Generalisations about beer culture

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.

31 replies on “Our wish list for a beer consumer organisation”

#1 professional rather than boring

#2 The problem about any new organisation working with CAMRA is that CAMRA wouldn’t work with anyone promoting non “real ale”, even if the other organisation wasn’t anti-camra

#3 doesn’t siba already do this?

#4 And by stay out of politics are you suggesting campaign organisations shouldn’t engage with politicians in order to change legislation?

#5 CAMRGB and CBUK are both fledgling organisations and maybe haven’t had time to sort out objectives

I read this post with interest. Prompted by the recent CAMRA soul-searching, I wondered what my own Canadian CAMRA organization was doing to promote good beer beyond events and decals for pub windows. I spent some weeks interviewing local retailers and producers, asking one main question: “What are the biggest obstacles to growing the good beer market/scene in our city?” I received some very consistent answers, and was compelled by the passion with which they were delivered.

Here’s where I wonder about that one item on your list, “stay out of politics”. It happens that the main problems in our situation are inherently political, and advocacy of good beer cannot proceed without grappling with it. With the plurality of organizations you are advocating, I see no reason why a political issue cannot give identity to one.

I have inadvertently started a bit of a movement here in Victoria, which began with a quasi-journalist’s curiosity. It is very rewarding to actually contribute toward a scene you love. I have learned over the last few weeks that many brewers are exasperated with consumer groups and bloggers who claim to be supporters, but do not do the research and work needed to make real changes. Hopefully, our little project will do exactly that. Progress will start to go up on the blog.

Really appreciate this post. I think it is wonderful to encourage a plurality of movements. Organizations like CAMRA should not automatically be seen as the party of beer interests, sometimes it makes far more sense to create something new. Cheers.


#1 yes.

#2 CAMRA work quite happily with, say, Greene King, who make cask ale as well as keg ale, crappy bottled beer, etc. etc.. I reckon with diplomacy, this could be achieved.

#3 SIBA do it, but low-key, and they represent brewers, not consumers, so I’m never that convinced.

#4 More that it’s weird when you join an organisation about one thing (i.e. beer) and find yourself confronted with all kinds of other assumptions about what you ought believe in. In particular, I’m thinking about how we wouldn’t want the smoking ban to be even under discussion. Too divisive, too emotive. Focus on beer.

#5 Yes, exactly, and the point of this post is to get in early before they do and give them a hint as to what would make us consider signing up!

Dan — this politics thing is going to be a sticking point, I think. Boils down to a (perhaps simplistic) view on our part that good beer speaks for itself to a degree and that if we can just get a bit more out there, by supporting landlords and retailers in taking small, brave steps like this, then some of the politics will fall by the way side.

Why not sign up and give them some specific suggestions, both seem open to it!

And yes smoking ban shouldn’t come into it, but taxation/planning/pubcos certainly would and they all need political engagement

This is us signing up to the idea of a non-real-ale-exclusive beer consumer org, and these are our specific suggestions.

Don’t think engaging with politicians is a problem, per se, but we know of landlords (three spring to mind) who despite planning, pubcos, taxation, have taken over bad/mediocre pubs, improved the choice of beer, and are now coining it. So there’s a stage or two before we march on Westminster. I sometimes suspect people just like an excuse to put on a blazer and go to those receptions at the House of Commons…

luckily some pubcos are now allowing licensees to go free of tie, but with a tie on beer choice there is no way to “improve the choice of beer”

PS is there a way to subscribe to comments on your new blog layout, can’t seem to spot it

I agree with almost everything you say apart frm taste tests.
Taste tests allude to someone knowing MORE than someone else and telling them so.
It is very prescriptive.
We all have our own tastes.
A beer you or I think is horrid might be nectar to someone else and that is fine.
We just need people to be more discerning in general.
Also I think that absolutely there should be fun in a movement.
Dry witless campaigning in very very boring.

Stephanos — I’ll have a look re: subscribing to comments. Probably a setting I can turn on somewhere that got lost in the move to the new hosts.

Negotiating room for wriggle with the pubco is the main one I was thinking of: they seem willing to do it if they can be convinced it’ll make money, that is by a canny landlord making a convincing business case. But, having said that, I also know that the landlord of one of our local tied houses has a fairly decent list to work with but chooses the crap ones, because he likes them.

Also thinking of two pubs where the landlords have taken on terrible pubs in unlikely locations, which even pubcos won’t bother with, and made them into destination pubs.

Simon — yeah, it should probably *be* fun, but (to paraphrase your words) one person’s idea of fun or wit is another person’s pumpclipparade nightmare. The less personality it has, frankly, the more chance there is that it will appeal to lots of people and build some momentum.

I think taste awards, based on largish panels of ordinary people doing blind tastings (as per the one’s they have every quarter in CAMRA’s BEER magazine) are pretty democratic and open-minded. Also, they are fun, while we’re on that subject. But not make or break.

craft beer co for one I’d assume and I guess CASK too.

Yes it can be done and more people need to cotton on to the fact, but there are still plenty of pubs that make a profit for pub cos which wouldn’t be given a free of tie option on even one handpump

Unfortunately, beer lovers need to be more political not less. Anti- alcohol zealots are receiving increasing publicity, with anything they say accepted as fact by the press. If we don’t fight back strong beers will be banned (c/f the new duty on strong beers), opening hours reduced, lower drink drive levels introduced and other measures taken to stop us enjoying our beer. Argueing about the merits of cask v craft will become irrelevant.

I did used to think something like this was called for, but since getting involved in beer blogging I’ve come to the conclusion that cask beer is the thing I’m really interested in promoting so CAMRA’s good enough for me.

Ed, I’d agree completely that good – GOOD – cask beer will generally beat anything else, and should be supported wherever possible.

BUT cask beer can’t be the answer to every beer occasion, for a host of different reasons, and it’s Camra’s refusal to admit that there are other types of quality beer that need supporting too which wrecks its claim to be “the consumer’s champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry” (phrase copied and pasted from the Camra website).

Other types of beer are easier to handle, less perishable and more lucrative than cask. Exactly why do they need a consumer organisation to support them? What would such an organisation actually do?

Birkonian — some people who like good beer would like a reduced drink drive limit, others wouldn’t; some would like higher taxes on strong beer, others (many) wouldn’t. Making those key parts of an organisation’s remit immediately locks some out from joining/getting involved. So, maybe those campaigns could happen somewhere, but we’d be much more likely to join an organisation that kept its focus on beer as a product.

Ed — probably why more than one organisation is needed, sadly. Your view is very reasonably expressed, but others have said that, if CAMRA were to so much as acknowledge that a kegged beer could be good, they’d leave. We can see a time when some people are members of CAMRA (like you), some are members of whatever new organisation emerges (people who just don’t get CAMRA), and others (like us) are members of both.

Barm — good questions. We don’t know exactly as the organisation doesn’t yet exist that we’d consider signing up to, but probably things similar to CAMRA activity (e.g. festivals, guidance, local activism) without the exclusive focus on cask ale. While we can still walk into an otherwise decent pub and be offered only:

1. Guinness (keg)
2. John Smith’s smooth (keg)
3. Greene King IPA (cask, but in poor nick)
4. Holsten Pils (bottle)
5. Peroni (bottle)
6. Stella (bottle)
7. Crabbie’s Ginger Beer (bottle)

then there’s work to be done, isn’t there? I’m afraid to say that it feels that CAMRA would currently consider the job done if the conditon of the GK IPA could be improved. A pub with the beer list above might well end up in the Good Beer Guide.

Tandleman — don’t crow!

Alan — as far as we’re concerned, this is the very beginning of a discussion about something that might or might not happen at some point in the future. Would be nice to bat some ideas around for a while in a spirit of free and easy discussion, wouldn’t it? Never quite happens that way.

I’d say the much self-derided beer blogosphere is already doing all of this work with aplomb. This very post and the subsequent reactions being a prime example.

It would only need a bit of low level tweaking to become a ‘consumer group.’

Surely the eventual participants would end up being the very same individuals anyway.

Can’t someone just knock up a logo, elect a committee, and put the kettle on?

There wouldn’t even be a need to hire the village hall.

Thanks for the reminder, Graeme — just installed a “submit to comments” plugin. Can’t believe that’s not a standard part of the WordPress installation!

I work in a profession-farming-that is prone to foot-in-mouth disease. We have 2 major lobbying organisations and a host of sector specific bodies. We desperately need one voice, but the problems-landowner vs tenant, horn vs corn are seemingly insurmountable. I agree that the (beer )drinking world needs one voice, but again I can see, even from the position of a lapsed CAMRA member,that the scope for bickering is immense.

One thing I like about CAMRA is that it’s objective about what makes for good beer where other proposed camapigns are very wishy washy and subjective on this front. It means that you always know what CAMRA stands for.

I do think however that there is room for a campaign for key-keg as there is a lot of misunderstanding of what keg-keg beer is out there.

T_i_B — interesting point, that. CAMRA has the benefit of very clearly defined aims although, in my view, that makes them prone to applying the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit. (I refer once again to Greene King IPA.) I’m quite comfortable with vague, pragmatic rules (wishy washy, if you like) but, as Wittenden says, that means a lot more bickering. You can’t have it all!

Just subscribed to comments, I like using the function, otherwise I forget where I’ve posted!

Lots of comments on this and certainly seems like an alternative to CAMRA would be appreciated as long as they work with CAMRA.

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