The Challenge of Objectivity

Detail from a Watneys Red Beer Mat.

As we start lining up interviews with the current generation of British brewers, rather than those in retirement, we find ourselves reflecting on what we can do to make sure our book remains objective. We’re interested in them because they’re part of a bigger story, not because we think they’re awesome. What we don’t want to do is parrot their PR, puff them up, or get drawn into fawning. (Under an awning..?) There’s plenty of that about already.

We’ve already had our objectivity tested a couple of times. One of the things we are determined to avoid is merely repeating the established CAMRA mythology — ‘we saved beer’ — which has been polished to a sheen with years of repetition, but it’s hard when you speak to founder members and early activists not to get swept up in the excitement of it all. That’s especially true when they are nice fellers, and you’re sharing a pint.

What’s working so far, we think, is asking challenging questions, without malice, and as politely as possible.

It is also helpful to speak to ‘the enemy’. A chap who worked in PR for a big brewery in the seventies was very helpful in giving an alternative view of CAMRA in its heyday. We’ve also managed to dig out a few contemporary articles which set out how the Big Six felt about CAMRA at the time. (They didn’t like it.) It’s a shame that we missed the chance to grill E.C. ‘Ted’ Handel, head of PR at Watney’s in the early seventies, though.

What we need to do, for balance, is find the modern equivalent of Mr Handel — someone from AB-Inbev or Diageo perhaps — and ask them what they think of CAMRA and the current craft beer boom. But what would be in it for them?

Real ale loyalist or a craft keg fanboy?

Imagine you’re out in a strange town which has two pubs.

Pub #1: The King’s Arms

A pub which serves real ale in good condition. On the bar, Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best and Marston’s Bitter.

Pub #2: The Red Lion

Sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Thornbridge Chiron, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Fuller’s London Porter and Magic Rock Human Cannonball.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Red Lion, like a shot.

A week later, you’re in a different town, which also, coincidentally, has just two pubs.

Pub #3: The Bird in Hand

Sells only real ale in good condition. On the bar, Fuller’s London Porter, Thornbridge Kipling, Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold and Acorn Barnsley Bitter.

Pub #4: The Turk’s Head

A pub which sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Brain’s Smooth, Guinness, Wells Bombardier and Greene King IPA.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Bird in Hand.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we don’t subscribe to the idea that craft beer is the antithesis of real ale in the UK, and that we hope the conversation doesn’t go any further down the route of keg=good/cask=bad than it already has.