The Birth of CAMRA in the Independent

We see today yet more coverage of beer in the Independent.

Will Hawkes has been writing excellent beer-related columns for some time now and we should all support his efforts in writing about beer as if it is a mainstream, normal thing that ordinary people are interested in, rather than some bizarre niche interest.

This article is particularly interesting because Will has managed to elicit comments from the founders of CAMRA on current debates around ‘craft keg’. As we read it, they dismiss the idea that CAMRA ought to campaign for it out-of-hand, while apparently confusing it with Fosters but, ultimately, they do conceed that there might be such a thing as good keg beer.

Their comments on the sandals and beard image of CAMRA members echoes Tandleman’s post on the same subject and subsequent comments . They suggest that a very small number of distinctive individuals are stealing the limelight and defining the whole organisation, which chimes with our thinking.

Our wish list for a beer consumer organisation

With various embryonic entities popping up to answer the call for a body to champion all good beer, regardless of whether it’s ‘real ale’ or not, here are a few things that we would like to see in a British beer consumer organisation.

1. We want it to be serious, measured and perhaps even a little boring. We think even the venerable CAMRA fails on this front sometimes, allowing passion to spill over into bad temper. UPDATE: in Ireland seems to get this right.

2. To work constructively alongside CAMRA. That doesn’t mean necessarily always agreeing with them, but at least getting along well enough to manage joint events or campaigns. It certainly means that cheap jibes about beards and sandals are out.

3. A focus on quality, taste and the certification of ‘good beer’, probably through blind taste test panels. We wouldn’t care if that meant some beers from big breweries got the stamp of approval, or if it meant that some small breweries get some harsh feedback.

4. Avoid distracting, divisive side-campaigns — e.g. “drink British craft beer” — and stay out of politics. As the beer blogoshire shows, people who love beer, when they get off that topic, can turn out to have very little in common. Trying to get them to agree on anything other than that well-made beer is where it’s at would spell disaster. Promote good beer and leave it at that.

5. Achievable objectives. Here’s an example: reduce the number of pubs in the UK where there is no beer a member of said organisation would want to drink. That might mean more cask ale; or it might just mean a bottle or two of good beer in the fridge.

We still think, with a bit of creative thinking, CAMRA could take this on this without compromising its core values but there doesn’t seem to be an appetite to do so, leaving a gap in the market for something else to emerge.

Yet more thoughts on CAMRA

Below are a few thoughts on CAMRA. If you’re bored of reading people’s opinions on this, as many are, don’t bother going any further and save yourself a headache.

1. If Brewdog and other critics of CAMRA think they’re irrelevant, why do they keep going on about them? Could it be that they want their approval? These breweries are trying hard to make good beer, in their own way, but the venerable old man on the UK craft beer scene doesn’t like them. That must hurt a bit.

2. Why aren’t CAMRA seizing this opportunity to become bigger and more powerful? If people are begging them to be the arbiters of what is and isn’t good beer, they should do it.  It wouldn’t be a compromise — it would be growth. They could continue to champion real ale (before anyone points it out, yes, we know, the clue is in the name) but, alongside that, they could give out “CAMRA Gold Taste Awards” to keg or bottled beers, whether ‘real’ or not. We’d definitely try a beer if a CAMRA member-led tasting panel (like the ones they run in BEER Magazine) had given it the thumbs up. And that’s how you could judge “brewed for taste” — there don’t have to be rules.

3. Now we mention it, doesn’t BEER Magazine already present a vision of a future CAMRA? One where both sides of the debate are heard; where non-CAMRA writers rub alongside high priests of the campaign; and where being into beer is convincingly presented as a mainstream hobby that everyone can enjoy?

Can everyone just grow up

We couldn’t sum up our feelings about the latest Brewdog/CAMRA spat in a Tweet, so here’s a quick post.

In short, based on what we’ve read so far, we’re annoyed at both parties.

Brewdog make some beers we really love. The current bottled version of Punk IPA is far better than many of the cask ales we can easily get where we live.

And CAMRA is a great institution. We keep renewing our membership because, broadly speaking, we know they’re the goodies — the Rebellion facing off against the sinister Galactic Empire of crappy beer.

But Brewdog’s relentless pursuit of publicity and attention-seeking is really boring. They’ve got nice beer, good design — why do they need to be so malevolent? Is ‘irritating’ one of their ‘brand values’? They position themselves as underdogs but are beginning to look like school bullies.

And CAMRA… well, they make us sad. Why can’t they just try to turn the other cheek, show some statesman-like dignity, and make their critics look petty and bad-tempered for once? Brewdog take the piss and push and push, hoping for a controversy, and CAMRA give them one. To be fair, Marc Holmes, GBBF organiser, has given an impressively calm, dignified response, but it’s a bit late now.

Those who already have a downer on CAMRA, or aren’t sure it has values they can buy into, will have had their prejudices confirmed and might not bother reading beyond the Brewdog PR.

Whether there is any flex in its principles or not (not, seems to be the answer, which is fine, as long as we know where we are) CAMRA needs to work twice as hard to show it’s not grumpy, prickly and petty.

A warm welcome

It was nice to get home yesterday and find a letter from our local CAMRA group welcoming us to the region and enclosing the two most recent newsletters (spring and summer).

It turns out that, not only does Cornwall have several microbreweries already (most of which we knew about) but a few more are in the pipeline. So maybe we won’t be drinking nothing but St Austell Tribute after all?

Just as well after the good natured rant we were treated to by a friendly bloke in the pub on Saturday: he drinks ale as a rule of thumb but drinks only lager in St Austell pubs because he hates their beer so much. He knows them only as “St Awful”.