And the Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project (consultation closes on Saturday, by the way) seems to have caused a flare up in another stretch of the previously fairly calm demilitarised border area.
As we say, the edges are fuzzy, but it seems to be more or less the same groups bickering over clarity vs. haze, cask vs. keg, strong vs. session, boring vs. balanced, weird additives vs. malt, hipsters vs. squares, craft vs. ‘craft’, Simcoe vs. Fuggles, and so on.
The division feels weird to us — on both sides, more about attitudes, feelings, personalities, grudges and prejudices than anything concrete. It’s tribal, even almost religious.
Meanwhile, in the real world (as we Tweeted yesterday) Cascade hops and dark lager are still regarded as exotic, and we couldn’t buy a hazy beer in Penzance if we wanted to.
The announcement last week of a consultation on the future of the Campaign for Real Ale is a big deal and deserves the attention it’s getting.
This isn’t something that’s popped up overnight — it’s another flare-up from 40 years of navel-gazing, internal tension external criticism and politicking. The last bout, we think, resulted in 2011’s Fit for Purpose review.
Back in the early 1970s, the brilliance of the campaign was in the simplicity and clarity of the message and the preservation of cask ale became a cause capable of bringing together conservatives, anti-capitalists, casuals, hardcore campaigners, connoisseurs and piss-heads. That’s how CAMRA gained 30,000 members in five years and forced a retreat from the Big Six.
But it lost momentum when that battle was felt to be won (see Brew Britannia, Chapter Four) and, by the late 1970s, the Campaign was already agonising over what to focus on next. Beer quality? Beer purity?Pubs? Cider? Mild?Tasting notes?Lager? Microbreweries? And so it did all of them, a bit, with the interests of sub-campaigns sometimes conflicting. Factions bickered, the public got confused, and membership dwindled. (Though it has absolutely rocketed in the last couple of decades.)
When I moved to Thornbridge, I hadn’t really had any real experience of producing cask beer. I came from a brewing background of mainly Germanic styles, which were filtered, carbonated and packaged in keg or bottle format. I naively thought that producing cask beer would be a doddle compared with the challenges of filtration, or the trials and tribulations of running a bottling line day in day out.
Manchester is home to so many breweries these days, but it can be fairly difficult to know where to get hold of their wares. Many of the city centre’s other beer bars focus more on options from far and wide which, in my view, isn’t a bad thing but it’s always nice to drink local and I think this would appeal to visitors to the city in particular.
The rate of pub closure in the area was made clear to me when, in summer last year in the nearby Church Street Estate, I happened to see the contents of what used to be a pub called The Perseverance (I know – the irony) being sold on the street outside… Around the same time, a pub just around the corner called The Globe closed but re-opened as a fully qualified modern craft beer bar. It seems that either the business adapts quickly or disappears. The greatest tragedy is when the building is transformed into something it was never meant to be like the estate agents. You know that as a place where people dwell and drink together, it’s gone forever.
[There’s] an awful lot that is troubling me… The first thing that I come across time and again is inconsistency. Whether it be from cask or bottle I know that I’m certainly not alone in wanting the same taste that I remember from the last time I had the beer… I’ve been embarrassingly caught out more than once introducing friends to a beer after extolling its virtues only to find it a shadow of the previous pint.
→ There’s reassuring evidence from Jeff Alworth that having his blog sponsored by Guinness isn’t going to stop him being interesting, even when he’s writing in part about that very same brewery:
You learn a lot when you visit a country. One of the things you learn is what beer people actually drink. In Ireland, for example, we imagine that basically everyone drinks stout, the majority of it Guinness. Nope. Just like everywhere else, lager is king, with as much as (statistics vary) 74% of total volume to something just over 50%. Heineken, not Guinness, appears to be the best-selling beer in Ireland.
The complexity of a barrel-aged imperial stout means that tasting notes write themselves. Drinking one, there’s so much going on that you hardly have time to jot down one thought before another hits you. Lager is comparatively simple – this is a large part of its appeal, but it doesn’t make for great writing.
Back in 2013, we emailed Andrea Gillies, who edited two editions of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide in the early 1990s, but she wasn’t especially keen to talk about her time at CAMRA. Now we think we know why.
After a period of apparently reasonably friendly relations with her former employer during which she wrote a challenging guest column about bottled beer (WB, November 1993), in December 1993, this happened:
Though Mr Evans’s response was fairly diplomatic it’s hard not to suspect that some persistent resentment in St Albans influenced this review of Ms Gillies’ own book released in 1995:
We weren’t there, and we don’t know the people involved, so it wouldn’t be right for us to pick sides. It was pretty forward-thinking of CAMRA to appoint Ms Gillies in 1988, though, and it’s a shame it all got so nasty.
We’re very grateful to Steve AKA @untilnextyear for pointing this clip out to us. Do any of you CAMRA veterans recognise the participants, or perhaps even yourself? The hipster in the Washington University top wouldn’t look out of place at a craft beer festival in 2015.
PS. Our long article about Covent Garden ’75 features in the current edition of CAMRA’s BEER magazine which is technically only available to members but is probably also knocking about a shelf in your local real ale pub.