crafty bars have long since bitten the dust.

The conclusion must be that the report is a good example of committee work that has to satisfy a variety of interest groups and stakeholders. Yes, it does include one or two controversial recommendations, but there is a general feeling of not wanting to frighten the horses too much. It may contain plenty of common sense, but it’s not going to encourage anyone to man the barricades, and I can’t really see it silencing those people who resent the fact that CAMRA doesn’t support their own particular hobby-horse or think it is stuck in the past.

However, while you may quibble with some aspects of CAMRA’s policies or campaigning activities, as a whole it is undoubtedly a Good Thing. As I’ve said in the past, not everyone has to be interested in everything. “Nobody can dictate what individuals embrace as leisure interests and enthusiasms.” So, if you like pubs and beer, and want to support them, you can pick and choose which parts of CAMRA’s activities you engage in, and which you let pass by.


  1. What is needed is someone to make CAMRA Great Again!

    I can't see the TAND or Clarkey doing that. Them's establishment CAMRA

    We need anti establishment CAMRA !

    You the man, Mudge. Step up and make CAMRA Great Again!

    1. I might have a bit of a problem with getting them to accept that relaxing the smoking ban should be the top campaigning priority.

  2. Thank you for this considered summary, I enjoyed reading it. Perhaps I should now read the whole document which has been stuck on a memory stick over Xmas awaiting my attention. But with your summary - do i need to do so, I ask? Cheers.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, John :-) As a former National Chairman I would say it is your duty to read the whole thing. It's actually quite interesting - many subjects are brought up that are often swept under the carpet.

      Incidentally, I had to smile at you getting dragged in to arguing with py over the "avoid any pub with three handpumps or less" thing. Some of us have learned that debating with him is rather like wrestling with a well-oiled seal, and do our best to avoid it ;-)

    2. Py quite enjoys sliding down a well-greased pole though. Allegedly.

  3. "Some of us have learned that debating with him is rather like wrestling with a well-oiled seal, and do our best to avoid it"

    Love it

  4. At the risk of being branded as "die hard" (with or without a vengeance ��), I believe CAMRA should be wary of diluting the definition of cask and its methods of dispense. This has always been about a balance between idealism and "big business". Using the dreaded breather as an example, we all know that many GBG pubs use them and that pubcos would probably do blanket (sic) installations in their managed estates whether they were needed or not rather than encourage good cellarmanship. If CAMRA sanctioned them, it would encourage widespread installation and the proliferation of tired, cardboard, beers that, while not vinegary would not be worth drinking. Indeed, the thin end of the wedge.

    CAMRA's stance serves as a brake on the slide to mediocrity and blandness.

    Of course, this is probably less of a threat in the tenanted and free trade where the licensee is not going to spend on unnecessary equipment.



  5. This is a good round-up. Essentially, I agree it's a bit wrong in places but overall throws the right shapes in terms of moving CAMRA as far as it will bear.

    Given the measured and appropriately modest shape of the proposals, it's somewhat dismaying they (in whatever form the NE presumably decide) will go before an AGM in 2018.

    Because ultimately, while I agree this is at present as far as CAMRA will go - and am of the view incremental reform is more lasting than revolutionary change, this is nonetheless about 10 years too late.

    In the end, I tend to agree with Martyn Cornell that CAMRA will remain a well-funded (DD inertia) but ultimately purposeless body without further, significant changes.

    Out of step with shifts in the beer scene that are a window into the industry in 2025-2030 and lacking influence among key brewers it will need the ear of to maintain cask into further generations.

    1. Ah yes, but this is where you and I differ. I have always seen CAMRA as essentially a preservationist movement. It exists to protect and champion *this*. It doesn't have to bow to the fickle winds of fashion. It says "well, OK, if you want to do *that*, fair enough, we don't mind, but that's not what we're about." It no more needs to gain influence among key brewers than the National Trust needs to gain influence among contemporary architects.

    2. "shifts in the beer scene that are a window into the industry in 2025-2030"

      One thing the beer scene has often shown us in recent decades is that most predictions, even by informed commentators and insiders, tend to fall wide of the mark. I'd hesitate to predict what it will be like in five years' time, let alone in 2030.

    3. Which is why CAMRA needs to stick to its guns rather than trying to follow trends.

    4. The National Trust analogy is false. No action on the part of contemporary architects can damage or destroy the Trust's historic properties. But key brewers can stop masking the ales which CAMRA champions.

  6. This analogy doesn't hold. The NT can preserve heritage by buying and maintaining it. CAMRA does not do this - this would imply it directly owning heritage breweries or going back into the pub game.

    CAMRA has a bully pulpit to protect cask beer. I want cask beer to last into my dotage and beyond (it is, after all, my choice tipple); I agree with you, also, that CAMRA's historic interiors work is important.

    So I'm not saying what I say because my heart's aflutter by sexy new things (though I do like some of them).

    I just think CAMRA will need purchase in the industry in future and will best preserve cask (in all its guises - and I prefer "progressive" pales from the likes of Five Points, Oakham, Cloudwater, while also loving trad favourites such as Harveys) as a consumer champion that - where appropriate - accepts and works with change so we don't jettison the baby with the bathwater.

    1. There are plenty of architectural preservation bodies such as SPAB and the Victorian Society that don't directly own buildings but seek to influence their owners and public authorities. And CAMRA does have a substantial chunk of commercial skin in the game through running beer festivals. It's not purely a dispassionate observer.

      Of course CAMRA needs to engage constructively with brewers and pub operators, which is why the "all non-real ale is shite" attitude needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history. However, it's not going to do anything to save cask beer by bringing non-cask beer within its campaigning embrace (as opposed to recognising that it can be of high quality), which is what some seem to want it to do.

    2. I'd say that CAMRA are about preserving cask ale as an ongoing tradition rather than a museum piece, though, so to some extent they need to get on board with new(ish) trends in cask, at least. But then, I don't think they're doing too badly at that as it is - local festivals generally seem to do reasonably at picking beers that are of interest to their demographic.

      Generally good writeup, though. I think I'm with you on most of it - the recommendations seem like a pretty good set of compromises. Non-real British ale at CAMRA festivals might be controversial, but to me it seems like a really good expression of "we recognize that it can be of high quality but we aren't actively campaigning for it". On a similar basis I'd like actually to see "quality keg" venues, clearly flagged as such, in the GBG, but maybe the controversy-to-benefit ratio there would be too high...

      Good point on "pinnacle of the craft" versus "not intrinsically better but unique and important", too.

  7. Stanley Blenkinsop8 January 2017 at 08:37

    I say,what a painfully laborious and complicated business this going out for a few pints seems to be.Do people really get together in back rooms of pubs and haggle for hours over what comes out of a beer tap and how it's produced ?
    Either it tastes good or it doesn't.
    That's my opinion and I reckon it's shared by every one of my drinking pals.
    Even if we haven't formed a quorum and read the minutes of the previous meeting before coming to that conclusion!

  8. Most interesting. And the 'designed by a committee ... aaaaggghhh!

  9. The picture at the top of the page speaks volumes, a group of middle aged men sorting out the future of beer,in my view If CAMRA doesn't embrace change I believe it will slowly fade into nostalgia along with the middle aged men in the picture and thus see its influence steadily decline.
    I am by the way a middle aged man.

    1. But what exactly is the change that CAMRA needs to embrace?

    2. Simply an acceptance of modern beer and drop the if its not real ale its rubbish point of view, I know many within CAMRA are more open minded but many of the old school dare I say dinosaurs are not and I feel this is the image that still pervades, I am not for one minute suggesting CAMRA should champion or promote keg beer, even though a much of it is very good now in my personal opinion.
      The image needs vast improvement and if that means an acceptance of the undefined Craft Beer,(allow in beer festivals?) so be it. It is no longer the 1970's and heads need to come out of the sand.

    3. There was at least a few more members in their 20s and 30s (myself included), some of them young women, at the Birmingham revitalisation meeting to be fair, but that picture above did represent the majority of people there.

  10. Good summary Mudge. I think lack of interest in real ale in the "young",rather than disinterest in Committees,is the danger for cask.

  11. I don't think CAMRA needs to worry about attracting younger members. I can't see a problem with members being mostly old or middle aged; since the young drinkers of today will soon be older and replace the old members who have passed on. If middle aged men decide CAMRA's future it will be with a middle aged sensibility soon to be shared by future middle aged people.

    1. The trouble is though, I doubt they will be drinking cask beer.

    2. I would not assume that to be the case. Tastes change and perhaps the "craft" beer crowd will discover cask. In the US things change dramatically and quickly. Ten years ago wine was the rage; now it is "craft" beers. There is no reason cask could not be next. In the UK young drinkers as they go grey and become middle aged may well turn to cask. It really is difficult to predict.

    3. "The trouble is though, I doubt they will be drinking cask beer."

      Seems the key point w.r.t the future of CAMRA. Using myself as an example - I like tasty things. When I moved to the UK I eventually found tasty beer - and it was cask. But as a fairly openminded and non-ancient person I'm open to new things, thus this keg stuff from microbreweries came along and pretty much starting at BrewDog I "discovered" it. I love both cask and keg...

      But I meet and know lots of folk my age and younger who discovered "tasty beer" via a BrewDog bar, or a plethora or other ways in more recent times. They are not interested in cask (a variety of reasons) - but were it a decade ago they would possibly have become cask drinkers.

      This potentially represents the beginning of a future of attrition in CAMRA membership rates.

      Just a quickly typed out thought anyway...

      (By the way I have a fairly strong sympathy for the idea that CAMRA stick to its guns and be 100% about _cask_ale_... I'd turf out cider/perry (spin it out as a separate org with its own membership) and also reduce any emphasis on "real ale" in other formats (pity about the name of the org... maybe redefine "real ale" as "cask"). This is probably the opposite of "revitalisation" mind and may faster cement a future death of CAMRA.)

  12. A good all round review of CAMRA’s Revitalisation Project Mudge, which has saved me the job of writing my own review. Having attended one of the consultation meetings earlier last year, I came away with the feeling that some form of compromise would be reached between those who wish to modernise the campaign and those who want it to stay exactly where it is today.

    This was quite evident from the breakdown of the attendees at the meeting which, incidentally was held at the Southwark Brewing Company’s railway arch premises underneath the approaches to London Bridge station.

    Unless I’ve missed it, there doesn’t seem to be any mention in the recommendations of a way to address the problem of an increasingly aged active membership; and yes I include myself in this group! As I’ve said countless times before CAMRA really needs to not only attract younger members into the Campaign, but needs to encourage them to play a more active role. I’m not sure what the answer is though, and it doesn’t look like the Revitalisation Committee know either.

    On the minus side, not just sticking with cider, but upping its profile in terms of campaigning, will only serve to dilute activities on the beer front. I agree with your summation of the whole cider sector, as it currently stands within CAMRA, and the lack of a suitable definition of “real cider”, does rather make a mockery of the whole business.

    Reading between the lines it appears the committee got cold feet over spinning off APPLE as a separate campaign, partially due to pressure from current committed cider activists, but also due to concerns expressed by real cider and perry producers, who felt that separation could prove disastrous for the availability of their products. The view of the latter group was there are just too few cider enthusiasts to sustain a successful independent campaigning organisation.

    This to me suggests there just isn’t the demand for “real” cider and perry which the activists within APPLE would have us believe, and that whilst the popularity of apple and pear products at CAMRA festivals may suggest otherwise, much of the sales at these events might well be down to “distress purchasing” by festival goers who just don’t like beer.

    If “traditional” cider diehards within CAMRA believe otherwise, then surely this should have been the ideal opportunity for them to step up to the plate and launch their own, high-profile campaign. Continuing hanging onto CAMRA’s coat-tails, in support of a drink which is completely different to beer, does seem rather defeatist to me.

    So not an earth shattering report, but it will be intersecting to see how it is viewed by the membership as a whole; or should that be those members who actively care about the future of the Campaign and maybe its very survival in the longer term.

    1. Cider did actually bring me into the Campaign originally though, before I'd also developed a taste for keg and cask beer.

      I agree the definition of "real" cider is a bit muddled.

    2. Re: "Unless I’ve missed it, there doesn’t seem to be any mention in the recommendations of a way to address the problem of an increasingly aged active membership..."

      The section headed "Education and information" on pages 20-22 does make some suggestions on this issue.

    3. Actually, I'd disagree on the cider front - I think there's a real revival of interest in cider - but most pubs only offer the cider equivalent of Watney Red Barrel, namely Strongbow. I know a number of pubs who have devoted a handpull to real cider and it's worked pretty well for them - sure it does disproportionately well in summer, and works better when the crowd is younger and more female rather than in "old man" pubs, but that in itself suggests one answer to CAMRA's demographic problems.

      I think there's is significant synergy in keeping cider in with CAMRA - I'd also throw in a Campaign Against Booker's-Cheapest-Merlot In Pubs. Based on typical pub wine sales you might assume the British people don't really like wine, when off-sales suggest that they do, they just reject the average standard of wine in pubs.

  13. "But it isn’t intrinsically better than every other kind of beer"

    Surely the belief that *IT IS* is the fundamental point of CAMRA though?

    This doesn't mean arguing that all cask beer is better than all non-cask beer, that all cask beer is good, or that all keg is bad - all three of which are positions variously held by some of the die-hards).

    But I think there is a pretty strong case that for any given beer, cask conditioning to optimal condition will always be better than any of the alternatives, and that this holds up right across the spectrum of beer styles and the entire world.

    Personally I've yet to be convinced otherwise and I've been lucky enough to enjoy rare cask (or something approximating cask) versions of several beers that are almost always non real. Guess what, in just about every case, THE REAL VERSIONS WERE BETTER. I also drink quite a bit of keg these days, purely because the styles of beer I happen to favour are often only available in that format down here.

    But the fact that the real versions are often extraordinarily hard to find (e.g. Pilsner Urguell, Cantillon) or even one-off 'only cask in existence' deals is hugely frustrating and to me underlines what CAMRA really should be doing. Campaigning. For. Real. Ale.

    1. Surely lager has to be conditioned and stabilised and so by definition cannot experience cask-conditioning. Kellerbier may be unfiltered and unpasteurised, but it isn't cask-conditioned.

    2. You can bottle condition a lager, so I don't see why you can't cask condition one. Bear in mind all lagers would have been "naturally conditioned" before things like compressed bottled CO2 came along.

      You could rack lager to cask to finish off and "lager" in cask even.

      I don't know how the "wooden barrel" Pilsner Urquell they drag out for beer nerd events is conditioned mind, and I expect it is simply normal PU tank conditioned and filled unfiltered to the little "casks" they use. (Someone told me the barrels are lined... which is amusing. SPBW would spit chips I'm sure.)

    3. And this is why I talk about an 'approximation' of cask - the days of a black and white cask/keg divide are long behind us.

      I don't particularly care how they condition the PU from the wood (which is almost certainly lined with PET or something) but whatever they do, the resulting product is substantially different from keg or tank PU and, in my view, markedly superior.

      Ditto Brewdog's 'LIVE' Dead Pony, Bateman's keykeg-via-handpump range and other pseudo-cask stuff. Might not technically qualify as 'cask conditioned ale', but then neither does re-racked bright beer and it really doesn't matter.

      If CAMRA is going to embrace all this varied, modern stuff without completing disregarding its principles, there are enough pointers as to where the line between 'real' and 'not real' should be drawn. A few purists will be pissed off, but perhaps not as many as we think. Provided they make clear early on what is and isn't acceptable to promote and do so on a sensible basis.

      Which, of course, they have singularly failed to do...

    4. I've had Peerless' Storr lager from cask in a pub and very good it was too - and being a bit less fizzy is probably a good thing. It also seems to have become a bit of a thing for beer festivals to have one cask lager - ISTR having one from Liverpool Organic in the past.

  14. I attended the meeting above and in parts it was fairly interesting.

    It was well attended, clearly many people care about the future direction of this erstwhile institution.

    A lot of people didn't want any change at all but could not articulate an argument for that other than to attempt to delegitimise the the process by asking that some questions not be asked and accusing the presenters of asking leading questions. They failed but it was interesting to see those attempts.

    The acceptability of keg beer is a real dividing line. Whilst many members enjoy it, many of those don't want to campaign for it and many very active members see it as a breaking point that would end much of the unpaid volunteer work they do. A few think all keg is rubbish & those that drink it stupid. Toys will be thrown out of prams.

    Other than quality keg beer the only other issue was to recognise the aging nature of the active members but no one really appeared to have an idea how to address this other than accepting trendy craft keg because that's what the kids like. The notion that asking a new generation to continue your revolution rather than choose their own being not a great offer wasn't considered and many were wrongly dismissive of younger people as "people that don't join things"

    Mention was made of pub discounts and spoons vouchers without much coherency. No mention of it shifting the membership profile from campaigners to customers. Only mention of what individuals liked. Many liked discounts in pubs they liked but disliked spoons tokens because they disliked spoons. Though they came to a spoons to take part.

    There was more people than I expected wanting a shift to pub campaigning and more that saw the dangers of the anti alcohol lobby than I expected. Though this is another divider. Many still see a short sighted attack on macro lager as having no future downside to pub price controls thinking their own view that cask beer is a special category of alcohol that can be immune to prohibition is more universal than there own small group.

    Be interesting to see what comes out of it. My own view is that active volunteers come out when there is something they care about. There's not a lot to care about when all the pubs you like serve the beer you like and when pubs shut they are crap keg ones you never step foot in. CAMRA isn't a fire that burns except in a few elderly chaps. Currently CAMRA is fairly uninspiring as it is very busy doing a lot but not really achieving anything. Lots of activity to send money to St Albans, nothing much to justify the sacrifice of personal time beyond cherry picking the better social activities and swerving the dross.

    1. Yes, people are only going to become sufficiently enthused to become activists if they feel so angry about something they want to campaign about it. Most of what CAMRA does is, realistically, the regular social round of the "Beer, Brewery and Pub Enthusiasts' Society."

    2. There is one more stand out memory of the evening and that is meeting a bona fide CAMRA nutter. The type that gives CAMRA a certain reputation.

      The gentleman was not the chap of unusual appearance who takes centre stage of the photo. That gentlemen had a quiet nature that belied a kindly soul and not half as eccentric has his appearance may suggest.

      Nor was my gentleman an active member in any nearby branch that I am aware.

      A chap whose connection to CAMRA is a membership card and a willingness to publicly associate himself with CAMRA and really quite an odd one and no mistake.

      He approached me and said "Why have CAMRA done nothing about local breweries abolishing their beers?"
      Why he asked me I don't know. Maybe he thought I wanted to talk to someone in the break or maybe he wanted a conversation.

      I assumed he was referring to Robinsons discontinuing mild but as he continued it became clear he wasn't.
      He believed all local breweries had abolished all their beers. This flumoxed me. I then assumed he meant rebranded them, but no that's not what he meant.

      It became clear that he believed climate change and fracking had altered the chemical make up of water and agricultural produce to render the current beer recipes different from what they had historically been and this had therefore abolished the old recipes. He could not answer why no one else had noticed a change to the local bitter other than to infer people are stupid. Something that has become common as a way of describing those you do not share a world view with. He was uncertain whether the breweries themselves had noticed these changes and adjusted their recipes to compensate or not. Either way they had abolished their beers.

      He had made a number of connections between things he considered facts, reached an end conclusion and talked as if other people would have made those connections and conclusions and talked absolutely of breweries abolishing their beers. I wondered whether he was simply making a poor job of attempting to connect his own personal hobby horses to beer matters but he appeared sincere in his views rather than cynical.

      After this rather convoluted and confusing conversation with a stranger I pondered whether to be kind or let him know I thought him a nutcase. That his view may or may not have merit but the way he had expressed it in terms of the confusing manner he framed his argument made it difficult for those not aware of his world view to engage in any understandable frame of reference and harmed rather than strengthened his stance.

      Instead I made mischief. I spotted local CAMRA chairman Clarkey and said "John, can I introduce you to someone with a fascinating view on the local breweries" and stood back retiring to where you were, thinking that at least you were less of a nutter than others present.

    3. You need to get back to blogging, Cookie - the last two comments knock most other bloggers into a cocked hat.

    4. Oh no, not the bloke who believes in climate change again...

    5. The gentleman did not enter nutter territory by expressing a view on climate change.

      He entered it by opening with "What is CAMRA doing about the breweries abolishing all their beers"

      He could have avoided nutter territory had he begun "What is CAMRA doing about climate change and fracking which in my view is altering some of the beers"

      He then could of gone on to explain his view. That may have been interesting rather than confusing.

      Once explained he may have accepted a counter view that selective breeding has altered barley, wheat and maize grains in each decade since the war to increase useful starches, increase pest resistance, increase yield and reduce pesticide use and that these might be more significant than climate change. He might have had a view on this himself rather than just twitch a bit because someone questioned rather than accepted his view.

      Further the gentleman could have been clearer in his vocabulary. Using big words with their accepted meaning rather than a meaning only known to himself. This would have greatly increased clarity.

      Climate change wasn't why he was a nutter. That's just the horse the nutter rode in on.

    6. Glad I avoided said nutter :-)
      Had enough problems dealing with the one from my own branch :-/

      From the angle of the photo, think I was sitting next to Mudgie! Or he jumped in my seat when I was heading to the bar (that's me on the far right of photo...)

    7. No, the photo was taken by Matthew Thompson. I am second from left in the group at the back.

  15. So - it was you who lumbered me with him. I got out of it by suggesting he email me with something which he duly did. It's an interesting read....

  16. >CAMRA isn't a fire that burns except in a few elderly chaps: cookie has a habit of cutting to the chase sometimes very well.


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