Tom Stainer, editor of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) newspaper What’s Brewing?, once pointed out, while under fire, that there aren’t many arguments about the Campaign’s policy that haven’t already been played out, often repeatedly, over the course of forty years. Going through old issues of What’s Brewing, we suddenly saw what he meant: there were entire letters pages from the mid-seventies that, if printed in the next issue of WB, wouldn’t seem incongruous.
Some people would drink oil served by handpumps. January 1975. ‘In view of CAMRA’s strong emphasis on the mode of dispense of beers should it not be renamed the Campaign for Unpressurised Ale? Surely the major emphasis should be on what goes into the beer and what it tastes like?’
Why I’m thinking of leaving CAMRA. March 1976. Correspondent feels the Campaign is drifting away from its founding principles of battling keg. Refers to CO2 as ‘tear gas’.
It’s not muck. Same issue. ‘Fanatics of all kinds always annoy me and I must therefore comment on your correspondent… who wrote of his CAMRA colleagues drinking “pressurised muck” at their local as if they are on a level with Judas Iscariot.’
A narrow-minded approach to beer. April 1976. Chairman of Ruddles brewery says: ‘There are times when I feel that all draught beer [cask] is automatically good and all keg, bottled and canned beer is automatically bad, in the eyes of CAMRA. This is surely a very narrow-minded attitude.’
Purism wins. Same issue. ‘I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when I would read a spirited defence of fizz from a CAMRA member [‘It’s not muck’, above]… I despair at the idea of any CAMRA member regularly drinking fizz because it is sometimes inconvenient to drink real ale… It is the very fanaticism (purism would be a better word) of many CAMRA members that has held back the tide and retained real ale for us.’
And who started the endless bloody sparkler debate? Two chaps from Sheffield, with the following letter from March 1979.
‘Tight head’ give same results as air pressure. ‘To add a new dimension to the air pressure debate, we would like to argue that a difference in taste comparable to that produced by air pressure is produced by the universal Northern practice of pulling beer through a tight sparkler, thereby thoroughly agitating the beer and mixing it with air, resulting in the characteristic northern “head”… This has the effect of disguising the flavour of the beer, of obscuring the distinction between real ale and bright beer, and of giving the average Northern drinker a spurious criterion by which to judge a good pint.… when we have been able to drink local beer “flat”, is has seemed to excel in body and flavour.’