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.

A Pint of London please!

Brewers spend years perfecting recipes when maybe they should spend years perfecting names. The power of marketing, eh?

Timothy Taylor renamed one of their old beers Boltmaker and immediately it becomes Champion Beer of Britain. Does anyone really believe it is the champion beer of Timothy Taylor even? That sort of thing really degrades the title imho.

London PrideIn London of course, London Pride is well established and it’s a case where the beer popularity has grown in age before super saturated marketing. It’s a good beer, that’s made and sold in London. Any tourist arriving in London won’t be disappointed if they want to try a typical, local, London beer.

Best pubco in London?

Best pubco in London?

London Pride used to be a fixture in the Taylor Walker pubs, part of Spirit Group. Now, for a relatively large pubco, Taylor Walker pubs are some of the best in London. They are proud of their brand and have a great estate of good old fashioned pubs in Central London. This is not a pubco that hides it’s brand, tries to entice customers with promises of real ale and continental lagers (that’ll be Doombar and Heineken then). They also usually have a couple of craft keg lines and the Spirit ‘bible’ includes a number of microbreweries who can deliver direct without selling their soul (and profits) to national distributors. Notwithstanding a few bulk drops and head office deals, the publicans generally like to support local micros and have ‘something different’.

So, Greene King acquire Spirit. Greene King and Fuller’s are competitors.All of a sudden,



London Pride is ripped out, London Glory appears (no, don’t, I’m serious) made by Greene King natch. Now, London Pride probably does a few sales from tourists but there are a lot of core Pride drinkers out there. Faced with no London Pride they will go with the next best, established bitter that they know. Isn’t that obvious? Well not to the GK marketing department obviously. But to many wry smiles, the word on the street is that selected Taylor Walker pubs will be ‘trialling’ London Pride soon.

Little Tenderness from my beloved Little Beer Corporation is a great beer. A 5.4% American amber, it’s got a great big malty body lifted by clean, fresh tasting American hops and gentle carbonation. But people try it first because of the name.

Make a good beer yes, but if you want people to try it then get the name right.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Jurassic PorkJurassic Pork aka Pigs Ear Beer Festival, what do we think? The jury’s out. Everything that’s good about CAMRA, everything that’s bad about CAMRA, all in one (successful) festival.

Let’s start with the venue. The Round Chapel, or the former Clapton Park United Reformed Church is a magnificent building both inside and out, listed grade II it is now owned and restored by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. Complete with pulpit, organ and balcony it is quite beautiful, and totally unsuitable for a beer festival in many respects.Pigs Ear2

The beer. This is a broadminded CAMRA branch and the beer is an excellently curated selection of local, rare and regional brewers. Not only that, they had two keg lines and a good selection of international bottles, they even advertised Westvleteren 12 ffs! But trying to find what is on where is a nightmare. On the basis that one cannot get close to trying all the beers I would prefer to see  a smaller range with a greater guarantee of finding the beer I want actually on.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I'm sure.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I’m sure.

The organisation, the crowds. Downstairs is a scrum, the balcony is lovely, the bars are downstairs. The toilets are portable toilets outside (Ed-had to be changed because I inadvertently used a trademarked name, so let’s have a big shout out for their competitors Britcab, Mobile Thrones and the like). The staff are generally well meaning but not awfully good, they are volunteers so we shouldn’t complain.

The food. It’s camp catering (Boy Scouts not Larry Grayson). The cheese stall is a good idea but it’s all pre-packed to take way, and not a scotch egg or pork pie in sight. So, buy a sub from one stall, some prepacked cheese from the other, enjoy with plastic knife but no butter or chutney. Picnic on the balcony.

If Heath Robinson did beer festivals this would be it. It’s a must to attend and marvel at but so easy to criticise. No scoring for this one, make your own mind up.