CAMRA have been troubling me for some time. I know there will always be the hardliners who believe that the term real ale is enshrined in stone and should never change but what worried me more was the article in What’s Brewing January by Steve Bury, one of CAMRA’s top 40 campaigners.
Entitled ‘Is Campaign starting to lose its way?’ he fears that CAMRA is starting to send out mixed messages about craft beer. For Steve the word artisan conjures up a picture of a poor French tradesman. Leaving aside the rampant stereotyping, no Steve, an artisan is a skilled tradesman not a mass production factory worker – and exactly who I want to brew my beer.
If my tipple of choice is ‘craft beer’ then perhaps I should be considering whether to be a member of CAMRA at all, I am Steve, I am. The Cyclops system which helps bar staff describe beers is another evil because it includes beers that are not real ale. Perhaps a simpler system would be just to put ‘good beer’ on the handpumps and ‘bad beer’ on the keg lines.
Where we agree is that the lines are blurring. Where we disagree is whether this is a good or bad thing. The definition of real ale is a millstone around CAMRA’s neck completely ignoring the taste of the beer and the care with which it has been made.
Let me take you back…when the founding fathers sat down what was their aim? Was it to prescribe the only method for brewing (ignoring that of the rest of the world) or was it to try to promote good, well made beer? Remember, back then there was no good keg beer and small brewers were predominantly cask ale. The definition of real ale was a neat way to define the good beer, simple as.
And so it remained for another twenty years or so when new brewers, often Americans(!), decided that they could make beer just as well for keg dispense with the added bonuses of consistency and shelf life. And boy, did they add flavour along with the CO2.
I have always liked or disliked beer according to flavour, and yes, carbonation can be too high, just like real ale can be too flat. If I am taking a bottle of beer home with me I don’t want to have to interrogate the vendor as to production method, I want to judge on taste. Surely the founding fathers wouldn’t disagree with that?
Personally I want to support the small, artisanal producer over the big brewer – though I do respect what some of them do. Surely the founding fathers wouldn’t disagree with that?
As Steve Bury suggested, I have been seriously considering resigning from CAMRA on principle. I want to be part of an inclusive group that promotes small over big, flavour over blandness, moves with the times and attracts a demographic I can associate with.
At the risk of rampant stereotyping, ten years ago, aspirational young women were drinking a glass of chardonnay (nothing wrong with that btw), now they are down the Bermondsey beer mile drinking a half of 6% modern IPA from nice glassware and talking to the producer. They are not drinking a pint of 4% session bitter in an old pub and choosing between a windows or sleeve glass. The demographic at CAMRA beer festivals, however interesting and good the beer, is plain depressing.
Wake up CAMRA and smell the new hops!