Beer history Blogging and writing Brew Britannia

Archive Round-up: CAMRA and Real Ale

One of the fun things about working on Brew Britannia was thinking aloud on the blog as we conducted our research.

We wrote quite a few posts about the pre-Campaign for Real Ale era and the early years of CAMRA, and we find ourselves sharing the links fairly frequently.

With that in mind, and to give the undecided a taster of what they might be getting in the book, we thought we’d corral them in one place.

Pub User's Preservation Society memorabilia.

First, there was a series of posts about the organisations that pre-dated the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) and CAMRA. First we discovered the Ancient Order of Frothblowers and the Pub Users’ Protection Society; then the National Society for the Promotion of Pure Beer; and, finally, Young & Co’s 135 Association, inspired by a precursor to CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

Cover of Monopolies Commission report on beer, 1969.

Trying to trace the development of the language around beer, we found a 1934 reference to cask ale as ‘the real thing’, and considered how that kind of general use eventually led to the more technical term ‘real ale’. We also discovered the role of civil servants in fixing the way we use the words ‘draught’, ‘cask’ and ‘keg’ today:

We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer. All the large brewers and many smaller ones now brew a kind of draught beer which has become known as ‘keg’ beer. Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer. [B&B’s emphasis.]

And here’s what we discovered about CAMRA’s flirtation with the rhetoric of the ‘whole food’ movement and ‘natural beer’.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

Finally, we considered the culture and image of CAMRA in its early years. At first, no-one seemed sure if the typical CAMRA member was a blazer-wearing young ‘trendy’, a bearded hippy, or a burly bloke with a beer belly.  The beard-and-sandals image, which CAMRA has spent decades trying to shake, seems really to have taken hold after David Bellamy opened the 1979 Great British Beer Festival.

Quite apart from how members looked, the question of how CAMRA was perceived also interests us. We put together a brief history of ‘CAMRA bashing’ which reflected the impatience some early supporters, such as Richard Boston, felt over the boring technical debates about dispense methods which ravaged the Campaign during 1977.

We also noted that bickering among members on the letters page of What’s Brewing (a) started early and (b) hasn’t changed much in 40+ years.


3 replies on “Archive Round-up: CAMRA and Real Ale”

This type of writing is your more interesting stuff. You guys look at the historic stuff fairly objectively. If this is the main of your book it might be worth a read.

The more precious middle class opinions of contemporary beer and pubs you occasionally bang on about is weaker. If you had a good editor, (s)he’d of cut that.

precious middle class opinions


I think it’s a bit much to tell people to shut up on their own blog. (And it is telling them to shut up – after all, someone who holds “precious middle class opinions” isn’t suddenly going to develop a gritty working-class viewpoint. Unless they put it on, of course.)

I think what I’m saying here is, oi, Cookie – shut it, you slag!

That’s one point of view. We’ve been told by other readers that there was too much of this stuff in the last year or two and that they missed beer reviews and ‘commentary’.

We enjoy writing it all, so there’s going to continue being a mix — you’ll just have to ignore the ‘weaker’ material.

The book is mostly this kind of thing, though.

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