CAMRA AGM and Conference

I’m torn. Part of me wants to carry on gently poking fun at CAMRA, part of me wants to try to push water uphill by getting involved and making a difference, part of me questions the relevance of CAMRA to the beer industry and part of me just wants to scream.

The preamble to the 2017 AGM and Conference (two completely different things with different voting procedures, as it was pointed out) was an extremely personal attack on Tim Page, CEO of CAMRA by self-appointed Pub Champion, Greg Mulholland, MP. Whether or not you agree with this, the timing was malicious and only self-promoting. Had it been delivered a week or two in advance it could been dealt with constructively. Instead it was airbrushed.

Of CAMRAs 180,000+ members less than a thousand turned up. Apart from the conference there was the bar, interesting brewery trips and side discussions. Compare and contrast with the number of members attending the GBBF.

It has to be said there were more women than I had anticipated (maybe 20-25%) but other stereotypes abounded. My de Molen T-shirt often attracts comment but I suspect few had ever heard of this outstanding brewery. The cask ales were numerous but all firmly 5% or less, the dark ones sold out first. There were also 8 real ale in KeyKeg beers. With low carbonation and insufficient cooling these were halfway house beers from breweries looking for a marketing angle, disappointing.

Dear Reader, you can find all the detailed info on the weekend here. But of course you will need to be a member, this is top secret info. Highlights for me were,

  • The voting system. Anything people don’t understand during the weekend is referred to as ‘CAMRA arcana’. For the AGM, a vote by hand in the hall had to be taken and counted by tellers, my understanding is that this was completely irrelevant to the ballot later. Amusement rather than embarrassment was the general emotion.
  • The admirable John Cryne spoke about the Winter Ales festival fiasco. I don’t profess to understand the full details but it seems to have been organised on a lets order lots of beer, people are sure to come basis. CAMRA festivals in general, there are exceptions, rarely have special festival beers, rigidly stick to average ABV guidelines and fail to excite.
  • Another voice of reason, Tim Webb spoke about the amateur approach to book sales (he is a successful author).
  • The Special Resolution was completely unintelligible. Fortunately the passionate Christine Cryne explained and advocated it succinctly.
  • The keynote speech was from Paul Chase about the formation of the Drinkers Voice, an anti-anti-alcohol lobby group. What he said was absolutely true but I can’t help feeling that CAMRA is too stretched and this falls outside their remit.
  • More amendment and procedures chaos at Motion 6 which was about what CAMRA can do without consultation of members. Rome, burning, fiddles.
  • Motion 7 asked the Conference to accept that ‘craft beer’ can be applied to real ale. Defeated. This was a time to stand up and be counted, but the people who realise this self-evident fact remained quiet and the motion was presented with a lack of passion. To me this denigrates all the hard working, passionate microbrewers of real ales that CAMRA suggests cannot call their product a craft one.
  • The Website of the Year award was a low-key affair. Neither at this point nor any other time during the conference was time spent on websites and social media. They probably won’t catch on anyway.
  • Cider House Motions. Don’t get me started on why cider not forgetting perry is included in CAMRA. The two motions at least attracted passion and everyone voted. I voted for the motions against the puritans and the motions were duly defeated. I backed another two losers but made up for it with the Grand National winner.
  • An electronic photo library was suggested and authorised in 2013 but CAMRA has been too busy to realise it. CAMRA is still too busy to commit to doing it by the end of the year. Then a very sensible called Mark from South Cheshire branch said words to the effect of, ‘how difficult is this? send me your pictures, I will add them to a free online library service and give it to CAMRA by the end of the year.
  • There were some officers from SIBA in attendance but they were strangely quiet, especially on the subject of craft beer.
  • Oh, and the Revitalisation Project rumbles on.

So there we have it. I did enjoy the weekend and met some interesting brewers outside the conference but my overriding emotions are sadness and frustration.

Modern beer drinkers, beer bloggers and social media, SIBA and most brewers all see CAMRA as an irrelevance as far as beer is concerned. I do believe they are good at campaigning for pubs at a local level but the budget was a huge defeat. A criticism often levelled at CAMRA is that they are inward facing, I can only agree.

There should be more to CAMRA than saving an unprofitable local pub and demanding that they serve a choice of four real ales (probably national mass produced brands) for less than £3 a pint and then producing a 10% discount card.

I believe it is probably wrong of me to continue as member, and I am sure a significant proportion of the members will not want me. I really can’t see that I can make a difference, existing progressive beer drinkers in CAMRA just adopt a ‘don’t mind them’ approach to the diehards but that is not the way forward. Sooner or later a new organisation will emerge to properly represent the modern beer drinker, until then I plan not to be a hypocrite, and therefore, not to renew my CAMRA membership.

Pierre Zuber, sadly missed

Pierre Zuber, the man behind Delices et Caprices has sadly passed away. I had the opportunity to meet him (and several generations of his family as I recall) in 2015 as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference. We took in his delightful shop as part of the pub crawl one evening but ended up staying most of the night there.

Pierre greeted us and then ambled around with a polypin of some rare unfiltered lambic, pouring for everyone, chatting to everyone, just like it was his living room and he’d invited a few friends around. I suspect most people who arrived at Delices et Caprices for the first time left as friends of Pierre.

For some years I had been searching for a bottle of Fou’Foune, Cantillon’s rare apricot lambic. The shelves of Delices et Caprices proved as bare as the others. I enquired as to whether he might have a bottle. There was a short pause while he summed me up, apparently I passed the audition and he said he would have a look. A good ten minutes later and he returned with a bottle. Then he asked me how much I would like to pay. I deferred to him but was very happy with the price.

His knowledge was great but his views not opinionated.

A gentle man and a gentleman. He will be missed by all who knew him.

Tetchy?

Beer writing is a broad canon. From professional journalists through enthusiastic bloggers to an ecelectic selection of one-liners on Facebook or Twitter. In all formats, some of it is informative, well researched and well written, some of it is not. Some of the work is paid for, some is not, and there is the peril of ‘full disclosure’. What it hasn’t been up to now is tetchy and ill-natured.

Exhibit 1: M.Lawrenson, no not that one. Just an ordinary guy who blogged about beer, past tense. A self-confessed, talented piss taker he seems to have upset the establishment or ABCDs as he calls them (Awesome Beer Communicator Dudes), from an unnamed but well-followed lady, to the ubiquitous Matt Curtis and the ever genial Martyn Cornell. I wish I had read some of the posts. Certainly Lawro (as I can’t sop thinking of him) does have a chip on both shoulders about his working class roots and being outside the beer establishment. Unfortunate because I have one small circle of friends that I only know through beer, to look at us you would wonder what we have in common. On the surface it appears that it may be a case of ‘you can give it but you can’t take it’. As he says, beer IS fun, alternative reasoned opinions should be welcome. So his decision to stop is sad.

Exhibit 2: Matt Curtis. Matt should have a T-shirt saying ‘why is it always me?’. No denying it, Matt is a fanboy for Beavertown, Camden (pre-‘sell out’ natch) et al. Initially he had lots of run-ins on account of his need to defend any bad word said against these breweries (who couldn’t stand up for themselves;). The exchanges with Stonch were forthright but I always thought there was underlying good humour. Now Matt is indignant that Duncan Sambrook (All Breweries Debating Champion 2016) has suggested he is anti-cask/pro-keg. I don’t follow this too closely but looking at Matt’s last three blog posts (Beavertown, Lost & Grounded, Cloudwater), his history of being peoples champion for Beavertown, Camden et al and the paid work which he does (I only know of stuff in the predominantly keg sector) then I would say it is fair comment. We do need more Matts though, everything is always wonderful, nothing too deep but he has boundless enthusiasm, introduces the subject to new audiences and is good for the beer industry in general. Good luck to him for turning a hobby into a professional job too. However his indignation is misplaced.

Exhibit 3: Facebook. The UK Craft Beer Forum and the UK Craft Beer Network. One a splinter group of the other I believe. I’m seeing lots of posts from people new to the scene who having got derided for reviewing a beer that isn’t ‘craft’ decide to leave, that’s upsetting. Some of the stuff is well worth reading, including proper brewing industry insights from brewers themselves.

Maybe it’s a society thing. Maybe I am getting too deep and/or easily upset. I do think this general tetchiness is a newer phenomenon in the beer industry which until recently has been much more fun. A lot of it comes down the problem of grappling with the ‘what is craft?’ and the ‘is it quality or is it to my taste’ questions. But let’s all be civilised about it 🙂

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. It is certainly getting tetchy. 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.

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.