Yesterday, we took delivery of around fifty mid-nineteen-eighties issues of the Campaign for Real Ale’s What’s Brewing newspaper, and have begun to immerse ourselves in the strange but familiar world they reflect.
Most interesting to us right now are the omens of the ‘craft beer’ vs. ‘real ale’ agonies of the last few years.
Our feeling that David ‘Firkin’ Bruce was the James ‘Brewdog’ Watt of his day are strengthened by a piece from Roger Protz in the May 1985 edition. He observed that Bruce had achieved something with which CAMRA was struggling: the Firkin pubs were popular with young, affluent, trendy types — typical lager drinkers, in other words — who were paying above the going rate for pints of bitter. He also noted that, though Bruce’s beer wasn’t ‘real ale’ in the technical sense (he used a ‘light blanket’ of CO2), nor was it utterly disgusting. How confusing!
In another issue, Protz — something of a controversial reformer — argued that maybe it might be worth considering serving cask ale a little cooler to give it half a chance to compete with lager. Furious letters ensued: it would be too little too late, argued one lobby; ‘Heresy!’ cried the other.
There were also some complicated manoeuvrings required to explain CAMRA’s position on SIBA (then the Small Independent Brewers’ Society). Though both organisations were ‘fellow travelers’, in a sense, SIBA’s members were not all ‘real ale’ producers. ‘We are trying to produce good beer,’ said SIBA’s chairman, Paul Soden, in May 1987. CAMRGB? Not quite: ‘Most of us produce non-chemical, non-keg, 100-per-cent malt brews.’ (Our emphasis.)
If he was making the same point today, he’d have to drop the phrase ‘non-keg’.
Reading old issues of WB is how we’re rewarding ourselves for finishing the first draft of what is still called Brew Britannia. We know how to party. Woo.