Yet more thoughts on CAMRA

Below are a few thoughts on CAMRA. If you’re bored of reading people’s opinions on this, as many are, don’t bother going any further and save yourself a headache.

1. If Brewdog and other critics of CAMRA think they’re irrelevant, why do they keep going on about them? Could it be that they want their approval? These breweries are trying hard to make good beer, in their own way, but the venerable old man on the UK craft beer scene doesn’t like them. That must hurt a bit.

2. Why aren’t CAMRA seizing this opportunity to become bigger and more powerful? If people are begging them to be the arbiters of what is and isn’t good beer, they should do it.  It wouldn’t be a compromise — it would be growth. They could continue to champion real ale (before anyone points it out, yes, we know, the clue is in the name) but, alongside that, they could give out “CAMRA Gold Taste Awards” to keg or bottled beers, whether ‘real’ or not. We’d definitely try a beer if a CAMRA member-led tasting panel (like the ones they run in BEER Magazine) had given it the thumbs up. And that’s how you could judge “brewed for taste” — there don’t have to be rules.

3. Now we mention it, doesn’t BEER Magazine already present a vision of a future CAMRA? One where both sides of the debate are heard; where non-CAMRA writers rub alongside high priests of the campaign; and where being into beer is convincingly presented as a mainstream hobby that everyone can enjoy?

Can everyone just grow up

We couldn’t sum up our feelings about the latest Brewdog/CAMRA spat in a Tweet, so here’s a quick post.

In short, based on what we’ve read so far, we’re annoyed at both parties.

Brewdog make some beers we really love. The current bottled version of Punk IPA is far better than many of the cask ales we can easily get where we live.

And CAMRA is a great institution. We keep renewing our membership because, broadly speaking, we know they’re the goodies — the Rebellion facing off against the sinister Galactic Empire of crappy beer.

But Brewdog’s relentless pursuit of publicity and attention-seeking is really boring. They’ve got nice beer, good design — why do they need to be so malevolent? Is ‘irritating’ one of their ‘brand values’? They position themselves as underdogs but are beginning to look like school bullies.

And CAMRA… well, they make us sad. Why can’t they just try to turn the other cheek, show some statesman-like dignity, and make their critics look petty and bad-tempered for once? Brewdog take the piss and push and push, hoping for a controversy, and CAMRA give them one. To be fair, Marc Holmes, GBBF organiser, has given an impressively calm, dignified response, but it’s a bit late now.

Those who already have a downer on CAMRA, or aren’t sure it has values they can buy into, will have had their prejudices confirmed and might not bother reading beyond the Brewdog PR.

Whether there is any flex in its principles or not (not, seems to be the answer, which is fine, as long as we know where we are) CAMRA needs to work twice as hard to show it’s not grumpy, prickly and petty.

A warm welcome

It was nice to get home yesterday and find a letter from our local CAMRA group welcoming us to the region and enclosing the two most recent newsletters (spring and summer).

It turns out that, not only does Cornwall have several microbreweries already (most of which we knew about) but a few more are in the pipeline. So maybe we won’t be drinking nothing but St Austell Tribute after all?

Just as well after the good natured rant we were treated to by a friendly bloke in the pub on Saturday: he drinks ale as a rule of thumb but drinks only lager in St Austell pubs because he hates their beer so much. He knows them only as “St Awful”.

How we research pubs

We like to get out and about looking for new pubs (although the evil of work has prevented this a bit recently).

Sometimes, we just chance our luck and hope that we’ll stumble on somewhere good. We’ve got quite good at peering through pub windows to see what’s on offer and have become pretty adept at turning on our heels and walking out of pubs that turn out to be rotten once we”re inside.

More often, though, we do a bit of research beforehand, using various resources.

We do have a copy of the Good Beer Guide (2007 edition) which we refer to, but as we’ve mentioned before, its focus on consistently good cask ale, rather than on interesting beers across the board, sometimes leaves us uninspired.  Also, it could be better at clearly flagging pubs in a given area which stock locally brewed beers.

We like Beer in the Evening, but a number of our regular haunts don’t  score above average (usually because a few Internet trolls have dragged the rating down).  But the comments often give us a good idea of whether we’d enjoy the pub or not, regardless of overall rating.

These days, though, we’re most likely to survey our favourite blogs before visiting a new area.  If several bloggers like the same pub, it’s probably worth a look. Over time, we’ve also developed a sense of which bloggers like the same kinds of pubs we do, so we rate their opinions more highly. It’s the next best thing to a personal recommendation.

Why cask ale matters — sticking up for CAMRA


A recent post of ours about the Good Beer Guide set off a wider debate about CAMRA‘s focus on cask ale, at the expense of other good beer, a point which Tim picks up here.

Just after we started blogging, we posted about the use of the word “craft” beer, and why we preferred it to “real ale” as a concept.  Re-reading it, I would still agree with most of the sentiments but I feel the need to stick up for real ale a little more now than I did then.

As a beer lover, I adore the fact that my favourite pints in the pub will rarely taste exactly the same.  I like that the fact that you can get amazing-tasting beer at relatively low strength — I can’t think of many sub 4% “unreal” beers that taste great, whereas I can think of many wonderful cask ales at that strength.

Sometimes we think that the UK could do with a “craft beer revolution”, one that focusses on the quality of the beer, not the way it’s produced.  Certainly beers like Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Lager which are unreal by the time the hit the UK are fantastic gateway beers for people who aren’t that bothered about beer.

However, if there is less emphasis on cask ale, is there a danger that it will decline again?  As Jeff and Dave and various others point out, looking after and serving real ale is a chore.  Why would you do it unless you loved the stuff?  It would seem to be an obvious thing to get rid of if you run a pub company — as Jeff has pointed out, the margins are often worse, particularly for beer from small breweries.

So why do pub companies bother stocking cask ale (albeit often a limited selection) and how come so many landlords sell it even though they “don’t personally touch the stuff“? Could it be something to do with a national pressure group that rewards you in publicity for stocking the stuff?

I do get frustrated with narrow-minded attitudes towards lager, and what I call the “four legs good, two legs bad” dogma that many CAMRA members seem to subscribe to.  But we’re still members of CAMRA (albeit not active ones) because we would still like to see more cask ale around and a greater choice in the places that do stock it.  And while we hate the “take it to the top” campaign, there is a lot of other grass-roots stuff going on (“LocAle” springs to mind) that is helping to promote good beer in a wider variety of places.