Beer history Blogging and writing

The Campaign for Unreal Ale: Deleted Scene

Our first piece for All About Beer magazine, ‘The Campaign for Unreal Ale‘, went live this week.

We wanted to focus on a particular moment and challenged ourselves, as with the recent piece on Covent Garden ’75 in BEER, to use only the words of those involved.

Of course, there’s a bit of a con there: the faux-oral-history format implies the absence of an author when, in fact, we’ve selected quotes from much longer transcripts, based on questions we asked, in order to tell a particular story in 1000 words.

By way of additional context, here’s a bit from Alastair Hook we didn’t use:

[My criticism of CAMRA in The Grist] didn’t necessarily chime with the heart-chords of SIBA members who were mostly cask ale brewers. In fact, it wound them up.

The late Michael Jackson told me, ‘Only ever talk good things of beer’, and that’s what I try to do, so, for all their ills, CAMRA have spent decades promoting good beer. (I’m just not sure they know what it is.)

I don’t have a problem with CAMRA – I don’t think about it. It’s irrelevant. What was strange was when I gave a talk at the Great British Beer Festival but my own beer, from Meantime, got stopped at the door by some jobsworth who wouldn’t have it on the premises because it wasn’t real ale. Isn’t that weird? Absurd.

It’s no wonder that people are sometimes confused about Mr Hook’s stance on CAMRA: even though it can sound extreme — ‘the idea that oxygen improves beer is just absurd’ — it’s actually rather complex and, dare we say it, emotional.

We’ve illustrated this post with pictures of Hook and Haydon scanned from 1990s copies of The Grist, the copyright holders of which All About Beer weren’t able to track down. If that’s you, and you’d like us to add a credit or remove the image from this post, let us know.

10 replies on “The Campaign for Unreal Ale: Deleted Scene”

It’s quite strange the amount of positive coverage Meantime used to get in What’s Brewing though – almost as if noone had realised their beer wasn’t “real”. (See also Budvar)

Or it might just mean that CAMRA really was pro-cask, not anti-keg – and being pro-cask went along with being pro-good beer in general. To put it another way, someone who believes that keg is fine but cask is better is still pro-cask.

Our hosts may disagree, but it seems to me that RAIB has always been a niche interest at best among actual CAMRA members (despite the organisation’s official commitment to it), making bottled beer effectively neutral territory. Also, Meantime was one of the first breweries where the question “is the keg any good?” could be asked with a straight face. So if any non-cask brewery was going to get an easy ride it’d be them.

“The late Michael Jackson told me, ‘Only ever talk good things of beer’”…

So, now I know where that unfortunate uncritical viewpoint has been built upon. We can not quite ignore the advice, now?

I have enormous respect for the shot in the arm Meantime gave British brewing, but their beers always struck me as ordinary and not comparable to the first division of North American craft beer. And I fall on the cask side of the keg/craft discussion, every time – when the cask is properly kept and served. Ditto for cask breather – don’t like it, never did. It may be an expedient useful in some cases, but best to avoid it by good cellarmanship practice.

I’ll say too I always thought active yeast in a cask or bottle uses up some of the oxygen in the container and to that extent oxygen is “good”, maybe I’m wrong. In any case though, I see oxygen as no issue if the beer is properly kept and served.

I can separate though these feelings from the organizational and promotional questions involved in whether CAMRA should embrace keg. I’ve changed my mind on it, I think it should. But keg beer will never be in the same class, that’s a different question on which I haven’t changed my mind.


Of course excessive oxygen damages beer; there is no dispute at all about that. But the idea that any contact at all with oxygen is evil is just as much a fetish as the idea that CO2 is evil. There are very many very experienced cellarmen and drinkers who simply disagree with Hook, and believe that a tiny, barely perceptible ingress of oxygen improves the beer. Not sure I agree with the theory, but their beer tastes better to me than Meantime’s does.

Okay thanks, interesting. Well, I’m one of those who will never be convinced dispense is a minor point in the matter of beer quality, I’ll have to disagree with Meantime there…


A few more words: keg-style is here to stay. On average, it dispenses (surely) more reliably than cask-conditioned beer. Many people like the fizz and extra chill. I now regard it as wrong to exclude any beers from a competition on the ground of not being from a cask or maturing bottle of beer.

It’s a similar issue to that of whether one beer is better than another – it’s subjective and the market speaks. It spoke as Meantimes’ success showed, and fair enough. Many of the new generation keg are better beers than some of the cask beers, that seems proof enough the old way needs to change.


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