Tag Archives: CAMRA

Champion Beer of Britain: Origins

We’re researching an article which has given us an excuse to chat to several Campaign for Real Ale veterans.

One of them, Anthony Gibson, was a press officer by trade and, through his London CAMRA branch, got involved in publicity for the Campaign in the 1970s. He told us this story as an aside:

I think it was the first or second day of the Great British Beer Festival at Alexandra Palace [in 1978]. We were all in the staff room trying to work out how to get more publicity – it was going well, but we needed a big crowd to make it viable. We’d already done things like stage a procession of brewers’ drays. Then I was walking back from the loo when I thought, why don’t we organise a competition? Let’s find out which is the favourite beer of all the people drinking here today.

The way we did was that I put together a short-list by asking people working on the bars which were their best-sellers. Then I went round and approached ‘specially selected’ members of the audience and got them up on stage to blind taste the beers on the short-list, which were organised into categories. We didn’t have specialist judges – just ordinary punters. We compered it and made a spectacle of it and it was very successful.

Within an hour of having the idea, I had a press release out. It was the start of something which is still going today.

The joint winners were Thwaites’s Dark Mild and Fuller’s ESB.

It’s funny to think that, these days, in the wake of the inevitably outrage-inducing result of the Champion Beer of Britain competition at GBBF, people crawl all over the process looking for evidence of impropriety, incompetence or bias. In 1978, they’d have had a field day.

Pubs of London E17, 1991

CAMRA’s East London & City Beer Guide is a fascinating document which, across three editions from 1983 to 1991, charts changes to the drinking landscape.

We’ve had the 1986 edition for a while, and have 1983 (finally) on the way, but 1991 arrived this week, looking as if it had come fresh from the binders, the spine un-cracked. (“Printed by Calvert’s Press (TU) Worker’s Co-Operative”.)

We turned to the section that covers Walthamstow, London E17 — an area we know particularly well — which prompted a few observations.

1. It hasn’t changed that much. The Grove, the Windmill, the Plough and a few others have gone, but many others are still there — the Lord Brooke, the Lord Raglan, the Lord Palmerston, the Chequers, and so on, many in better shape now than they were when this book was written.

2. It’s always seemed odd that there’s no Wetherspoon’s in Walthamstow (the nearest is across the line into Leyton). Now we know that the College Arms on Forest Road was a JDW (Younger’s Scotch Ale at 79p a pint!) but, at some point, the firm abandoned it — something it seems it’s always been pretty ruthless about.

3. The Village, which looks like a well-worn and traditional Victorian pub, actually opened in 1989. The building is Victorian but the premises was formerly (Boak thinks, calling on childhood memories) residential. For that  matter, The College Arms was formerly two shop units and the Coppermill an off-licence, so these change-of-use conversions have occasionally gone the other way.

4. Pubs change their names a lot. The Tower Hotel became Flanagan’s Tower, which became the Tower Hotel again, which is now the Goose. The College Arms was formerly ‘Cheeks American Bar‘. What is now the Waltham Oak on Lea Bridge Road was formerly the Chestnut Tree, but began life with what might be our new favourite pub name: The Little Wonder.

The content of all three editions is available at this splendidly old-school website if you want to investigate further, but the 1991 edition is also generally available for pennies.

RIP Draught Burton Ale

Roger Protz confirmed yesterday that Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale, launched by Allied Breweries in 1976, and for some time lately brewed under contract by J.W. Lees in Manchester, is no more.

This seems a fitting moment, then, to share an extract from our 09/04/2013 interview with Richard Harvey, who worked as a PR man at Allied when the beer was launched. Some nuggets of what he told us made it into chapter six of Brew Britannia, entitled ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, but here’s the section on DBA, unedited:

In the spring of 1976, the Marketing Director, Peter Bonham-Carter, came to me and said: ‘Richard, we’re going to be launching a new cask-conditioned beer. It’s going to be national, and we want to adopt the black cat approach.’ The black cat was the logo of Craven A cigarettes which they’d used in very subtle adverts – ‘black cats are coming’ and the logo. Similar to Silk Cut, with the famous slashed purple fabric. ‘Look,’ said Peter, ‘if we start taking big hoardings with “Draught Burton Ale” on them, CAMRA will say “Here’s a big brewery trying to force their latest product down people’s throats.”’ So, we used purely PR, no ads, emphasising the heritage of brewing in Burton-upon-Trent, initially targeting the south of England.

Continue reading RIP Draught Burton Ale

Chemical Beer and CAMRA

From fairly early on in its existence, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has shown a concern with the purity of beer, almost as much as with the method of dispense, and arguably more than with the quality of its flavour.

This has been on our mind lately, since Yvan Seth asked this question:

We’ve previously touched upon the hippy whole-food influence on CAMRA’s language and approach, not only here on the blog, but also in chapter four of Brew Britannia.

Continue reading Chemical Beer and CAMRA

That Sexist CAMRA Leaflet

Earlier this week, Rowan Molyneux flagged the existence of a Campaign for Real Ale leaflet designed to help recruit young members but which uses women merely as decoration.

We can’t say we were outraged by it, but we were certainly dismayed. CAMRA, like it or not, is these days an organisation of similar status to the National Trust or the RSPB, and we can’t imagine either of them doing anything so crass.

The main problem is that it confirms what many people suspect: that, despite making some of the right noises, behind the scenes, CAMRA isn’t fully committed to the idea of making the Campaign more welcoming to women, or at least hasn’t given it much more thought than you might expect from Alan Partridge or David Brent.

If you can’t see why the image on the leaflet is problematic, try to imagine them ever using an image of a bloke in an equivalent costume, in a similar pose.

We’ve turned off comments on this post to encourage people to have their say over at Rowan’s, where an interesting discussion is ongoing, and where there are updates on the withdrawal of the leaflet.