News opinion

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.

16 replies on “The Birth of CAMRA in the Independent”

Thanks for highlighting this article- I hadn’t seen it yet.
As a regular CAMRA volunteer in various ways (whilst being a female under 30) I agree that the sandal brigade are a minority hogging the limelight. They do exist, the exist in theier bucketload, but so do lots of enthusiastic normal people who have regualr jobs not involving trains and who wear converse and use gillette. Having said that, festivals would be bloody boring without the old school dudes- they provide fodder for many a good drinking game and some quite hilarious banter.


It’s complicated, as always. Those people do exist — check. Not all CAMRA members are like that — check. And who cares what people wear or how they look? Not us.

*But*… it does mean that CAMRA’s public image isn’t representative of the membership, and that has to be a problem.

but what do you do about the public image? Perhaps you could have a corral out of sight where undesirables would be directed to; on the other hand, you only have to look at a political conference to see that they have a similar amount of weirdoes.
I must admit to finding the whole debate about CAMRA on a par with trying to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic as it sinks. It is this obsession which I suspect makes those interested and intrigued by beer, whether they wear sandals (I’ve seen Christian types wearing sandals and socks), Chelsea boots or caliphers, seem a little odd to the outside world.

Ha! No, I don’t think corrals, enforced shaving or a footwear policy are the answer… probably just an acknowledgement that this stereotype persists and some more thought (behind closed doors at CAMRA?) about how to counter it. Of course they’re doing that, but the contrived shots from GBBF which suggest almost everyone there is a woman under the age of 25 aren’t the answer.

Said it before, will say it again now: BEER Magazine does a great job of presenting CAMRA as a modern organisation and beer as a mainstream interest. They should sell it in shops. Reckon people might buy it, if it was reasonably priced.

there is always house arrest or separate festivals even, held on uninhabited islands and they can have silly names for their pump clips as well, I am sure some bloggers who get so uptight about it would be willing to sort out ferries, security, shutting down social media networks etc

Beer is a brilliant mag and the fact it won an award from an organisation outside the tight little world of the beer writing industry speaks volumes for its class.

While I am sure trying to figure out CAMRA from a distance as I am doing is like trying to figure out 1970s Soviet military strategy from watching James Bond movies, what strikes me is not so much the images of members – whether the four women under 25 or the 100,000 fat old hairy men like me – but that there are these assumptions that membership is equally active, not mainly really there for the discount or even one homogeneous body. Hawkes perpetuates this somewhat – though there is something of the distinction between the (b)org as opposed to the prime directive.

Alan — the secret is that they wheel those four 25 year old women past the CAMRA several times to give a false impression of their arsenal.

I was just thinking about New Statesman and it’s subscriber of the week feature. It’s interesting because it’s uncensored. A huge number of their subscribers say things like “I am a Tory and like to know what lefties are thinking” or “I find New Statesman interesting and annoying in equal measure”. Just as with CAMRA, as you suggest, being engaged (a subscriber or member) doesn’t mean buying into lock, stock and barrel. Beer blogs are one good way for CAMRA members to express where they differ from, or agree with, specific CAMRA policies.

Bailey – That’s right. A broad church indeed. Are the two million RSPB members out protecting tweeters every day? No. They just kind of like having them around. Real Ale still has a fragile hold in UK beer culture (despite what some say) and most people who support CAMRA know that and want to chip in their bit. Silently or not.

In fact, TM, I’d be interested to know how many CAMRA members actually fully understand CAMRA’s definition of real ale and what they’ve signed up to. At least one CAMRA member of my acquaintance routinely refers to ‘real ale’ when meaning bitter, however it is sold/stored/dispensed. A few people have referred to Sainsbury’s promotion as a ‘real ale festival’. And so on.

I’m one of those that thinks real ale is saved — the dark days are over, the post-war craze for crappy processed food has passed — but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for CAMRA or that it won’t be threatened again.

I have on several occasions heard people refer to the generality of premium bottled ales as “real ales”. However, culturally, they might be closer to the mark than the CAMRA definition, at least as far as bottled beers go.

Bailey – I’d say most CAMRA members sign up because they like traditional beer. They may not be able to rhyme off definitions, but they just agree with the main thrust.

See tweeters above. Clearly though, given what Mudgie (and you) sayhere and what he said elsewhere, I need to spend more time eavesdropping on drinkers in both pubs and supermarkets. (-;

Curmudgeon — please don’t now be freaked out when you go to get something from the stationery cupboard and find Tandleman sitting in there with a Dictaphone.

And it should be ok to dip the toe into the waters of CAMRA – or any other movement – with less fervour than others. 4% will be keeners in any group. If there is enough reason to stay in the broad church even if not at the pulpit oneself, well, isn’t that a great way to generate the affinity for the place of cask in the culture? So even if Hawkers mentions bureaucracy and you ask how many know what real ale is supposed to be, it may be good enough that they are willing to back the cause to even a tepid personal level.

As has been said, not all CAMRA members are manning the nu-keg barricades.

Of my friends who are members, most are quite casual and are just happy to be supporting a “good thing” and if it wasn’t for me dragging them to the Euston Tap and such like, they would be quite oblivious to the craft beer histrionics…

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