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.

Beer and Loathing in Bournemouth

Try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing. Wise words. It would be unfair of me to gently take the mickey out of CAMRA, its trappings and its members without actually attending the Big One, the annual members weekend and AGM.

Will people consider me the Anti-Christ for liking beers regardless of method of dispense? Will my CAMRA card be confiscated and destroyed if my beer preferences are outed? Will they get all evangelical and try to convert me to the Real path?

Trainbeer #1 is M&S/Arbor American Pale Ale. Maybe it’s the thrill of having a bottle of beer at 10.30 am but this is magnificent for a humble style. Superfresh, lemony and tropical. One of the listed ingredients is carbon dioxide.

Trainbeer #2 is M&S/Adnams White IPA. It’s another doosie! Is morning drinking the way forward? I’ve seen advocates of this my local park but they tend to favour white ciders over white IPAs. There’s added orange peel and coriander in this but also a, for me, beguiling sourness. Intended or not, I love it. Oh dear, carbon dioxide is an ingredient again.

Part of me wants to sit in the corner, observe and giggle inwardly, part of me feels that I really should engage, find out if I am genuinely wanted. The problem for lots of people in my position is that CAMRA is the game in town as far as consumer organisations promoting good beer is concerned.

Bournemouth is lovely in the sunshine and a salted caramel ice cream from Purbeck was just the ticket. This evening it’s down to recce the joint and a trip to Bournemouth Brewing Company.

To be continued…

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’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.

What’s Brewing, October – November 2015 – Agony Column

Whats Brewing AugSep 15
Help for correspondents to What’s Brewing. Really, some of them need it.

In October craft beer gets a bit of respite with cider, Bill Tidy’s Keg Buster cartoon, Tesco and Welsh politics all taking some flak. Funniest comment surely has to go to HMcG of York who wants baby changing facilities in pubs and at beer festivals. Setting aside the fact that no self-respecting CAMRA member has ever changed a nappy if pubs and beer festivals are going to try and attract babies then I will not be going. Parenting skills surely don’t include this now do they?

DS of Chelmsford has a more or less regular spot on the letters page. This month he is banging on about one of his favourite themes, choice. Apparently choice only includes those beers one already knows. Discuss.

MC of Bury rails against CAMRA’s assertion that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker. CAMRA correct, MC bonkers imho. Amongst his problems are that the Champion Beer of Britain has gone to a brewery established three ago which he is highly unlike to see in his local. Well, if his local is not an independent that carefully chooses it’s beers then yes, but then is it a good local. I was highly delighted that for the first time ever (?) the award had gone to a new beer, Tiny Rebel should be applauded. Some older beers were worthy winners but having won it should become ineligible (or else any new winner has to be demonstrably better). Certainly the case of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, an old and ordinary beer rebadged made me stop voting. Next on his list is beers flavoured with chilli, chocolate, oyster and bourbon. Who’s to say, it’s your choice. Oyster stout is an old thing but doesn’t always contain oysters.

In November, the DS of Chelmsford letter is replying to someone wanting real ale in restaurants. Yes, it is a non-starter through turnover but not because DS thinks there are no bistros in housing estates and villages.

The Keg Buster cartoon is fast becoming the last stand of diehard CAMRA members. Letters for and against (it’s only a small f**king cartoon in a whole newspaper, don’t bother reading it if you don’t find it funny!) but perhaps the most telling is that from ET (no, not that one) of Bingham who suggests that maybe this is not the best way of attracting new readers.

In the paper itself is an article is an article ‘What if you couldn’t drink real ale?’, don’t bother becoming a member of CAMRA is my reply.

Under ‘stereotyped smashed’ is supposedly good news that women drink beer, from AB Inbev (Ed: Are they including Budweiser in that?). Sorry folks but to say that more women drink beer than a particular type of white wine produced only in a part of one Italian province does not convince me. Lots of women do agree that there are some sophisticated beers and this is a good time to try them but are they talking about real ale? I have my own idea on this.