Beer history Generalisations about beer culture

How to grow a beer consumer group

Chart showing growth in membership of beer consumer groups.

The chart above shows membership numbers for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA, from 1971), the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW, from 1963) and the Campaign for Really Good Beer (CAMRGB, from 2011). It’s based on actual data for the first ten years of the life of the SPBW and CAMRA, as given in newspaper articles, and for the first year of CAMRGB. The red dotted line projects CAMRGB’s membership on a linear course, assuming it continues to grow.

You’ll note that CAMRA wins, so far.

If CAMRGB wants to avoid being an SPBW and instead emulate CAMRA’s early success (which it might not) what do its leaders need to do?

1. Avoid vague objectives and changes of course. The SPBW took an initially hardline stance — wooden casks! — which it then watered down. Their stance was never clearly articulated. When pushed, their president would admit that he wasn’t that fussy about beer.

2. Keep it simple. CAMRA started out as a campaign for good beer and against bad beer, with no clearer definition than that. The focus on cask beer emerged towards the second year after the founders visited some pub cellars and asked a few questions. It was dogmatic, yes, but it was an objective that could be expressed in a single sentence.

3. Get some journalists on board. Three of CAMRA’s founders were journalists and more came on board in the first couple of years. They knew how to write great press releases, grab attention and had contacts in the right places.

4. Democratise and minimise the cult of personality. CAMRA’s founders are still occasionally wheeled out even today, but Michael Hardman handed over his role as Chair in 1973, only two years after getting the ball rolling. There was a healthy turnover of committee members from then on, keeping things fresh.

5. Get a corporate sponsor. CAMRA had some solid support from John Young of Young’s brewery, and then later from other regional brewers. Their patronage put money in the campaign pot and gave CAMRA officials time to devote to the campaign. If Brewdog could be trusted to take a back seat, they might be good partners, or perhaps the quietly massive Meantime? UPDATED 18:10 7/9/2012.

6. Be ambitious in engaging the consumer. CAMRA began publishing a newsletter (What’s Brewing) in 1972; the Good Beer Guide in 1974, when the Campaign was only three years old; and launched their first national beer festival in 1975. The SPBW engaged government and annoyed brewers, but did little to talk to drinkers.

7. Be lucky and seize opportunities. There was a buzz about beer in the mid-seventies which CAMRA latched on to. Their big bump in membership c.1973 coincides with the publication of several books on beer and pubs and the launch of Richard Boston’s column in the Guardian. Mind you, there’s a bit of a buzz about beer now…

8. Support regional activism, don’t get sucked into London. The SPBW has regional branches and little central control, but the bulk of its activity was London-based. City of London based, in fact. CAMRA, being founded in the North West, by northerners, and with its first regional branch being founded in Yorkshire in 1972, was much more in touch with life outside the capital from the off. London CAMRA is just another (big) regional branch.

Disclaimers: we’re still members of CAMRA but haven’t yet taken the leap to join CAMRGB, though we watch its progress with interest. It currently has c.500 members and c.2500 followers on Twitter. It is still free to join but accepts donations.

83 replies on “How to grow a beer consumer group”

Oooh, This Is Relevant To My Interests.

I think 3 is a big big biggy, and why there’s that huge spike in CAMRA’s years 2 to 5.

What you missed, I think, is “Do renewals by direct debit”. It has been suggested, rightly I think, that CAMRA’s consistently high membership owes a lot to people who sign the form at a festival and never think about it again. The downside is that these people aren’t really campaign foot soldiers: you won’t find them behind the bar at the local festival or attending branch meetings. I’d hazard many wouldn’t be able to tell you what “real ale” means. And if you’re not getting fresh eager blood in, you’ll find your gigantic and diverse membership being represented by the same retired white men and their spouses.

I’d love to see some analysis on actual participation rather than raw membership numbers. That’s where the big challenge lies, IMO.

Arguably the making of CAMRA was that its rapid growth became a news story, which got it column inches, which encouraged people to join, which made its growth even more startlingly rapid, which…

When was direct debit made available to the consumer public like this in the UK? I am aware of its importance now but early sponsorship was likely as important a source of legitimacy and financial stability. One of the weirdest things about the boom of beer blogging has been how it, tragically, has been unfunded. This came up in a recent set of cross rantings amongst US brewers, pro writers and bloggers on a FB thread. There is masses of money in beer but so little to write seriously about it. For CAMRA to have found both funding models and found them at the time they needed the money was a stroke of luck and genius.

There’s no doubt that one of the reasons for CAMNRA’s high membership retention rate is direct debit, but that’s something it has in common with most organisations now. And whilst CAMRA festivals have traditionally been happy hunting grounds, there are less of them now than there used to be. Certainly the fact that membership is basically free has helped keep numbers up.

I would refute the assumption that many members don’t know what real ale is. The majority may be inactive and uninterested-for many reasons-in CAMRA business, but they still socialise at CAMRA events and choose to drink in real ale pubs. I’ve met very few who don’t know what real ale is. Now if you’d said cask breather…

I know it’s early but I think the boat for CAMRGB has already sailed.

“I think the boat for CAMRGB has already sailed.”

You might have said the same of CAMRA after it’s first year with some funny membership cards, a ‘wacky’ song and c.25 members mostly interested in getting pissed…

“If Brewdog could be trusted to take a back seat…”

It would be, in the words of Sir Humphrey, a “courageous” organisation who took on Brewdog sponsorship hoping for a quiet sponsor.

Point 2 is interesting – essentially, CAMRA started out with the exact same mission as CAMRGB. The dogma of “the Cask is the True Vessel, you shall worship no other container” might have helped form a concise (and marketable) message, but did it lose it’s original point a little?

Alternatively, you could argue that that redefinition was the making of CAMRA, giving it a definite purpose & focus. Keg was everywhere, cask was good, so we needed a campaign to get cask everywhere.

By comparison, CAMRGB is still at the pre-redefinition stage – complete with a funny logo, a wacky Web site and members mostly interested in getting pissed. If it’s going to take off it needs to be for something more specific than good beer.

Does it really need to be more specific? It seems to be saying the opposite – that beer’s “goodness” isn’t defined by anything specific or prescriptive like the whole tedious cask=good, keg=bad refrain.

An organisation can be trapped by it’s focus. I think most CAMRA members would concede that beer can be damn tasty coming out of keg, but a whole range of great beers and breweries are effectively excluded from CAMRA because of that dogma.

It needs to be more specific if it’s going to make people want to join. At the moment it’s saying “Hey, nice beer is nice!”. Which is fine, but, well, so what?

I think most CAMRA members would concede that beer can be damn tasty coming out of keg

I think an awful lot of CAMRA members still think in terms of “real ale good, keg bad”, and frankly I’m not going to be the one to tell them they’re wrong. I try keg beers when I see something interesting, but I’ve never yet had one and not thought it would have been better on cask. In my experience there’s a richness and complexity to cask beers – even quite ordinary ones – which few if any keg beers can match. I’d rather have Landlord on cask than Cannonball on keg, put it that way. (Love to have Cannonball on cask, mind you.)

Also (agreeing with Tyson) I think lots and lots of real ale drinkers are at what you might call the Hobgoblin stage of beer discrimination. I was in the Euston Tap yesterday (it was rammed) and I heard two or three people earnestly ask the bar staff what real ale have you got on?

I read all this as some sort of implicit criticism of CAMWA which, to be honest, has really offended Larry from Cincinnati and me.

I wish I had a keyboard instead of a smartphone. Where is the source for Youngs giving CAMRA money? Support- yes. Old man Young was fighting for cask before CAMRA. Not too surprising he supported our aims but you imply he gave money. Did he or have I read that wrong?

I think you make some good points about how to attract support, though clear aims is certainly one that I agree with. Ironic that some reckon the dilution of its aims is the way forward for CAMRA. Clearly if you are right change would be unwise.

Also your graph shows CAMRA had a decline in membership at one point. News to me
But you draw no conclusions from that.

Lastly CAMGB is just a bit of fun surely? That’s fine though. Serious stuff needs serious people.

Re: Young’s — not money exactly, but as we read it he gave Michael Hardman a job in PR at the brewery from 1980, so patronage is probably the right word. Fuller’s gave practical support to that first beer festival at Covent Garden, too, by agreeing to act as the licensees. So, yes, sponsorship in the softer sense rather than logos on shirts! That ‘money in the campaign pot’ line might just be an unfair assumption on what was going on behind the scenes on our part. Hope no-one sues.

Camra was being described as having 30,000 members in 1975 which dropped back to 18,000 by 1981. Been every upwards since then, though. There was a perception that the battle was won, so people dropped their subscriptions, at which point CAMRA first started having those awkward conversations about changes to the remit, which brings us to…

A single well-defined issue is great for PR and recruiting but our view is that CAMRA’s big enough and well established enough to re-define itself with a broader scope, if it wants to. It doesn’t want to, which brings us to…

CAMRGB is a bit of fun, but then CAMRA was only “a giggle” started by “four daft lads”. It took two years to become anything more than a drinking club, really. The SPBW was certainly always intended as a lark, but even they got up to 2500 members, audiences with ministers, acres of national news coverage, etc.. CAMRGB could be something, or it could not. We’d like to see it go as far as it can and fulfil whatever potential it might have.

Potential to do what, though? CAMRA’s a campaign for real ale, not an organisation to celebrate real ale. It was set up because less and less real ale was being brewed, partly because of long-term trends and partly because of recent business decisions; the point of CAMRA was to resist those trends and push for those decisions to be reversed.

Obviously we know all this, but I think it’s worth spelling out to make the point that a campaign group has to have something to campaign against: you set up a campaign group because you believe that otherwise bad things will happen, or continue to happen, or get worse. CAMRGB is all about celebrating beer; I don’t think they’reagainst anything, except of course CAMRA(!).

CAMRA were against: breweries closing, breweries being bought up and closed down, cask beers being converted to keg, keg being sold as new and modern, mega-breweries imposing keg beer monocultures. So they campaigned, and they stopped some of those things happening.

CAMRGB are against: people saying they don’t like keg without trying it. And, er, that’s it.

There is no campaign for really good beer, and there’s not going to be one unless they find something substantial to actually campaign against.

CAMRGB appears to be about cheerleading for breweries they like, rather than representing consumers. All this stuff about “beer should be served the way the brewer intends it”. The entire point of CAMRA, on the other hand, was that breweries were wrong and consumers who preferred cask were right.

I think at one point around 1982/83 CAMRA membership fell to around 15,000. I remember around that time reading an article, I think in the Times, saying how the organisation had basically shot its bolt and was in terminal decline. Ironically, it was in a discarded paper that I picked up on the train after a lunchtime pub-crawl of Windsor.

In the early years CAMRA signed a lot of members up by standing order which became a problem in a period of rapid inflation when inertia meant they didn’t update the amounts. Direct debits came in in the mid to late 80s, I think.

I’d also add that CAMRA were “lucky” in having several high-profile brewery closures in the early days that they could campaign against, thus giving themselves a higher profile than if the status quo had continued. For something which struck at the very heart of their reason for being to drop into their laps – well you couldn’t have bought the advertising/newsreel that the loss of Matthew Browns, Yates & Jacksons, Wem, Davenports came with. I think CAMGB will suffer because there won’t be a threat similar to these that it will be able to base its campaigning on.

Another thing that benefited CAMRA was that it had members who were prepared to put their money where their mouths were: whether it was buying a free house, or setting up a brewery, or running a beer agency (as in my case), there were people who were prepared to keep both the pubs in business and CAMRA in business by promoting its membership. I can’t see CAMGB inspiring the same depth of brand loyalty among its membership.

Not sure I agree at all with Phil’s last statement We are not campaigning against, but for.

Oh and that bit about Camra not being for real ale but just for better beer is not how I recall it. Maybe they didn’t know the technicalities, but they knew the new stuff was cold and fizzy.

Still is. 😉

Early on, CAMRA’s concern was very much that keg beer was weak and bland. Not many mentions of cold or fizzy. The SPBW, on the other hand…

The point is that the thing you’re campaigning for has to be under threat – you have to be able to protect or safeguard it by campaigning. Otherwise it’s not a campaign, just a celebration.

According to the Guardian (29 August) Green Party membership is 12,400 – about 10% of CAMRA. I think it was about half of that 10 years ago. I’m not sure quite what to make of the comparison, except that it adds to my feeling that CAMRA is just thrashing around without any real purpose anymore.

I seem to recall that the low point in CAMRA membership was about the time that life membership was introduced (1986?) – I don’t know how effective this was in the intended aim of shoring up the finances. I wonder if the increasing number of beer festivals in the late 1908s stimulated membership growth? Local beer guides, usually sold in pubs, were also seen more and might have helped.

I must say that I am very impressed by the amount of historical material that you are collecting in your posts. I’ve never seen an objective history of CAMRA, or of the beer scene in the UK in general over the last 30 years. As the internet is so ephemeral, I would urge you to turn this material into a book so the facts are not lost and are linked coherently – ‘book’ of course could be something that readers could print off themselves (obviously for a fee) given the specialist nature of the subject.

I have a book called “Called to the Bar” published in 1992 which is described as “An account of the first 21 years of the Campaign for Real Ale”. In particular, the chapter by Tony Millns entitled “CAMRA: The History” would answer many of these questions. He reckons the turning point in CAMRA’s fortunes came in 1981 when there was a belated recognition that the administration needed to be put on a more professional footing, and a “back to basics” motion was rejected at the AGM.

“CAMRA membership declined – at one point to below 15,000; some financial turkeys came home to roost; and generally the organisation suffered from burnout, with longstanding volunteer activists deciding their exhausting efforts deserved a break, the central HQ administration close to breakdown, and the media bored with stories about beer.”

I would suggest this book, if you haven’t already got it, is essential source material for your project. Available on eBay here.

We have got it. It’s great — really lovely first hand accounts by key players like Martin Sykes of Selby and Michael Hardman.

The recent independent documentary on the history of CAMRA is also really good.

and a “back to basics” motion was rejected at the AGM

Now that’s interesting. Question for anyone who’s read the book or knows the history (or was there! – what basics were they being asked to go back to, and why was it a good thing for CAMRA that they didn’t?

I don’t want to retype huge chunks from the book, but essentially it was saying that CAMRA should concentrate on increasing the proportion of real ale brewed and its availability, and avoid “diversifications” into issues such as licensing reform and industry structure.

Actually, re-reading the paragraph more closely, it says that the motion was actually carried, but the National Executive then went on to cheerfully ignore it. Rather like the Labour leadership over the years happily ignoring conference resolutions 😉

someone suggested camrgb was anti camra – prob better view that as a love/hate thing . ive never joined though partly cos ive never been convinced it was an organisation rather than a really cool blog with an email list for fans. that said i really think brewdog is worst possible partner for anyone. overpriced pretentious sure they bottle small amounts of extremely good beer but gk turned up at gbbf with 5x and punk going down hill fast. can i suggest my local brewer kirkstall as more natural partner camra friendly real ale and bloody good but very strong links (overlapping ownership at least) with vertical drinks importers of sierra nevada etc! camrgb isnt a quality keg campaign its quality regardless. who knows it may mutate into something more organised though in yorkshire im seeing little need for camra or camrgb .
need to celebrate what is but little to campaign on

Seeing as they’re the campaign for good beer, one can make the assumption that what they’re campaigning against is bad beer, and its preponderance in British pubs, bars, and restaurants.

Not exactly sure how they’re intending to go about doing that mind you.

I think the R in CAMRGB is a giveaway – they’re not for good beer & against bad beer, they’re just in favour of really good beer. Unless they’re going to start denouncing pubs for serving good beer but no really good beer, I’m not sure what they’ve got to be against.

Less pedantically, CAMRGB was obviously started in reaction against CAMRA’s refusal to embrace keg beer (even when it’s ‘really good’). As such all it really is is a pressure group campaigning for CAMRA to change its policies. CAMRA (and SPBW, I guess) are the only people in the country who actually disagree with the CAMRGB – nobody else cares.

It could be claimed that the 1989 Beer Orders were the ultimate high water mark of CAMRA’s success – albeit that proved to be a distinctly Pyrrhic victory as it transformed the industry in totally unexpected ways.

While considering the history and impact of CAMRA we shouldn’t overlook the influence of another body that had a huge influence on the appreciation of beer – the late, great Michael Jackson.

The Beer Orders changed the industry profoundly. It took a largely debt free industry and saddled it with debt that has helped ruin the pub scene far more than any other change.

Like minimum pricing, be careful what you wish for.

The PC is correct. The hardcore who attended AGMs back in the early 80s were very hardcore and did not want CAMRA to get involved in issues such as licensing reform. Which is ironic, as issues such as that raised their profile and led to new members like myself joining. The NE, by turning a blind eye to the AGM’s wishes-which they have a history of, saved the members from themselves. Unlike the Labour Party:)

Very interesting comments.
The people who join CAMRGB and have started to actively organise events using the organisation as a way of communicating with other interested parties know what CAMRGB can become.
A campaign can be for something.
Not every campaign has to be against something
And it IS important that a brewer makes their beer how they choose.
If the consumer doesn’t like it they won’t drink it.
Whatever anyone thinks of CAMRGB the people who join have their reasons for joining and to a man and woman they are positive and forward thinking beer lovers.
Maybe it’s just a big club, so be it.
It’s a network of likeminded people who have a shared passion that isn’t singleminded in its need to believe that only one way is the right way.

If the consumer doesn’t like it they won’t drink it.

So… you’re campaigning for brewers to make what they like and drinkers to either drink it or not, depending on whether they like it. Radical stuff. Have you got a position on the law of gravity?

In all seriousness, what is it a campaign for? What do you want to happen as a result of the campaign, that wouldn’t happen if the campaign didn’t exist? What do you want not to happen as a result of the campaign? As I’ve said further up, by the time CAMRA was a couple of years old it had clear and straightforward answers to both of those questions – and I think that was precisely why it grew the way it did.

One more thing.
Someone says here that CAMRGB is just supporting breweries it likes.
Isn’t that what CAMRA does by only supporting brewers who make beer in the way they prescribe?
CAMRGB supports brewers of cask and keg equally.
This evening I have drunk a CAMRA friendly bottle conditioned beer and a filtered beer and they were both terrific.
I also had a bottle conditioned beer that had a yeast infection and had to be poured away.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”

But CAMRA (at least in theory) supports all brewers who produce cask beer. Does CAMRGB support all breweries, full stop, or does it make subjective value judgments between them? Whether you agree with it or not, CAMRA does have a clearly-defined standard to apply.

Ahh well there’s the rub. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have drunk some pretty shitty beer over the years that was “CAMRA approved” in it’s cask or bottle-conditioned container. And at the same time CAMRA tells me that really great beers aren’t “real” after all.

It may be a “clearly-defined standard” but it’s an overly simplistic one that rejects half the beer on the market, on a principle that might have made sense 50 years ago.

Perhaps if CAMRA was more open to change, things like CAMRGB wouldn’t ever have come to be?

The word campaign was used specifically to make a point when the blog was first written.
Bear in mind this began as a blog not a movement and people seemed to like the idea of some albeit nebulous idea of a group they could connect with who this there’s a bigger beer world out there than only ale made to a very specific set of parameters.
The point most people seem to miss other than those who “join” is that CAMRGB isn’t trying to BE anything.
Members are making it what they want it to be.
Whether it be the tour of pubs in Edinburgh in the summer, the TWISSUP in Chester in July or the upcoming beer festival in London where cask, keg and bottle will share the same bar room.
The bottom line is whatever detractors try to say about what CAMRGB is or isn’t about I don’t give a damn.
I have more important things to worry about like family and day job.
What I live about CAMRGB is the people I have met that I wouldn’t otherwise and the conversations I’ve had and beers I’ve shared.
I get the distinct feeling that many out there are a bit jealous they didn’t think of it,
Sadly I came up with it completely accidentally and now it appears I have to come up with a CAMRA-like Modus operandi.

As I said a few days ago,

CAMRA’s a campaign for real ale, not an organisation to celebrate real ale. … CAMRGB is all about celebrating beer;

It’s not a campaign, because it’s not campaigning. CAMRGB doesn’t want to change the world; it’s not looking for a new CAMRA.

Sounds fantastic to me. There seems to be a few people who aren’t anything to do with what you’ve done that are far to keen to tell what it should be.

If what CAMRGB does is carry on as it is doing than that’s fine – surely people can choose if they went to join on the basis of that. Sitting outside and demanding some sort of manifesto is missing the point of an organisation/collective/campaign (pick your term) that seems (to me) to be anti-dogmatic isn’t going to get anyone anywhere!

Quite right.
But CAMPAIGN FOR REALLY GOOD BEER is a fr better name than the more accurate GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO LIKE NICE DRINKS.
Or something.

PS: excuse spelling – bloody iPhone.

I think the fact that CAMRGB is even included in this post after a year of existence is testament to Simon’s persistence in promoting a positive cause, being the collective enjoyment of well made beer. Especially when, as he says, he has more important stuff to do.

At the very least, CAMRGB feels far more modern and inclusive a collective than CAMRA and thus something I’d rather be associated with. I personally don’t have a problem whether it has a clearly defined aim or whether it just floats alone picking up handfuls of members here and there just for the fun of it.

It feels like its receiving criticism for the sake of it, not because it particularly warrants it.

Interesting conversation. Would love it to go on, especially if everyone counts to ten and tries to keep it pleasantly chilled. (Both ‘sides’ making fair points, but I sense the temperature rising….)


Like Tandleman, I’m a bit irked by use of the word ‘campaign’, but I guess CAMRGB is a snappier name than Group Of People Who Like Both Cask And Keg (When It’s Good) And Think CAMRA Won The War Against Red Barrel Ages Ago And Frankly It’s Getting A Bit Boring.

Me, I’m Hiroo Onoda – I’ll believe the war against Red Barrel is over when I get a signed order from Colin Valentine, and not before.

Steve said: “I personally don’t have a problem whether it has a clearly defined aim or whether it just floats alone picking up handfuls of members here and there just for the fun of it.”

To be clear, the stuff we’ve suggested in the post only applies if anyone wants anything more than that. CAMRA’s tactics worked for CAMRA, but if CAMRGB doesn’t have ambitions to be a CAMRA, then it need change nothing it is doing.

In the abstract, it is interesting (and frustrating) that the most effective campaigns and movements have a simple, almost boneheaded message that can be repeated ad infinitum, printed on badges, and which every member can learn off by heart. Subtlety of argument has no place in Big Campaigning.

Seems to me that most of this doesn’t matter. So a few people like the sound of what Simon is doing. Good luck to him and them. I don’t care for the term Campaign in this context though. That gives a wrong impression as to intent and purpose.

A minor quibble I suppose.

CAMRA technically support all brewers making cask beer, even those who simply can’t brew decent beer. Not opinion, fact.

How blindly saying all cask beer is good when it patently isn’t can be justified I have no idea

And I’ve had hundreds of keg beers, keykeg, ecofass, proper keg, etc, which were superb and would almost certainly have been made worse by being stuck in a cask.

Pasteurization is the big enemy not kegs… And “rubbish in, rubbish out” is a phrase those who worship cask beer should learn.

“Pasteurization is the big enemy not kegs…”

Abso – bloody – lutely!
Pasteurisation and the consequent neccessity to force-carbonate. Thank goodness that there’s someone out there who understands this simple, fundamental point, as no-one in CAMRA has ever done so.

OK, so what are the defining characteristics of ‘keg’? I think keykeg, in particular, has made this whole discussion a lot more fuzzy.

If you simply take brewery-conditioned beer that’s dropped bright, re-rack it and serve it somehow or other – let’s just assume you pour it out – that’s not Real Ale, but it’s not keg either. Does it become keg if the vessel you re-rack it in is an bag inside a pressurised box, so that you can serve it by opening a tap and letting the air pressure squeeze the bag? (Stop me if I’m getting too technical.) Or is it only ‘keg’ if there’s CO2 in direct contact with the beer, or if it’s been chilled, or both?

For bonus points… let’s say you take brewery-conditioned beer that’s not dropping bright – so that, if it was in a cask, it would be classed as Real Ale – and put that inna bag inna box. It might not be very nice, but would it be keg? Why, or why not?

PS More detail here (thanks to Gazza for mentioning ‘Ecofass’, of which I had not heard).

“Gas/air pushes content out.” Mm-mmm. I do like a pint of content.

Presumably to be a campaign, CAMRGB would need to clearly define the term “Good Beer”, which would be as pointless and arbitrary as defining the term “Real Ale”.

Hmm. Pointless? Maybe in terms of appreciating and enjoying beer, but if you want to sell a campaign, it’s far from pointless. It’s devilishly clever. It gives members a clear line in the sand — cask good, keg bad — and a specific point on which to pressure breweries.

Again, only an issue if you want to create a national movement with 30,000 members in five years.

I suppose it comes down to whether it’s more important to you to have lots of members in your club, or focus on appreciating and enjoying beer 🙂

CAMRA should be making consumers aware of (if they insist) “real ale”, not hassling breweries. It might not have been so 50 years ago, but the market these days is so saturated that you can let educated consumer pressure drive the breweries towards excellence.

Ok, granted, the definition has a point. But, as Gazza pointed out, it’s arbitrary in the sense that it doesn’t result in necessarily championing something that’s good (because it isn’t all good).

You may as well campaign for all beer to be served in cow shaped pottery.

For the record I do believe CAMRA have done done fantastic things in the past but they are becoming outdated and need to change with the times. Which includes a redefinition of their objectives and a more inclusive ethos at branch level.

I keep on promoting quality in cask beer. I think Camra promotes the concept though. Nobody in their right mind supports cask whatever its quality. Plenty wrong with Camra as I frequently point out and we do need to do much more to push good cellermanship and quality brewing. That’s what I do and one if the main reasons I name and shame.

As often, I agree with the thrust of what Gazza says, but I nuance it differently. We need to improve quality for the majority of drinkers. And I have had plenty of rotten beers in keg too. As Gazza says: rubbish in, rubbish out.

In some respect though, the problem is not what CAMRA promote but what they are perceived to promote. The perception is that the law of CAMRA is cask > keg, therefore some “followers” will drink inferior cask even when keg is available. Surely not good for ultimate consumer satisfaction.

Fining is an interesting comparison. I am not sure what CAMRA’s line on it is but I know that SIBA only this year allowed unfined beer into competitions. I’ve recently discussed this with declared CAMRA supporters who simply wouldn’t drink the unfined beer even though the brewer had specifically made it like that because they felt it was a better condition for the beer to be in.

Perhaps 30 years ago, fining was synonomous with good brewing, likewise producing a live cask product, but times have changed and major representative bodies need to adapt to those changes.

Incidentally, I’ve recently witnessed a fairly well known publican quite publically tell a well known brewery that they should stop bothering with keg (they produce keg, cask and bottle) because it was an inferior product. Madness, bordering on arrogance, if you ask me.

As usual Tandleman speaks very good sense. The main issue is quality and cellarmanship.
At our beer festival at Ascot, where we get a lot of “ordinary punters”, i.e. not CAMRA members or fellow-travellers, the main comment I get sick of hearing is “this beer is excellent but it doesn’t taste like this in my local so I drink the lager or smooth”. If we, a bunch of amateurs (may my cellar tem colleagues forgive me for calling them that, they know what I mean) can look after 200+ casks of beer to a high standard why can’t the licensees of many pubs with half a dozen in their cellar?
Poor cellarmanship is the biggest single enemy of CAMRA and cask beer, as it completely undermines so much of what we do. Perhaps we need to go back to the 80s when pubs selling cask beer usually kept it well and the others just sold lager and keg and could therefore be safely avoided. If pubs are going to sell (and sometimes even promote) cask ale then the least they can do is look after it and serve it so it tastes like the brewer intended. It’s not rocket science – why don’t brewers and pubcos do more to train and monitor quality (Fuller’s are generally an honourable exception here in the south) of beer?

Totally agree.

But surely it’s better for establishments that want to sell decent beer but don’t have the resources to achieve decent cellarmanship to sell keg made by decent breweries than pedal poorly kept cask.

The latter is a lose lose scenario.

Of course. But brewers of recognised accomplishment are likely to know how best to serve their product, do you not think? The conversation went like this:

“We’ve serve x beer on keg because it benefits more from chilling and carbonation. It’s superior to the version we’ve produced in cask”

“No it’s not, every beer would be better served in cask”

That’s pretty much word for word. I am not arguing that Mr Y may well prefer a beer on cask but this was not presented as opinion, rather FACT!

Sounds like six of one and half a dozen of trhe other to me – both of them were expressing an opinion dressed up as fact.

Good point. Although the publican’s opinion was stressed much more sternly. From recollection I do think the brewer said something like “we think it’s better” or something, whereas the publican didn’t.

(Appreciate I am changing my story slightly to suit my point, but I do remember raising an eye brow at the time)

What CAMRA have proved is that it is genuinely possible to change the range and quality of beer you are offered in the average licenced premised through positive campaigning.

But we’re still not there yet. The average pub may sell a far better range of cask beers than it would have done 40 years ago, but the range of keg beers and lagers available is still generally awful mass produced low quality swill.

If we could get the quality of the keg beer and lager up to the standard of the cask beer generally on offer, that would be a huge step in the right direction. As CAMRA have brilliantly proven, its not like it can’t be done.

Of course, this is self-contradictory to a hardline CAMRA member, because the idea of “good” keg beer and lager doesn’t even exist to him, hence the need for a new organisation (or alternately a change from within that organisation).

If CAMRGB want to evolve into a campaign for anything, surely this would be a suitable long term aim.

I think Phil’s generally on point here. When Camra began, they had a real sense of urgency not just because they had a reasonably well defined goal, but because that goal was to protect something that people cared about that was under immediate threat.

Conversely, the thing that CAMRGB are generally for that CAMRA aren’t (ie good qualitty keg beer) is comparatively new to this country and isn’t under threat – last time I checked, noone was going around smashing up pubs that serve it: the worst menace facing it is that nasty old CAMRA aren’t actively supporting it. Since people who like good quality keg beer have access to it in ever increasing quantities, there’s a less immediate urge to campaign in favour of it.

“Since people who like good quality keg beer have access to it in ever increasing quantities, there’s a less immediate urge to campaign in favour of it.”

That’s eloquently summarised, Dave.

Ever increasing is slightly optimistic. I would be surprised if as many as 1 in 100 UK pubs offered good quality keg beer like a Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Brewdog, Sierra Nevada etc. Its still very much a hard to find niche market product once you’re outside the big city centres.

Rod. Look at my blog. Read what I say in my intro about pasteurisation. It has been there for nearly five years. Also my remarks about keg predate the current keg arguments.

I’m very much in CAMRA and probably understood these fundamental points years before I had a blog.

Tandleman –
I withdraw the ill-advised word “no-one” from what I said. No CAMRA member that I have ever personally met and discussed this with has ever understood this point, but that’s not the same thing, I accept.
I should say “few, to very few” rank and file members understand this.

Oh – I have just looked at your blog, and you merely “dislike” pasteurisation…
As a brewer, I don’t “dislike” pasteurisation – I would HATE it if someone ruined my beer by cooking it after fermentation.

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