What’s Brewing? Same as 40 years ago.

Header for CAMRA's What's Brewing letters page, mid-70s.

Tom Stain­er, edi­tor of the Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA) news­pa­per What’s Brew­ing?, once point­ed out, while under fire, that there aren’t many argu­ments about the Campaign’s pol­i­cy that haven’t already been played out, often repeat­ed­ly, over the course of forty years. Going through old issues of What’s Brew­ing, we sud­den­ly saw what he meant: there were entire let­ters pages from the mid-sev­en­ties that, if print­ed in the next issue of WB, wouldn’t seem incon­gru­ous.

Some peo­ple would drink oil served by hand­pumps. Jan­u­ary 1975. ‘In view of CAMRA’s strong empha­sis on the mode of dis­pense of beers should it not be renamed the Cam­paign for Unpres­surised Ale? Sure­ly the major empha­sis should be on what goes into the beer and what it tastes like?’

Why I’m think­ing of leav­ing CAMRA. March 1976. Cor­re­spon­dent feels the Cam­paign is drift­ing away from its found­ing prin­ci­ples of bat­tling keg. Refers to CO2 as ‘tear gas’.

It’s not muck. Same issue. ‘Fanat­ics of all kinds always annoy me and I must there­fore com­ment on your cor­re­spon­dent… who wrote of his CAMRA col­leagues drink­ing “pres­surised muck” at their local as if they are on a lev­el with Judas Iscar­i­ot.’

A nar­row-mind­ed approach to beer. April 1976. Chair­man of Rud­dles brew­ery says: ‘There are times when I feel that all draught beer [cask] is auto­mat­i­cal­ly good and all keg, bot­tled and canned beer is auto­mat­i­cal­ly bad, in the eyes of CAMRA. This is sure­ly a very nar­row-mind­ed atti­tude.’

Purism wins. Same issue. ‘I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when I would read a spir­it­ed defence of fizz from a CAMRA mem­ber [‘It’s not muck’, above]… I despair at the idea of any CAMRA mem­ber reg­u­lar­ly drink­ing fizz because it is some­times incon­ve­nient to drink real ale… It is the very fanati­cism (purism would be a bet­ter word) of many CAMRA mem­bers that has held back the tide and retained real ale for us.’

And who start­ed the end­less bloody sparkler debate? Two chaps from Sheffield, with the fol­low­ing let­ter from March 1979.

Tight head’ give same results as air pres­sure. ‘To add a new dimen­sion to the air pres­sure debate, we would like to argue that a dif­fer­ence in taste com­pa­ra­ble to that pro­duced by air pres­sure is pro­duced by the uni­ver­sal North­ern prac­tice of pulling beer through a tight sparkler, there­by thor­ough­ly agi­tat­ing the beer and mix­ing it with air, result­ing in the char­ac­ter­is­tic north­ern “head”… This has the effect of dis­guis­ing the flavour of the beer, of obscur­ing the dis­tinc­tion between real ale and bright beer, and of giv­ing the aver­age North­ern drinker a spu­ri­ous cri­te­ri­on by which to judge a good pint.… when we have been able to drink local beer “flat”, is has seemed to excel in body and flavour.’

4 thoughts on “What’s Brewing? Same as 40 years ago.”

    1. Watney’s tried to hire a sock pup­pet to attack CAMRA, but we’re sav­ing that sto­ry for the book.

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