CAMRA and Lager: Eurofizz or Pure Beer?

Detail from a beer mat advertising Cameron's Ice Cold lager c.1980.

In its 44 years of existence, the Campaign for Real Ale has had a more complicated relationship with lager than cries of ‘fizzy piss’ from some members might have you believe.

CAMRA Munich ad, 1972.In the ear­ly 1970s, no-one in the Cam­paign was think­ing much about lager at all, its ener­gy being focused almost entire­ly on bat­tling keg bit­ters from Wat­neys et al. The very first issue of What’s Brew­ing (WB), how­ev­er, did car­ry an adver­tise­ment for an excur­sion to the Munich Okto­ber­fest organ­ised by one of the founders, the bespec­ta­cled and hawk­ish Gra­ham Lees.

Anoth­er keen trav­eller with a far from parochial atti­tude was Richard Boston, the author, from 1973 onward, of a week­ly col­umn about beer in the Guardian. Though high­ly sup­port­ive of CAMRA, at least at first, he also made a point of acknowl­edg­ing his love of good lager, as in this pas­sage from his 1976 book Beer & Skit­tles in which he recounts one of his for­ma­tive expe­ri­ences:

Beer and Skittles by Richard Boston.Some time around 1965 I went for a hol­i­day which took me by train through Ger­many, Czecho­slo­va­kia and Aus­tria… To me [Prague] seemed delight­ful… The food was stodgy, low in taste and pro­tein, but my God the beer was good. I had only intend­ed to stay in Prague for two days: I knew no one there, I hadn’t much mon­ey and there was lit­tle to do. I stayed near­ly a week, going from place to place drink­ing this won­der­ful beer and feel­ing more and more like the good sol­dier Sve­jk.

By now, you should be get­ting the pic­ture, but a third quo­ta­tion from a May 1978 WB arti­cle by Christo­pher Hutt, anoth­er key fig­ure in the 1970s real ale move­ment, makes the hier­ar­chy explic­it:

Beer mat advertising Harp Lager c.1980.[A] great deal of lager sold in the UK is weak, much of it is rub­bish, and all of it is expen­sive and high­ly prof­itable… A Which? sur­vey of lager found that Carls­berg and Tuborg have orig­i­nal grav­i­ties of 1030, Harp and Heineken of 1033, and Skol of 1034. Not much excise duty to pay among that lot. These brands, inci­den­tal­ly, account for about 65 per cent of the lager sold in this coun­try.

The qual­i­ty of lager depends crit­i­cal­ly on being bot­tom fer­ment­ed, on being made from the best mate­ri­als, and on being stored for a long peri­od. Some brew­ers, often the small inde­pen­dents who are try­ing to jump on the band­wag­on with­out bring­ing their instru­ments, ignore all three of these pre­req­ui­sites. Even the Finan­cial Times was moved to say of them recent­ly: “Those brew­ers who pro­duce top fer­ment­ed beers they call lager have a rather strange prod­uct and one which often deserves the industry’s term for such beer – bas­tard lager.”

This is not to crit­i­cise all lager or indeed, the peo­ple who drink any of it. A brand like Lowen­brau, for exam­ple, has real qual­i­ty…

The pre­vail­ing view among the most seri­ous beer geeks was, then, that lager brewed in Britain was almost inher­ent­ly ter­ri­ble, while the Real Thing, from Ger­many or the Czech Repub­lic, was more-or-less the Con­ti­nen­tal equiv­a­lent of our own tra­di­tion­al draught ales, in heart and soul if not in flavour, appear­ance or method of pro­duc­tion.

Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jack­son wrote month­ly columns for CAMRA for many years, cham­pi­oning beers from around the world. In Octo­ber 1981, he laid into British lager. Cit­ing data col­lect­ed for his then-immi­nent Pock­et Guide he set out para­me­ters for true Euro­pean-style Pil­sner: an orig­i­nal grav­i­ty (OG) of between 1045 and 1050 and ‘a pro­nounced hop char­ac­ter, bou­quet and dry­ness’. Even allow­ing a cer­tain lee­way – many inter­na­tion­al pil­sners had OGs of around 1040 – British-brewed lagers seemed limp, with most hav­ing OGs of 1030–1037, and being indis­tin­guish­able from one anoth­er. Why, he won­dered, were British brew­ers not pro­duc­ing ‘true to style’ Dort­munders, Münch­n­ers, Bocks, Dop­pel­bocks and Märzen­biers?

Beer mat advertising Newcastle Bright -- lagered ale.For the next few months, CAMRA’s What’s Brew­ing became pre­oc­cu­pied with lager. In Novem­ber 1981, it car­ried a dou­ble page cen­tre splash by Bri­an Glover enti­tled ‘The Great Lager Fraud’ that pré­cised a Trad­ing Stan­dards Agency report which had con­clud­ed that British-brewed lager was ‘poor val­ue for mon­ey’. In Jan­u­ary 1982, Ken Dun­john of the Brew­ers’ Soci­ety exer­cised the right to reply with a defence of British lager. We don’t have a copy of his arti­cle but Roger Protz’s typ­i­cal­ly fierce response in Feb­ru­ary 1982 gives us the gist:

The implic­it assump­tion in his penul­ti­mate para­graph that it is unpa­tri­ot­ic to crit­i­cise the British brew­ing indus­try is stag­ger­ing in both its naivety and its offen­sive­ness. The task of a con­sumer pro­tec­tion move­ment such as CAMRA is to tell the truth to the drink­ing pub­lic.

Gra­ham Lees had moved to Munich in the ear­ly 1980s but this brought him out of hid­ing to deliv­er one of his trade­mark calls for an end to whing­ing and towards action, in a let­ter to WB in April 1982:

It isn’t enough to shake our heads at the piti­ful, pee-coloured end prod­uct in the bar and treat it like some reli­gious taboo. For the fact is so-called Con­ti­nen­tal style beer has come to stay in the British Isles… It’s about time the Cam­paign for Real Ale began cam­paign­ing for real con­ti­nen­tal beer in Britain. And before some­one pro­pos­es lock­ing me up in Watney’s Mort­lake Tow­er on a charge of heresy, let me remind cam­rades that CAMRA is a defend­er of tra­di­tion­al cider, which isn’t even a dis­tant cousin of beer.

He also con­tributed to a review of beer around the world that appeared in the 1985 Good Beer Guide:

Britons unfa­mil­iar with Ger­many should under­stand that the Ger­mans are not in the busi­ness of pro­duc­ing that anaemic, almost taste­less liq­uid called lager which is so mis­chie­vous­ly mar­ket­ed in Britain with fic­tion­al Ger­man names.

When Roger Protz vis­it­ed him in Munich in 1986, Lees gave him a guid­ed tour which reaf­firmed Protz’s appre­ci­a­tion of the excel­lence of Ger­man lager. Then, on arriv­ing back in Lon­don, he had a pint of Arkell’s bit­ter which was ‘warmish, flat­tish, unin­spired’, and so con­clud­ed ‘I would have pre­ferred a glass of pre­mi­um pils’. (WB, August 1986.)

At around the same time, CAMRA was engaged in a cam­paign for leg­is­la­tion to ensure ‘pure beer’ free of addi­tives and ‘chem­i­cals’ and, in this con­ver­sa­tion, the Ger­man Rhein­heits­ge­bot puri­ty law was fre­quent­ly held up as an exam­ple of how things should be.

CAMAL logo.It was also towards the end of 1986 that Lees’ call for a Cam­paign for Real Lager was final­ly heed­ed, after a fash­ion, as a splin­ter group called CAMAL – the Cam­paign for Authen­tic Lager – had its first meet­ing. We have strug­gled to find out much about CAMAL but it is fair to say that they were a niche group and we recog­nise some of the names of those involved from anoth­er awk­ward bunch, the Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Beers from the Wood (SPBW).

But per­haps the mes­sage that some lager could be a good thing was sim­ply too nuanced for many rank-and-file CAMRA branch mem­bers who liked drink­ing more than the­o­ris­ing: they heard only the sec­ond thread – that lager was in every sense like piss, worse even than keg bit­ter, nasty for­eign muck. And, to be fair, some mem­bers sim­ply and sin­cere­ly didn’t like lager, regard­less of its authen­tic­i­ty, and some­one even wrote to What’s Brew­ing call­ing Protz a ‘fifth-colum­nist’ for dar­ing to praise the beer in Munich. (WB Novem­ber 1986.)

The Brad­ford branch of CAMRA began active­ly cam­paign­ing against lager, authen­tic or oth­er­wise, and launched a leaflet aimed at pre­vent­ing young drinkers from being seduced, which was repro­duced in WB Decem­ber 1986:

Why are you drink­ing lager? Is it:

- Because it is refresh­ing?
- Because it is cool?
- Because it is Con­ti­nen­tal, import­ed and some­thing spe­cial?
- Because it is sparkling?
- Because it is strong?
- Because your friends drink it?
- Because you are swayed by mass adver­tis­ing?

It is unlike­ly you will admit to the lat­ter, but think about it. If lager was real­ly so fan­tas­tic would so many mil­lions of pounds need to be spent?

The Not­ting­ham branch went even hard­er on the same theme but rather crossed a line of good taste with this image par­o­dy­ing Gov­ern­ment anti-drugs cam­paigns of the day:

Nottingham CAMRA advertisement, 1986, parodying anti-heroin campaigns.

Twen­ty years on, mat­ters are yet more com­pli­cat­ed. Some British lagers are now very good (or ‘authen­tic’, if you like) while many from Ger­many are thought by con­nois­seurs to have lost their edge thanks to cor­po­rate merg­ers and cost-cut­ting.

Mean­while, there is still a ten­sion with­in CAMRA. On the one hand, there is a body of mem­bers who love beer in gen­er­al, and for whom mem­ber­ship is mere­ly one way of express­ing their enthu­si­asm. They like pubs and pints of bit­ter, of course, but are also to be found buzzing around the inter­na­tion­al stands at CAMRA fes­ti­vals, and spend their hol­i­days in Bam­berg. Then, on the oth­er hand, there are those who are monog­a­mous – whose true pas­sion is for bit­ter and who regard any oth­er type of beer, and espe­cial­ly lager, with dis­in­ter­est, if not dis­taste.

Per­haps the cur­rent debate in the let­ters pages of What’s Brew­ing over the term ‘craft beer’ is actu­al­ly just an exten­sion of this argu­ment from the 1970s and 80s? Look at some of the quo­ta­tions above and sub­sti­tute ‘craft beer’ for ‘lager’ and you’ll see what we mean.

This post was prompt­ed by Tweets from @GroveHali about his expe­ri­ence work­ing at a pub in Hud­der­s­field.

  • If you were, or are, a mem­ber of CAMAL please tell us more in the com­ments below, or drop us an email via As ever, cor­rec­tions wel­come, but don’t be a dick about it.
  • Main image: Detail from a beer mat adver­tis­ing Cameron’s Ice Gold Cold lager c.1980, fea­tur­ing (we think) Michael Rob­bins from On the Bus­es.

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For more of this sort of thing buy our book, Brew Bri­tan­nia, which tells the sto­ry of how British beer got its mojo back between 1963 and the present day.

…an exhil­a­rat­ing read…” Roger Protz
“…a stun­ning book…” Craft Beer Chan­nel

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34 thoughts on “CAMRA and Lager: Eurofizz or Pure Beer?”

  1. Inter­est­ing. I just fin­ished a week­long trip to good beer pubs through­out York­shire — often CAM­RA-award-win­ning venues — and I couldn’t help notic­ing that while those pubs gen­er­al­ly didn’t serve lager, if they did serve lager it was almost always Bud­var.

    That is vir­tu­al­ly the oppo­site of the sit­u­a­tion in Budvar’s home coun­try. In the Czech Repub­lic, if there is a pub that focus­es on serv­ing sev­er­al kinds of good beer, it will almost nev­er have Bud­var. Instead, it will offer sev­er­al inde­pen­dent, region­al pro­duc­ers and Pil­sner Urquell.

      1. What I’m sure of is that when I did see lager in a spe­cial­ty beer bar, it was usu­al­ly Bud­var. (As at the Fat Cat last Sat­ur­day.) And I’m sure I nev­er saw Pil­sner Urquell. And that is the exact oppo­site of what you see the Czech Repub­lic.

    1. That’s some­thing else it might be worth us dig­ging into at some point: CAMRA’s par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for Bud­var.

      Roger Protz has been cham­pi­oning it for years but there is also the under­dog appeal result­ing from the brewery’s ongo­ing bat­tles with Anheuser Busch.

      And per­haps con­verse­ly PU is out of favour because it is owned by SAB Miller?

      1. I think PU is “out of favour” because of the changes in pro­duc­tion process­es brought about by the SAB Miller own­er­ship rather than the own­er­ship per se. Bud­var on the oth­er hand has stuck to the “tried and test­ed” ways. At least I think that’s the nar­ra­tive.

        1. That’s the nar­ra­tive, but it’s not always cor­rect. And the con­nec­tion of Bud­var to CAMRA is worth look­ing at.

          In late 2004, Bud­var paid for a group of CAMRA mem­bers to come to the Czech Repub­lic and give a press con­fer­ence in Prague, dur­ing which they denounced Pil­sner Urquell. Bud­var had told the CAMRA group that Pil­sner Urquell had reduced its con­di­tion­ing time from 60 days to 27, among oth­er things, and the CAMRA group rather cred­u­lous­ly repeat­ed these “facts” at the press con­fer­ence.

          This, as it turned out, was not true. And the idea of Britain telling the Czech Repub­lic what it should do remind­ed many peo­ple here of Munich in 1938.

          I wrote my own arti­cle about the brouha­ha for the news­pa­per here at the time, and I inter­viewed Roger Protz over the phone about what hap­pened. Here’s anoth­er reporter’s take on it:

          Sev­er­al Czech brew­ers this week even angri­ly sug­gest­ed that Cam­ra was some­how in the ser­vice of Bud­var.”

  2. I don’t claim any spe­cial­ist knowl­edge of this – & I’d love to hear more about CAMAL if any­one out there knows more – but you do seem to be distorting/oversimplifying your own sto­ry in a cou­ple of places.

    The pre­vail­ing view among the most seri­ous beer geeks was, then, that lager brewed in Britain was almost inher­ent­ly ter­ri­ble, while the Real Thing, from Ger­many or the Czech Repub­lic, was more-or-less the Con­ti­nen­tal equiv­a­lent of our own tra­di­tion­al draught ales

    The quotes you’d just pre­sent­ed sug­gest that beer geeks had a per­fect­ly ratio­nal aver­sion to most of the lager actu­al­ly being brewed in Britain – mass-pro­duced, inau­then­tic and poor qual­i­ty – not this qua­si-mys­ti­cal prej­u­dice against any­thing British. Was any­one say­ing “Euro­pean good, British bad”?

    per­haps the mes­sage that some lager could be a good thing was sim­ply too nuanced for many rank-and-file CAMRA branch mem­bers who liked drink­ing more than the­o­ris­ing: they heard only the sec­ond thread — that lager was in every sense like piss, worse even than keg bit­ter, nasty for­eign muck.

    I don’t know where this last bit comes from. Even if the mes­sage had gone out that British lager was bad and the CAMRA mass­es had uncrit­i­cal­ly absorbed it, this sure­ly wouldn’t have led them to the con­clu­sion that lager was “nasty for­eign muck”! In any event, the anti-lager pub­lic­i­ty you repro­duce is more anti-cor­po­rate than any­thing – which is in line with Hutt, Jack­son et al.

    In short, you can tell the whole sto­ry with­out any vague feel­ings or irra­tional prej­u­dices, and much more sim­ply: well-trav­elled beer geeks announced that most of the lager avail­able in Britain – and all the lager being heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed to a mass mar­ket – was under-strength, over-priced and of poor qual­i­ty; some CAMRA branch­es picked up the mes­sage and told their read­ers that all the lager they were like­ly to see was under-strength, over-priced and of poor qual­i­ty. Which, at the time, it prob­a­bly was.

    1. Phil – unfor­tu­nate­ly for us, it’s rel­a­tive­ly hard to find evi­dence of what rank-and-file mem­bers think/thought, but see Martyn’s com­ment below. Per­haps we’re read­ing too much into ‘Because it is Con­ti­nen­tal, import­ed and some­thing spe­cial?’ in the Brad­ford leaflet.

      1. As now I real­ly don’t think there was a col­lec­tive view from what I recall (I wasn’t active in the 1970s but have been involved since about 1980). I do how­ev­er recall one active local mem­ber dis­miss­ing Kolsch as “Euro-piss” which cer­tain­ly (and per­haps over-pith­ily) does reflect the mind­set of at least part of the mem­ber­ship then.

        1. As an adden­dum re the Brad­ford leaflet – look­ing back it is per­haps too easy to read unwar­rant­ed sig­nif­i­cance into what at the time may have just bee the author’s casu­al turn of phrase.

          1. We’ve dropped Brad­ford CAMRA a line to see if they’ve got a copy in their archive – might help to see it in con­text. Won­der if their old newslet­ters are archived online? Will check.

      2. I would have said the main point of that list was the last line – i.e. CAMRA wouldn’t deny that lager was cool & sparkling (etc) but want­ed to point out that it was being real­ly heav­i­ly mar­ket­ed & that this might have turned a few heads. And if they did refer to the ‘import­ed’ angle lat­er on, I’ll bet it was to make the point that most British lager wasn’t import­ed (but was mass-pro­duced ch*m*c*l f*zz).

        Real­ly this is just anoth­er instal­ment in my long-run­ning argu­ment with you about CAMRA, ear­ly CAMRA in par­tic­u­lar – you seem to start from a posi­tion of “why did these strange peo­ple believe these strange things?”, where­as I’d say that the evi­dence shows that we* believed some quite sen­si­ble things for per­fect­ly good rea­sons. I don’t think either per­spec­tive is total­ly valid; they both miss some­thing out. Mine, for instance, is ill-equipped to explain CAMRA mem­bers say­ing stu­pid things about beers they didn’t like!

        *‘We’? I was far too young to join CAMRA at the start – and actu­al­ly didn’t join until a cou­ple of years ago – but I was a fair­ly well-informed sym­pa­this­er from very ear­ly on; I wasn’t there exact­ly, but I feel like I wasn’t far away.

  3. Your piece is extreme­ly well-writ­ten and inter­est­ing, and per­haps points to more themes which could be explored under the gen­er­al head­ing. As some­one who joined CAMRA back in 1976, I had a pass­ing rela­tion­ship with lager in my late teens. Most brands – Harp, Skol, Heineken, etc – tast­ed the same, or should I say not tast­ed as they had no dis­cernible flavour. Car­ling was per­haps the excep­tion, and many years lat­er a lager-lov­ing friend com­plained to me about the bar offer­ings at an event I was help­ing to organ­ise where Car­ling was the only lager avail­able; he didn’t like it because it tast­ed! How­ev­er, British lager was so weak and taste­less pre­cise­ly because, I would sug­gest, of the way it was con­sumed and by whom. Necked in copi­ous quan­ti­ties by main­ly men, main­ly-ish young, for whom quan­ti­ty was more impor­tant than qual­i­ty. The term lager louts did have some orig­i­nal basis in fact, I would say. Wit­ness the fact the Becks pro­duced Becks Vier as a 5% beer was con­sid­ered too strong for the tar­get con­sumer in the UK and the amount they drank in a ses­sion. This fol­lows on from the UK being the only coun­try where Heineken was 3.4% and not 5%. Hav­ing tast­ed the 5% ver­sion some years ago at the brew­ery in the Nether­land, it wasn’t that bad. Not to my taste but sur­pris­ing­ly good qual­i­ty. So, there is a cul­tur­al aspect in the devel­op­ment of British “lager” – and I use the quotes delib­er­ate­ly as the mass-pro­duced lagers were nev­er lagered prop­er­ly. Now some may accuse me of being a bit of a snob, but we do need as a soci­ety to dif­fer­en­ti­ate to some extent to those who drink because they enjoy the flavour and accept intox­i­ca­tion as an unwant­ed occu­pa­tion­al haz­ard, and those who drink to get intox­i­cat­ed regard­less of what it is they’re drink­ing. If any­one says that’s me being a snob, I don’t care! There is cer­tain­ly some snob­bish­ness in some of the anti-lager com­ments you have quot­ed.
    I have over the years become more famil­iar with Ger­man and Czech beer and I par­tic­u­lar­ly love Bavar­i­an beers. Some of these are as good as the top British real ales – just dif­fer­ent and a prod­uct of a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. And, yes, you do see copi­ous vol­umes of 5% or 5.5% beers being con­sumed in cities like Munich, but it doesn’t seem to have the same effects and out­comes as in some British cities. The cul­tur­al aspect is impor­tant, and con­sid­er­ing the con­junc­tion of “for­eign” beer with British drink­ing cul­ture can­not be ignored.
    Per­son­al­ly, good beer is good beer, whether from Man­ches­ter or Munich. I have over-indulged in both those cities, but only because I real­ly enjoyed what I was drink­ing. If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t drink it – hence so-called British lagers do not fea­ture as I find them bland, over-fizzy and more like­ly to give me a hang­over (some­thing I very rarely suf­fer from nowa­days). But there are those who do like them, and that’s fine, whether it’s the flavour they like (or they don’t like more flavour­some beers, pos­si­bly) or whether it’s a peer-pres­sure thing, mat­ters not.

    1. This fol­lows on from the UK being the only coun­try where Heineken was 3.4% and not 5%.
      Not the only one where it was less than full strength: Heineken in Ire­land was, and still is, 4.3% ABV. In the oth­er direc­tion there’s also a spe­cial Irish ver­sion (or badg­ing) of Beck’s Vier, also at 4.3% ABV.

      1. I stand cor­rect­ed! My infor­ma­tion came from con­tacts work­ing in Heineken at the time.

      2. a spe­cial Irish ver­sion (or badg­ing) of Beck’s Vier, also at 4.3% ABV.

        I haven’t made an ‘Irish’ joke in thir­ty years, but some­times it’s awful­ly tempt­ing.

  4. Yes, the ersatz, top-fer­ment­ed “lagers” made by some of the fam­i­ly brew­ers back then were famous­ly grim. I sus­pect the nadir was Robin­sons’ Ein­horn – tru­ly ter­ri­ble stuff (even Robin­sons tac­it­ly said so – “it’s not a prod­uct we’re par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of”). Strange­ly it hung around for a long time and was only dis­con­tin­ued a few years ago (its last redoubt being a pub called the Bull’s Head in Ker­ridge where one reg­u­lar – who went by the per­haps unsur­pris­ing name of ‘Fat Fred’ – was known to drink a gal­lon a day of the stuff).

  5. Iron­ic that Brad­ford CAMRA was one of the first fes­ti­vals to fea­ture real Lager cour­tesy of the estimable Olaf Schel­len­berg.

    1. That sounds like an inter­est­ing line of research. Is Mr Schel­len­berg still about?

      1. Olaf Schel­len­berg is a love­ly man and well worth hunt­ing down. Pro­vid­ed Ger­man beers (incl those table­top cask things) for Cam­bridge CAMRA feats (includ­ing a glo­ri­ous­ly (in)authentic Okto­ber­fest in Octo­ber) when I lived there.

  6. The appar­ent anti-British bias stems from con­cern about authen­tic­i­ty of source, which back in those days was a big thing in CAMRA. “It won’t taste the same now it’s been moved to anoth­er brew­ery” was a com­mon refrain, and obvi­ous­ly some­thing brewed in Northamp­ton would nev­er be as good as the equiv­a­lent brewed in Copen­hagen.

    You don’t hear it so often nowa­days, when craft brew­ers have proved it’s pos­si­ble to brew bril­liant, tasty beers in indus­tri­al units and rail­way arch­es, and con­cern about “beer miles” makes import­ing beer from Seat­tle not look quite such a good idea.

    I ini­tial­ly start­ed drink­ing on lager and back in those days tend­ed to avoid Car­ling as it lacked what I would now recog­nise as a “noble hop” char­ac­ter which some of its com­peti­tors, notably Heineken, had in a sub­dued form. This is prob­a­bly why I’ve not been huge­ly impressed by BrewDog’s This.Is.Lager because, while it has plen­ty of hops, they’re not the right kind of hops.

  7. I have to say that my mem­o­ry of Cam­ra in the 1970s is that many mem­bers did indeed feel that ALL lager was nasty for­eign muck, even if it was the finest that Bohemia or Bavaria could pro­vide. Of course, as I’eve said before„ while Cam­ra was cam­paign­ing furi­ous­ly against keg bit­ter, keg lager was inex­orably grow­ing to the point where it would dom­i­nate the British beer mar­ket: if St Albans had spent less time attack­ing Watney’s Red and DD and more time attack­ing Skol, Harp and Hofmeis­ter …

    1. I think that would have been more dif­fi­cult, as you can’t point to a direct “real” equiv­a­lent of lager, and also it tend­ed to appeal to a new gen­er­a­tion who weren’t inter­est­ed in all that twig­gy hip­py non­sense.

      The keg brands like DD and Watney’s Red were posi­tioned as pre­mi­um prod­ucts to appeal to drinkers who felt they had a bit more dis­cern­ment and deep­er pock­ets. CAMRA suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing these beers seem utter­ly naff and by 1976 many of those who drank them had moved on to singing the prais­es of Rud­dles Coun­ty.

    2. Mar­tyn – that’s anoth­er half-researched blog post: the them and us rela­tion­ship between the urban sophis­ti­cates of the Nation­al Exec­u­tive and down-to-earth drinkers in branch­es. Cer­tain­ly NE can­di­dates in the 1980s often seem to have cam­paigned on the basis that they were ‘rank and file’ and wouldn’t, like that last lot, lord it from their ivory tow­er in St Albans.

      1. I read What’s Brew­ing for a good decade if mem­o­ry serves in the 80’s and my rec­ol­lec­tion is that the more thought­ful CAMRA writ­ers always respect­ed Euro­pean lager of the utmost authen­tic­i­ty such as Pil­sner Urquell. Roger Protz and of course Michael Jack­son were in this group, they nev­er had the casu­al dis­mis­sive­ness of (it appears from com­ments above) much of the the rank and file. Of course their opin­ion at that time gen­er­al­ly was based on local­ly-brewed exam­ples or imports such as bot­tled Hol­sten which didn’t real­ly give the pic­ture for the best Euro­pean tra­di­tions.

        In gen­er­al I recall a respect­ful and inquir­ing atti­tude amongst the writ­ers for the tra­di­tion­al ele­ments of the Euro­pean scene. The dis­tinc­tion of course with real ale was always main­tained, as is still done with craft keg, but the two stances were are not incon­sis­tent.


  8. It is para­dox that many CAMRA mem­bers have always sup­port­ed real ale while hap­pi­ly sup­ping con­ti­nen­tal beers, not only when they came across them, but active­ly seek­ing them out. And lagers were includ­ed too. While UK brewed lagers were uni­ver­sal­ly despised by CAMRA Mem­bers, I don’t recall the same gen­er­al antipa­thy that Mar­tyn recalls.

    It is also my rec­ol­lec­tion that Camerons brewed Ice Gold Lager, not Ice Cold, but if you have a source for the lat­ter, I’ve been wrong all these years.

    Not for the first time I sup­pose.

    1. I remem­ber drink­ing Stel­la Artois in Bel­gium in about 1975 (with my fam­i­ly – I was under age) and think­ing “wow, this is the good stuff”. “Prop­er Dutch Heineken” was well-regard­ed too.

      It’d be inter­est­ing – and quite fun­ny – if the CAM­RAs­cen­ti had had an irra­tional prej­u­dice against British lager because it was British, while the mass­es had a down on it because it was for­eign muck, but I think the truth is a lot sim­pler: when lager con­quered the (British drink­ing) world, most of it wasn’t very good, and peo­ple who cared enough about beer to be into real ale didn’t like it because it wasn’t very good. And I guess there was a trib­al CAMRA ele­ment who didn’t like it because Real Ale Good Every­thing Else Bad, but I’m nev­er sure how big that group real­ly is.

      1. Phil, you’re right. And Stel­la in that peri­od was a good beer in Bel­gium, rather dif­fer­ent than it is today, in my opin­ion.


      1. I have been around. I remem­ber sup­ping it in Stock­ton in 1976. I was on a course in near­by Billing­ham where I stayed in the digs of a Mrs Col­pitz. Supped a lot of Godaw­ful beer there.. Seem to remem­ber Harp, McE­wans Best Scotch and Exhi­bi­tion. Not fond­ly.

  9. I could get involved at length in this, but instead I’ll just say that my TV geek part­ner, who has on numer­ous occa­sions threat­ened me with his On the Bus­es box set, con­firms it is indeed Michael Rob­bins in the pic.

    1. Great – thanks! There must have been an accom­pa­ny­ing TV ad but, as it’s not on YouTube, it might as well not exist.

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