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News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 January 2017: Binge Britain, Birmingham Beer Bash

Here’s all the writing from the last week we’ve found most stimulating, from reflections on children in pubs to a peek behind the scenes of how tabloid newspapers cover Binge Britain.

For the Pool Zoë Beaty writes about her time as a junior reporter dispatched on to the streets to find photographic evidence of young women over-indulging in alcohol:

We were asked to ‘find the woman, crawling on the pavement with vomit-flecked hair’ (a line which has always stayed with me). They wanted fights. They wanted bodily fluids. They wanted short skirts and high heels – anything that fitted the ‘scantily clad’ caption they’d already written… The true reflection of the night – the hundreds of other people having a brilliant time, aside from that one girl who fell over and is subsequently ridiculed – doesn’t fit the mould they’ve already created for young British working-class women…

(Via @philmellows.)

Breweries to watch -- logo collage.

In what has become an annual fixture Richard Taylor of the Beercast has posted his list of breweries to watch in 2017. He works in the industry (for BrewDog) which may give his observations either more or less credibility depending on your point of view but we tend to find him balanced and astute, and he uses this list as a way to highlight some over-arching trends and issues.

A rubber duck in a pint of beer.

The Bearded Housewife who last week gave us a run-down of how to find child-friendly pubs in East London this week returned to the topic in the philosophical abstract: why do people have a problem with children and pubs and can this argument ever be resolved?

Why would we not say badly-behaved people are a big minus point? Is it that we assume bad behaviour on the part of children is inevitable? Is it that we, perhaps subconsciously, exclude children from the set of ‘people’? If the former, the statement [that you don’t well-behaved children] starts to lose a portion of its unassailability… unless your benchmark for bad behaviour is absurdly low, it’s not reasonable to avoid pubs on the basis that any children in them are likely to be, or become, badly behaved, any more than it’s reasonable to avoid, en mass, pubs with football fans because you think they’re likely to kick-off.

Cloudwater DIPA V3 -- collage of images.

There have been quite a lot of blog posts about Cloudwater’s decision to cease brewing cask but not millions as some have over-excitably suggested. Peter McKerry rounds them up here but we wanted to pick out just one to read if you don’t have time for the full set. Martyn Cornell, a CAMRA member since the 1970s and a beer writer more or less since the cradle, ties the matter into CAMRA’s Revitalisation project and uses his authority to cut through some of the customary delicacy:

I’m not totally convinced Camra can be saved in the long term, given the online comments I read from craft beer drinkers who clearly see Camra members as dull, boring, elderly people drinking dull, boring, elderly beer. The problems with recruiting young activists to the campaign have been apparent for years – and the  really dreadful statistic from the revitalisation project consultation is that under 3 per cent of responders were under 30. I’m in the ‘dull, boring and elderly’ cohort myself, but I love, eg, Cloudwater DIPA as much as I love Fuller’s Chiswick. However, I fear anyone turning up to a Camra branch meeting is more likely to meet someone like Tim Spitzer, former chair of West Norfolk Camra branch, than someone like me. I am sure Mr Spitzer has done an enormous amount of good work for the cause of real ale in the Norfolk region and, having been a Camra branch chairman myself, I know what hard work the job is. But his rant in the latest edition of Norfolk Nips, the local Camra magazine, is certain to guarantee that anyone under 40 who reads it will decide instantly that the campaign holds no welcome for them.

Birmingham Beer Bash glasses.
By Francis Clarke from Flickr under Creative Commons.

We’ve been predicting that Birmingham will be the next city to gain a thriving craft beer scene for a couple of years and it has seemed to be getting there. But now, following on from the loss of the The Craven Arms as a beer-geek-friendly destination, comes news that the Birmingham Beer Bash will not be taking place in 2017. (Link to Facebook.) We don’t read this as a death knell for British beer — we know from speaking to David Shipman that it was always a huge effort to put on and left the organisers out of pocket, and the decision to run another has been touch and go each year — but it’s certainly bad news.

But, then again, there is also the news that BrewDog has closed its central London bottle-shop and this from Craig Heap in re: Cardiff’s best-known craft beer venue:

We’re going to start keeping a tally of good news vs. bad news — perhaps 2017 is when the hurt begins?

9 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 January 2017: Binge Britain, Birmingham Beer Bash”

Like most analyses of CAMRA I found Martyn’s piece deeply unsatisfying. No matter what problems CAMRA my have it is bigger than it’s ever been and still growing. Even if this is the high water mark it will be around for decades to come. Let’s face it the Society for the Preservation of Beer from the Wood is still going and it never had anything like the membership CAMRA currently has. I suppose there’s enough to say about CAMRA to keep beer geeks arguing for decades too, but I’d like to see something based more on material reality than opinion.

What is the point of thousands of members who don’t actively participate and often don’t even believe in the espoused principles of the campaign? Number of total members is a red herring. Number of active member under the age of 60 is what you need to look at. How’s that looking?

The inactive members must contribute north of £3,000,000 a year in membership fees, which must go a long way to paying CAMRA’s numerous professional staff so I don’t think they should be dismissed out of hand. Or the professional staff for that matter.

“it is bigger than it’s ever been and still growing”

Direct debit inertia does that. But the rate of increase is slowing, and anecdotal evidence suggests Camra branches are struggling to fill committee posts. Organisations can collapse extreemely quickly. The Ancient Order of Frothblowers had 700,000 members at its peak and disappeared within a few years.

Well, the CPGB dissolved into Democratic Left in 1991 – which had itself dissolved by the end of the 90s – and I’m not sure how much good paper members are to anyone. But there is a story there about the CP in the late 80s, which I remember writing about for Tribune at the time. Some time in the mid-80s they introduced an elaborate fee structure for membership, which was tiered both on income and on age – so if you were well-off you paid more, and if you were middle-aged and loaded you paid even more. And – the interesting part – if you were over retirement age and well-off, your sub cost the most of all. I’m guessing whoever drew up that fee structure knew that the CP had a large tranche of members on index-linked pensions and wanted to get the most out of them. God knows where the money went in the end, though.

I am not sure the Cloudwater story has been properly framed. When you compare it to the tough news from Dave at Hardknott on the one hand and the positive story from Hawkshead which runs 65% cask it seems that the question could be why Cloudwater took on cask without the full resources or apparently a plan to make it succeed – as cask succeeds elsewhere. I found Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery’s tweet a bit telling: “most new brewers (inc me) don’t look too closely at the numbers during start-up – we don’t want to be put off the dream!” In any event, the idea that the 1/3000th of the market not succeeding is cause to raise prices is a bit off. Do what makes you money. Congratulate others who succeed where you can’t or as you shouldn’t try.

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