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?

24 thoughts on “Yet more thoughts on CAMRA

  1. My real prob­lem has been try­ing to learn about CAMRA from dis­cus­sions defined by neg­a­tive space. CAMRA execs don’t like blog­gers, Brew­Dog does­n’t like CAMRA, blog­gers don’t like CAMRA or Brew­dog and, most annoy­ing, par­tic­u­lar ques­tions always receive the response in one way or anoth­er that CAMRA could do that at a future AGM.

    My recent few posts and point­ed com­ments, how­ev­er, have trig­gered dis­cus­sions that have been unex­pect­ed – the impor­tance of vol­un­teerism cre­at­ing a feel­ing of and oppor­tu­ni­ties for belong­ing, the sense of pride still in tak­ing a prac­ti­cal­ly dead prod­uct in the ear­ly 70s and mak­ing a scene out of it as well as the con­ser­v­a­tive pride in stick­ing with the focus that has brought them so far. This is the stuff I wish was far more to the fore­front rather than the pol­i­tics and the jostling for posi­tion. When I called it a club I was told that was demean­ing. Frankly, it now all sounds like a club I would very much like to join.

  2. I’ve giv­en up on try­ing to under­stand Brew­Dog. I cer­tain­ly don’t think it’s true that the ven­er­a­ble old man on the UK craft beer scene doesn’t like them – I think what CAMRA does­n’t like is brew­ers who keep say­ing that ‘real ale’ is a mean­ing­less term, CAMRA is irrel­e­vant and their own beer is bet­ter than any­thing CAMRA endorse.

    That ‘brewed for flavour’ post is a case in point. They come very, very close to argu­ing that the def­i­n­i­tion of ‘real ale’ should be revised to include some (not all) of their keg beers. If they’d stuck to this posi­tion – “our keg isn’t old keg” – I would have a lot of sym­pa­thy with them, & I think it could open up a real­ly inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion with – and with­in – CAMRA. Instead they revert to slag­ging off real ale and advo­cat­ing car­bon­a­tion and chill­ing – “our keg isold keg and it’s great!” Pre­dictably, the gear-change is cov­ered by blus­ter and a bit of swear­ing (“Craft beer focus­es on being fuck­ing awe­some regard­less of arbi­trary rules and out-dat­ed dis­tinc­tions”), because as we all know that shows you’re real, man. (And these are the same peo­ple who have just dis­missed CAMRA as a whole as “tacky, con­ser­v­a­tive, old-fash­ioned.”) They real­ly need to grow up.

  3. I get the impres­sion here and I must say just about every­where else on the Blo­gos­phere that CAMRA is some mono­lith­ic, remote, secret, closed to all, organ­i­sa­tion set up in the the mists of time that has some kind of pow­er over the “real ale world”.

    Let’s just think about this for a moment, CAMRA is a few peo­ple who are pro­mot­ing the kind of beer they like and with­out their action would have dis­ap­peared in the late 1970s, it is a con­sumer organ­i­sa­tion of some 120,000 mem­bers of which no more than prob­a­bly 10,000 take an active part. Few­er than those 10,000 dic­tate the pol­i­cy and direc­tion of CAMRA; they are also respon­si­ble for the infor­ma­tion in the GBG and pro­vide the free of charge labour at the GBBF. They run a few beer fes­ti­vals to pro­mote the kind of beer they like to drink, they are indulged by Gov­ern­ment who naive­ly think 120,000 mem­bers means 120,000+ votes, they are end­less­ly dis­cussed by blog­gers with noth­ing bet­ter to write about, .……err that’s it.

    They are not the supreme arbiters of beer annoint­ed by God, they have no pow­er to dic­tate what beer brew­ers brew or what drinkers drink – that is why Car­ling is Britain’s favourite beer . Any­one can join for £20 (refund­able via Wether­spoons vouch­ers) and change the way CAMRA oper­ates.

    If you don’t like their stance on beer, who cares; drink what YOU like.
    If you think Brew­dog should be at the GBBF then don’t go.
    If you think craft keg is won­der­ful beer then drink it – don’t moan at CAMRA because they think dif­fer­ent­ly to you.
    If you want CAMRA to act dif­fer­ent­ly then join your local branch and change it instead of moan­ing.

    PUT UP OR SHUT UP.

  4. Alan – that’s real­ly inter­est­ing. I think you’ve hit on two of the key dif­fer­ences between CAMRA and the craft beer scene. First­ly, CAMRA was found­ed as a cam­paign – a social move­ment with qua­si-polit­i­cal goals – and still is that to some extent. The craft beer scene (like the Brew­Dog micro-scene) seems to con­sist basi­cal­ly of brew­ers and their fans: it’s a con­sumer phe­nom­e­non in a way that CAMRA still isn’t. Sec­ond­ly, where ‘craft beer’ is part revival­ist, part inno­v­a­tive, CAMRA is very large­ly con­ser­va­tion­ist (despite hav­ing a dis­tinct tilt to the left polit­i­cal­ly – some things are worth con­serv­ing). These unstat­ed start­ing-points have a big, and gen­er­al­ly unac­knowl­edged, influ­ence on the debate between the two camps.

  5. BEER cer­tain­ly seems to espouse a more inclu­sive and tol­er­ant view of beer than some of the dog­mat­ic pro­nounce­ments some­times seem from CAMRA rep­re­sen­ta­tives. They even do tast­ings of non bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers and non APPLE approved ciders!

    I’ve always thought much of this desired change in atti­tude is achiev­able by sim­ply adopt­ing a dif­fer­ent tone with­in the organ­i­sa­tion rather than through for­mal motions. After all, it’s not a dis­ci­pli­nary offence to say “I drank some British-brewed beer that was­n’t real ale and actu­al­ly quite liked it.”

  6. I am nev­er quite sure what is so inno­v­a­tive about Brew Dog. Good recipes and tech­nique (assum­ing they have both) aren’t inno­v­a­tive. What is though is tak­ing an old idea (chill­ing and gassing beer up) and pre­sent­ing it as some­thing new and dif­fer­ent.

    The real inno­va­tion isn’t about beer, but mar­ket­ing I’d ven­ture. That and devel­op­ing a fan club.

    CAMRA does indeed have con­ser­va­tion at its core and its fun­da­men­tal aims will inevitably exclude or make it wary of cer­tain things. Cask beer being a live prod­uct, does have an inbuilt vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that oth­er beers don’t. That’s one good rea­son why CAMRA has a lot to fear from the thin end of the wedge.

    Last­ly I fear that the fail­ure to reach agree­ment with Brew Dog will make CAMRA feel “once bit­ten, twice shy” and set the hopes of rap­proche­ment back a fair bit.

  7. Alan – know what you mean. We real­ly, real­ly try hard not to be neg­a­tive and mis­er­able. Hence the oth­er day’s post on what brew­eries can prac­ti­cal­ly do to improve their brand­ing with no bud­get, and this one which was intend­ed to be a con­struc­tive view of the cur­rent debate.

    Phil and Tan­dle­man – just to be clear, we cer­tain­ly don’t think Brew­dog are the sec­ond com­ing or any­thing. The line we keep using is that they “make *some* very good beers”. Lots of peo­ple seem to be sim­i­lar­ly on the fence, which actu­al­ly seems a very rea­son­able posi­tion. Instinc­tive­ly, the idea that you’re either absolute­ly for them or total­ly against them seems weird to us. They’re only a brew­ery, not a polit­i­cal par­ty or a reli­gion.

    Tan­dle­man – I do under­stand that thin end of the wedge point. I don’t think Brew­dog are it, but, e.g., Greene King IPA might be, because it’s shite, and steals a sig­nif­i­cant amount of busi­ness from beers which are actu­al­ly good. I reck­on if it qui­et­ly went keg-only next year, it prob­a­bly would­n’t lose that much of its mar­ket share.

    Alun – not sure you read the post. It isn’t a moan. we’re sug­gest­ing that CAMRA is a great insti­tu­tion (some­thing else we keep repeat­ing) and a nation­al trea­sure. Like it or not, it does have influ­ence in the bit of the mar­ket every­one wants, viz. peo­ple who give a shit about what they eat and drink and so spend more on it. CAMRA is a house­hold name. From where we’re sit­ting, it’s all but won the fight to pre­serve cask ale, and has a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to be some­thing more. We’d like it to take that oppor­tu­ni­ty because it would be good if it last­ed for many more years, which it won’t do if no-one under 20 can under­stand what the cam­paign is about.

    Cur­mud­geon – yes, BEER Mag­a­zine has that exact tone of voice, I think, which makes it all the more fiendish­ly effec­tive at pro­mot­ing cask ale when it choos­es to do so because it does­n’t come across as stri­dent dog­ma.

  8. Alun, do you like what the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty is up to right now? If you want the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty to act dif­fer­ent­ly then join your local branch and change it instead of moan­ing.

    Cam­ra presents itself as the cham­pi­on of the beer drinker, and if there are those who feel they dis­agree with aspects of what it does while try­ing to ful­fil that role, they’re enti­tled to crit­i­cise – they don’t have to join Cam­ra to do so, any more than you have to join the Tory Par­ty to crit­i­cise David Cameron.

    As it hap­pens I am a mem­ber of Cam­ra, but I don’t think that gives me any more or less right to com­ment on what it does.

  9. The inclu­sive, thought­ful tone of BEER is in the long run like­ly to rein­force the posi­tion of cask beer in the mar­ket­place, not under­mine it. If you encour­age peo­ple to think more about beer, it will tend to make them more inter­est­ed in cask over­all, where­as “why are you drink­ing that lager piss?” just alien­ates them.

  10. it’s all but won the fight to pre­serve cask ale

    Mmmyeah but… no. Take bread: I believe the Chor­ley­wood process is an abom­i­na­tion and bread pro­duced by slow­er, more tra­di­tion­al, less indus­tri­al meth­ods almost always tastes much, much bet­ter; I’d go so far as to say that a prop­er­ly-baked loaf is ‘real bread’, and most bread in the super­mar­kets isn’t. And yet I keep buy­ing the sliced white, because it’s con­ve­nient and because I don’t want to switch to some­thing with a label like Taste The Qual­i­ty Spoil Your­self Suit You Sir Hand-Stretched Home-Baked Arti­san Craft Loaf (and a price to match). As a bak­er was say­ing on the Food Pro­gramme today, there should­n’t be any­thing elit­ist about prop­er bread – it should be the norm, not a lux­u­ry prod­uct.

    Where bread is con­cerned we’re a long, long way from that sit­u­a­tion. For beer we’re a lot clos­er, thanks very large­ly to CAMRA, but we’re not there yet. When you can walk into any pub in Britain and see a func­tion­ing hand­pump on the bar, doing more busi­ness than the ‘smooth’ tap, then we’ll know that CAM­RA’s orig­i­nal mis­sion has been accom­plished and we can start to think about new and dif­fer­ent ways of cham­pi­oning good beer.

    The line we keep using is that they “make *some* very good beers”

    I total­ly agree. The trou­ble with BD is that they seem more and more like a press office with a brew­ery attached – and the trou­ble with that is that the brew­ery will insist on mak­ing such bloody good beer. (I refer here to the cask beers, of course – not the Taste The Qual­i­ty Spoil Your­self Suit You Sir range of weird things in bot­tles.)

  11. Re the bread point, see this post.

    For exam­ple, I have no inter­est what­so­ev­er in break­fast cere­als. There are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent vari­eties on the mar­ket, but I eat the same one pret­ty much every day of the year. With the same type of milk and the same type of sug­ar on it. But I don’t think that makes me a fool.”

  12. Regard­ing point 1. I’m a crit­ic of some aspects of CAMRA but I cer­tain­ly do not think they are irrel­e­vant. The most annoy­ing part of recent tus­sles is that it seems you can­not voice the opin­ion that CAMRA are mak­ing mis­takes with­out being pre­sumed to be “against” CAMRA — evinced by the “we’ll do what we like” and “set up your own fes­ti­val then you ingrate” respons­es. Where­as I see CAMRA rather like a good friend who is mak­ing some crap deci­sions that might come back to bite him in the arse one day and I would rather not see him suf­fer. I think it can only ben­e­fit CAMRA to loosen up a bit on the GBBF, and it is poten­tial­ly harm­ful to their long-term prospects if they don’t.

  13. The most annoy­ing part of recent tus­sles is that it seems you can­not voice the opin­ion that CAMRA are mak­ing mis­takes with­out being pre­sumed to be “against” CAMRA — evinced by the “we’ll do what we like” and “set up your own fes­ti­val then you ingrate” respons­es.”

    I rather think that these kind of respons­es come with an “at the end of the day” caveat after rather a lot of joust­ing in between. Often though the requests for “improve­ment” from CAMRA are not sup­ple­ment­ed by any help­ful sug­ges­tions, but pref­aced with “fat smelly beardies.”

    To have cred­i­ble debate, you have to debate cred­i­bly.

  14. I find it so frus­trat­ing how per­son­al this debate can get. There’s no room for the smelly-beardy-fat­ty jokes in my book.

    Equal­ly, though, I’ve avoid­ed com­ment­ing on some posts or join­ing some dis­cus­sions because I don’t want to get barked at for, e.g. lik­ing some Brew­dog beers, or being seen to crit­i­cise CAMRA.

    Are we agreed that every­one needs to calm down a bit so we can air the issues and have a rea­son­able dis­cus­sion? I’d love that.

  15. One could take Tan­dle­man’s well-judged sug­ges­tion to omit den­i­gra­tion and insults from rea­soned debate rather more seri­ous­ly were his blog posts and sub­se­quent com­ments not of this ilk: http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/empire-building-for-punks.html

    An hon­est and intel­lec­tu­al debate along the lines of what Bai­ley calls for is exact­ly what is need­ed, and with some urgency. Let’s not for­get that it is not “real ale” alone that is (still) under threat in the UK (which Phil ele­gant­ly points out), but beer itself, as the depress­ing quar­ter­ly British Beer and Pub Asso­ci­a­tion sta­tis­tics appear to sug­gest — just look at the mis­er­able four­teen year decline: http://www.beerandpub.com/newsList_detail.aspx?newsId=429

    Rather than saw­ing the lifeboat in half as the tides rise, we’d do well to all jump in it togeth­er.

  16. As I’ve said else­where, I’d be over­joyed if the line com­ing from the ‘craft’ camp was “if there’s live yeast in there, and if there’s no CO2 in con­tact with the beer, then what is the prob­lem?” It might be an easy ques­tion for CAMRA/the GBBF/Colin Valentine/whoever to answer, or it might put them on the spot, but at least there would be an actu­al ques­tion to dis­cuss. At the moment what we get seems to alter­nate between “why do you bar us when we just want to bring the peo­ple good beer?” and “we don’t care if you bar us, we nev­er liked you any­way”.

  17. Here, Tan­dle­man – an actu­al sug­ges­tion!

    I think a good way for CAMRA to score here, in much the way Boak & Bai­ley sug­gest (and I might add I agree with them and Mudgie that BEER’s line seems a good mod­el), might be for the organ­i­sa­tion to grant beer fest sta­tus – and, of course, wider con­sid­er­a­tion – to craft keg from brew­eries that *also com­mit to doing cask and have a per­ma­nent cask range*.

    This would keep CAM­RA’s nec­es­sary com­mit­ment to cask – with which I am in 100% accord – while allow­ing it scope to give a nod to well-made beers out­side of its remit.

    If CAMRA is seen as sup­port­ing the full gamut of beers from brew­eries that do cask, it might per­suade – for exam­ple – Lovi­bonds to do cask range (even if one beer), much as Mean­time have in recent years.

    After all, CAMRA prizes do a lot to get beers on the guest ale pumps in pub­cos.

    Cer­tain­ly, those brew­eries that do a kegged range along­side their cask offer are like­ly to be a lot more CAMRA friend­ly and a lot of the poi­son would be drained from a debate that – while small now – will only get big­ger as craft keg grows (as it will – cf. Mean­time fonts in Lon­don’s Punch pubs, keg fonts in Nichol­sons joints, UK imports of tankered Brook­lyn for keg dis­tri­b­u­tion, etc.).

  18. I think that’s an excel­lent sug­ges­tion from jesusjohn myself. I’d also like to echo the praise for BEER (the mag­a­zine, not the alco­holic prod­uct, though I like that too). Got my copy through this morn­ing and as ever it looks like a good read, very well pro­duced and gen­er­al­ly nice and mod­ern seem­ing.

  19. Just to be clear – and as my 4 year old tells me pret­ty much dai­ly – Dad­dy is smelly and beardy and fat­ty. We who are mid-life beer lov­ing big hairy men whose fra­grant days are past should also have a sense of humour about our­selves.

    I don’t direct­ly relate that to Tan­dle­man’s com­ment “[t]o have cred­i­ble debate, you have to debate cred­i­bly” but I do see one sim­i­lar­i­ty. I am not hav­ing a debate or an argu­ment about this or about much else I write about beer. I am explor­ing and inquir­ing. I like to use humour and am hap­py to make fun of myself to the end of fig­ur­ing things out.

    I don’t under­stand why CAMRA elic­its the (per­haps) defen­sive­ness and (def­i­nite) seri­ous­ness that I might equate with some­thing like the Green Par­ty move­ment the Tea Par­ty move­ment or oth­er lec­tur­ers. By com­par­i­son, the Beer­Ad­vo­cate heavy met­al pre­sen­ta­tion might go to the oth­er extreme but at least it’s telling me that there is some fun being had. What I have enjoyed about the lead up to the GBBF this year is that sense that under all that “cause” there is actu­al­ly a lot of com­mu­nal fun – that I sus­pect is the actu­al core of what is going to hap­pen. I wish that could come out more.

  20. I’m not sure Mar­tyn’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty anal­o­gy is entir­ley valid, but to run with it a lit­tle more; I doubt I would moan about the Tories on the grounds that they’re not the Social­ist Work­ers Par­ty. That is what appears to be hap­pen­ing in the cur­rent­ly fash­ion­able CAMRA bash­ing. Any­way most adults in this coun­try can vote against Tory poli­cies with­out being par­ty mem­bers.

    Why do blog­gers act as if CAMRA are the offi­cial arbiters and con­trollers of beer in the UK, they’re not – they’re a pri­vate club open to all.

  21. To some extent, CAMRA do present them­selves as “the offi­cial arbiters and con­trollers of beer in the UK.” There’s cer­tain­ly no oth­er remote­ly com­pa­ra­ble organ­i­sa­tion of peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in beer – CAMRA is real­ly the only show in town.

  22. Some­one could start anoth­er organ­i­sa­tion from scratch, but it seems a shame when, with a bit of give and take, CAMRA could do it so well.

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