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?