Fizzing!

Fizz off

MEMBERS wishing to promote ‘craft beer’ should fizz off and start their own campaign. End of discussion.” Your Shout, What’s Brewing, February 2017

I always enjoy the Letters page of What’s Brewing, I often find the letters highly amusing. CAMRA is like an old embarrassing uncle. Out of date, lots of ideas you don’t agree with but you’ve got to love them. This letter upset me, I know these people exist but I was amazed CAMRA would publish this opinion unless it was a widely held theme of their postbag. Having only recently signed up for my first Members Weekend, I felt compelled to write my first letter, well email, to them.

Dear Sirs

I was interested to see you printed ‘Fizz Off’ on the letters page (Feb 2017). Whilst I realise these are not the official opinions of CAMRA, I assume they are representative of your mailbag. It is likely I will not renew my membership, I joined the wrong organisation and do not feel welcome.

A cask ale drinker for forty years I grew up on the edge of London and got through my youth on a diet of Young’s and Fuller’s with a smattering of Courage in the more barren parts. Later I dabbled with Guinness and Dry Blackthorn but always returned to cask ale.

It was my introduction to the booming microbrewery scene a few years ago, some cask, more keg but importantly, innovative and ‘new to me’ styles that rekindled my real passion for beer. I just used my tastebuds to decide whether it was well made and whether I liked it. Two different things, but often confused. Exact method of production, for example, filtered or rough filtered (who knew?), was irrelevant.

Ironically then, it was modern keg beer that made me decide to join CAMRA as a body campaigning for good beer. I don’t agree with everything CAMRA supports and does but I do know it means well. I attend numerous beer festivals, some CAMRA, some not. More recently I have thought about getting more involved, I attended a Revitalisation Project meeting and will be in Bournemouth for my first Members Weekend.

Unfortunately the letter referred to above is the insulting pinnacle of the stereotypical iceberg. Further down I have seen

  • CAMRA members who won’t let a drop of keg beer pass their lips
  • At the meeting attendance was over 90% men, over 80% fifty year old plus and a majority who were members of 20 years plus standing
  • Lack of appreciation of the difference between ‘well made’ and ‘to my taste’
  • Support for grotty old pubs just because they have four handpumps (usually selling national brands bought on price consideration only)
  • A widespread ‘there’s nothing wrong with CAMRA we just need more volunteers’ attitude

I could have gone on. Of course not everyone is like this, especially the leadership, but a significant proportion are.

And then I walk into a microbrewery taproom and see a mix of young and old, men and women enjoying some session strength beers, some bonkers styles and ABV’s, relying on taste, no heed to method of production or dispense. To paraphrase the champagne laden waiter walking into George Best’s hotel bedroom and finding him on a money strewn bed with two naked ladies, ‘oh CAMRA, where did it all go wrong?’.

Yours faithfully

Let’s just leave it there for the moment.

 

What did I miss?

Back after a six month sabbatical, can I claim pressure of work, probably not.

What did I miss? I didn’t miss the last European Beer Bloggers Conference in Amsterdam, undoubtedly the best yet but sadly deserted by some of the top bloggers and hence not economically viable any longer. Sad for me as it was the very existence of this that pushed me into starting this blog.

Stonch is always a good read although it’s turned into an Italian travelogue at the moment, but none the worse for it, some of my favourite breweries are Italian, Toccalmatto et al. For a more restrained and contemplative read then Boak & Bailey are always on the money.

Fight of the century in the cask corner Roger ‘Power to the People’ Protz and in the keg corner Pete ‘Beer Blaster’ Brown. I predict it will go the distance and be decided on pints.

Craft. In the UK it has no meaning! Please stop using this word. It only means you have to check with the speaker what his/her definition of craft is.

Beer writing. A very confused area. It can all end in tears. The British Guild of Beer Writers allows most people in. I was invited to apply, nuff said. There are a lot of fanboys out there, be warned.

Cloudwater stop cask. Asahi buy Meantime. More breweries open, some begin to close. Which will be the next brewery to sell out/execute a successful exit strategy?

But most of all, what made me start writing again was a letter What’s Brewing inviting certain people to ‘fizz off’. Watch this spot.

Oh, and that the price brewers get for a cask of beer, that is disappointing me.

The Great CAMRA Revitalisation Project

camraI’ve been meaning to attend some CAMRA stuff and this looked a perfect opportunity. First let’s read the small print on the CAMRA website. This is not to attract new members it is intended for the existing members to decide how they want to proceed.

By a lovely quirk aka Sod’s Law I currently live in west London but by the time of the Ealing consultation I will be living in east London. So I went to the east London at Leyton. Just over 50 people attended according to my headcount. There were two women, most people were in the 40-60 age range according to my guess, over 50% were members of more than 20 years standing and over 50% were ‘active’ members – volunteers and campaigners.

The meeting was opened by the charismatic Michael Hardman, one of the four founding fathers. First time I’d seen or heard him and he seems a lovely chap, not at all hardline. It was also quite clear the organisation was set up to represent good beer. No good keg was available so the real ale definition made perfect sense to exclude it. (Though even then I imagine there were some poor cask ales as well.)

In response to a question it was clear that the intention of this project is not to reach out to non-members (or even the vast majority of inactive members) but to satisfy the members on the way foward. In answer to the question ‘why did you join CAMRA’ real ale was mentioned a lot, though many chose to say why others joined CAMRA.

Given my own sardonic comments on CAMRA you might ask why did I join? Well, I believe that a body who campaigns for good beer is necessary and CAMRA are the only credible kid on the block. And they did help save us in the early days. The reduced entry to beer festivals and ‘Spoons vouchers make it a no brainer, whether you agree with all their principles or not. I still fail to understand why cider and perry are included, I’m not particularly interested in pub campaigning. I’m here for the beer, good beer, preferably made by a small, local brewer.

So it was all very predictable. Everything CAMRA is doing is right and all we need is more existing members to become active. Across the country the first macro results bear this out. There was a strong request for online survey filling but 6k of the 22k respondees chose the Freepost option costing CAMRA money.

Since I first drafted this, James Yeomans, founder of Hop Stuff Brewery has been co-opted onto the panel. A young, modern brewer who recognises the need for good local cask ale and innovative keg beer this is a really positive step. James just relies on his beer tasting good, method of dispense is not important and many of his beers are available in either format.

So, what do we think? Will CAMRA change? The people at the top recognise the need for it and are not absorbed by the threat of carbon dioxide but I fear that the active members will resist substantial change.

This leaves a vacuum for the proper representation of small, local, independent brewers. The ‘craft beer’ industry has failed to come out with a unified voice or organisation, SIBA want to have a stab at it but are funded by the large independents in effect and the people with the money and time to do it are the big brewers who would not be qualified to enter.

As you were then, carry on drinking what you fancy.

Changes at Brewdog bars?

brewdog-logo1Some of you will know that I am no fan of Brewdog, the disingenuous, corporate, mainstream brewer. However I have always been a huge advocate of their bars but after a couple of months away from them, things have changed.

  1. The non-Brewdog offering is very much the same in all the bars, little individuality, same breweries. Stone, Beavertown, Cloudwater, Mikkeler and very little new UK stuff.
  2. Menu now consists of 6 pizzas and 1 chicken wings. That’s it. There used to be a range of dogs, burgers, wings, and all the craft street that goes with it. In fact, all the type of food that goes with craft beer.
  3. Staff. Certainly at my regular most of the familiar faces have gone and been replaced by less knowledgeable, less friendly (imho) staff. Table service is rare.
  4. Fresh beer. Being served a pumpkin beer in June 2016, brewed in the fall of 2015 was surprising.

It looks as though the accountants have taken over. There has never been a brewery logo in Brewdog apart from Brewdog, it now appears they don’t even want the guest beers apart from their mates and sell off bargains. Food, it slows down the drinking and as the bars are full at peak time – you wouldn’t want that.

From my London-centric point of view, (If you lived in the City would that be EC-centric? – Ed.) I think Barworks and Draft House have got the formula right for customers. Brewdog make lots of money, if you think that is success.

What’s Brewing, March – May 2016, Agony Column

Whats Brewing MarAprMay 16What’s Brewing correspondents have their problems discussed. It’s good to talk.

March sees the celebration of ‘inactive’ members on the letters page. I agree, in many institutions it is the silent majority that keep the balance and the stop the extremists taking over. Nevertheless when the silent majority stay silent it can result in much entertainment, for instance, the Labour Party. The other issue of the day was the alcohol guidelines. Intoxicated will not insult its readership by explaining the stupidity of all this.

April is humdrum, one letter describing handpumped beer, key keg real ale, fake beers and craft beers fails to deliver. Where is DS of Chelmsford these days?

May sees the fallout from CAMRA AGM Members Weekend. AGM Disgust (S&K S of Chelmsford), Facile Debates (SP of Great Yarmouth) and Vote Confusion (LA of Doncaster) show that this is not the boring event one might expect. At the heart of this is online voting, a vocal minority believe that one can not make an informed decision before a debate is heard. And yet more stuff about beer that is not to ones personal taste, whether it be ‘real’ or not, this is claptrap. Is it well made? Does it have faults? Does it fit the style, have any sense of locale or season? If I like it I will order again, if not then put it down to experience.

One for another article but do catch William Mayne’s excellent piece on the difficulty of brewing and selling beer in Northern Ireland.

What’s Brewing, December – February 2016, Agony Column

Whats Brewing DecFeb16More sound advice for the correspondents to What’s Brewing.

December sees some tedious discussion about gluten free beer. Coeliacs make up about 1% of the population and a further 1% have some gluten intolerance (yet over 20% over the population buy some gluten free products!). So clearly listing all ingredients on a pumpclip ain’t gonna happen. I have sympathy but just do your research and know your beer. NH debunks the myth that CAMRA really is getting through to women and DS of Chelmsford gets a small bite about beer being cloudy, apparently it is a man made product, who’d have known?

New year, new ideas in January 2016! KF of London suggests that people may be pleasantly surprised by the real ale from key kegs at Manchester beer festival. I’m not printing his postcode for fear the hardliners will have put a hit on him. In reply to NH, JS of Chesterfield is worried that positive discrimination of women in CAMRA would be discrimination of men. Yeah, right, CAMRA is really anti-men!

Rather predictably February sees a letter from PJ of Brighouse going against the idea of key keg real ale. He suggests that if the definition of real ale changed one ‘might as well wind up CAMRA’. Now there’s a thought. Mind you, I’ve been winding up CAMRA for years. As well as the previous month there is various Wethie bashing. Get over it, nobody makes you go to pubs with generally well served, low priced, local cask ale.