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.

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 🙂

Bite Size Reflections on #EBBC15, Belgium and Bloggers

EBBC15badgeSo the dust settles on another European Beer Bloggers Conference and once again the first place to start is with a massive thanks to all the sponsors and Zephyr Adventures for a brilliant few days of generous hospitality, high quality beers, stimulating discussion and much revelry. It really wouldn’t be possible without them and the conference represents astounding value for money.

Much has been written as a result and a good place to catch up is the Facebook page. For now I’d just like to add some bite size reflections…

Quaint – Before and after the conference I’ve started to follow the sponsor breweries on Twitter, as you do. Several have clearly joined just recently, it’s a long time since I started following a world famous brewer who had only tweeted about 20 times with a few hundred followers. I guess we’ll have to tell them about Facebook soon. Or are we wasting our time? They have been successful enough without it.

They are family

They are family

Family – The Belgian Family Brewers were a major sponsor. They are family, they care. No fast track entry scheme, 50 years it is. They will experiment, they will innovate – but not on you. Once they have got it right, then they will release it. Admirable imho. Some modern breweries make me feel like a guinea pig, they know some stuff won’t work, they don’t know which, are they real brewers?

Heritage – The Belgian Brewers are a more inclusive group as the name suggests but there is still a massive thing about heritage. Although diminished from the numbers in their heyday they know they brew some of the most famous and iconic beers in the world. Why would you want to change that? Belgian traditions and heritage are such that anything new is viewed with healthy suspicion. It might be good but experimental does not necessarily equal good and consistent quality is paramount.

Bloggers – Quite a lot of introspection here. The British blogging scene certainly represents a bit of a love-in sometimes. No surprise when a fair percentage are doing it partly as a reason to get free beer and ‘access all areas’ invitations – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The real writers are a slightly different kettle of wort, but again, there is not much constructive criticism. People trying to make a living (or a ligging) can’t afford to be too critical it seems.

Language – It was taken for granted that the whole conference was conducted solely in English. Yet the non-native speakers (viz, every Belgian brewer for starters) consistently had impeccable colloquial English. Bravo. I am ashamed of myself.

Belgian Beer & Food – Paul Walsh, the editor moderated several of the talks and Brendan Kearney (sorry for the omission of your crazy Irish accents). Proper journalism. Asking probing questions, not stopping until answers were given instead of lapping up the marketing PR along with the free samples. There is a big gap in the UK market for something like this in my humble opinion. If you are travelling to Belgium or just interested in keeping up to date with the Belgian beer scene this mag is indispensible.

Belgian beers – It’s all been said and it’s all good. I feel slightly sorry for Pilsner Urquell, they bought a lovely fresh tank of beer which we didn’t make a big enough dent in – all eager to go exploring and pub crawling Brussels.

Innovation – We saw dry hopped beers, we saw saison in cans, we saw Cantillon in disposable kegs, we saw a brewer encouraging us to blend his beers in the glass, we saw popular old beers that had been revived. We also saw history, tradition and the heritage of some of the world’s great beers, beers that people try to copy everywhere in the world. We didn’t see any experimental brews on sale that hadn’t been fully developed, or brewers with a ‘we’ve brewed it so we might as well sell it’ attitude.

The Wars – Don’t mention them. Older British brewers should feel incredibly lucky that their businesses and breweries and kit were not destroyed by invading armies. Mentioned several times this is clearly a big factor in the reduction of Belgian breweries and the renaissant state of the industry for the last 40 years.

Beer Tourism – Major sponsors included Visit Flanders and other Belgian tourist groups. They know what they’ve got. I’ve never seen any tourist board activity of this sort in the UK. Certainly in Surrey you can’t even get a brown road sign pointing to your brewery.

It’s going to be a hard act to follow.

I’ve sat on these thoughts so long that I’ve forgotten my other incisive comments. The end.

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015, why wouldn’t you?

EBBC15badgeOr #EBBC15 as we like to call it. It is beyond me why so few attend this. Not that it is badly attended by any means. Zephyr Adventures are the organisers, they are enthusiastic as only Americans can be and responsive. For a relatively small sum, occasionally subsidised with bursaries, they put on a fantastic agenda of blogging related stuff, food, entertainment and most of all, FREE BEER and lots of it. Of course this is not done without generous sponsorship from brewers, large and small for whom everyone is grateful (in particular that’s you Vaclav, from Pilsner Urquell).

And this year it’s in BELGIUM. Enough said.

The conference aspect is not arduous and certainly interesting. The beer drinking aspect is arduous, but hey, we’re not afraid of hard work are we? I’ve recounted before my first insight prior to my first conference when I found somebody (yes, you Steve)organising the pre-pub crawl pub crawl. Then a typical day at conference is the expo (free beer samples), keynote address (and toast), some talks (with relevant beer to accompany them), reception (various free beer), dinner (free beer) and post dinner entertainment or pub crawl (beer, often free).

We can be an introspective lot us beer bloggers and there are various reasons why people blog. The idea of getting free beer in the post to review is appealing to many, for others it is a personality trait or a wish to be in the in-crowd, some are real writers, some drift into it. According to one survey most don’t do it for money though I suspect that most would like to unless they have high paid jobs – you are not going to earn much money out of this. Some luminaries have carved a deservedly great career from humble blog beginnings. But surely whatever your motives, the Beer Bloggers Conference is first thing in the diary?

And to all the above, why not? Beer is fun. Beer is unpretentious. Beer is also surprisingly complex. Any activity where you get to drink a bit more beer, possibly at less expense and where you have the opportunity to earn a bit of money is great.

If you blog, if you have thought about starting a blog, then do it. Come to the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015.

 

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015, as good a reason as any.

EBBC15badgeRich has been encouraging me to contribute to intoxicated.me.uk for some time now and while I may or may not have something to add the almost saturated world of beer blogging, I, frankly haven’t had the time or inclination to even bother. (Rich: Believe me he has plenty to add, now whether you want to hear it or not…)

Recently, Boak and Bailey posted about blogging with a concise dos and don’ts which I read with interest, you know ‘cos I could be a beer blogger, right? In the comments, however, amid the practical tips and words of encouragement was this from Alan on the Boak & Bailley blog  “(4) if you are starting out now, you are too late. There is little room left. ”
Thanks Alan.

So there it is, why bother? Don’t bother. Someone’s already written about what you’re thinking about, better and funnier and classier. (Rich: This is not the attitude that built the Empire but then he’s not English).

And there’s an element of truth, even experienced beer bloggers have gone fallow, lured by the chance to write glossy hardback beer porn, big list book-a-zines(?), or fan-boy faux press release type affairs. (Rich: And who can blame them. Even the chance to receive free beer in the post has its allure.)

In recent months, someone has re-started their blog, whom I’ve met, respect and believe they can contribute, with a series of posts, aptly called Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging.

Eight reasons so far and everyone valid, especially slagging off CAMRA, as we’re inclined to do here at Intoxicated. And the free beer. When does the free beer start?

However, Steve was drawn back to blogging for the same reason that I have been drawn into blogging. The Beer Bloggers Conference!

Rich has been to the last two in Edinburgh and Dublin respectively and thoroughly enjoyed himself and met some very nice people, and hey, I like enjoying myself and meeting nice people but I can do that in the Bexleyheath ‘Spoons. (Rich: Better, funnier and classier at the Beer Bloggers Conference though.)

No, what Beer Justice Steve and I want to do, is something I have never done before. Go to Belgium. Drink Belgian beer. Quite a lot of excellent Belgian beer actually. 

And reading the agenda which splendidly lists just some of the beers to be featured at meals and beyond, there’ll be the best and biggest names in Belgian beers and breweries and an opportunity to speak to their brewers and learn more about how their industry works especially under the shadow of the global brands and macrobrewers.

I’m excited and feel very lucky to have the chance to go and I may even improve on my beer blogging.

Shep

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014, so it was

EBBC DublinAfter such japes in Edinburgh in 2013 it was a no-brainer to sign up for 2014. And what an incentive to fulfil my credentials as a proper blogger.

Mentally I had been a blogger since the day I arrived in Edinburgh but actually, virtually, physically the blog didn’t really get off the ground very quickly. Now, the good people at Zephyr Conferences who organise the Beer Bloggers Conferences were very tolerant but they spend a lot of time getting sponsorship for these events and the sponsors do need to know they are reaching real bloggers and not just beer drinking dreamers.

Takehome message: The Beer Bloggers Conference is the best possible reason to start a beer blog.

EBBC14.Badge.100.100And 2014 saw the first conference outside the UK, in Dublin, to be sure. At that point I could name Hilden and Clearwater in the North, Porterhouse and O’Hara’s in the Free State and that was it. To be honest four competent but fairly average breweries. Guidance from Steve Lamont again proved invaluable and my solo pre-pub crawl, pub crawl yielded some fine craft beer bars and an excellent offie. L.Mulligan Grocer being the standout bar for me.

You can find all the details of EBBC14 here, I won’t bother repeating it. We learnt that monkeys are alcoholics whilst rats are binge drinkers. A lot of beer was offered, a lot of beer was drunk, in between times we learnt about the burgeoning Irish craft beer scene – and most of us were genuinely surprised at how many new breweries there were. And honestly, there were no duds. Brown Paper Bag Project, N17 and Black Donkey are just three of the 50 or so I could recommend for various reasons.

We are a grateful lot and special thanks have to go to major sponsors including the one man marketing machine that is Vaclav Berka of Pilsner Urquell, the hugely impressive tour, sampling, food and revealing Q&A at Guinness, and Beer Ireland.

To find more about Irish beer try Beoir (a sort of Irish CAMRA without the real ale hang-ups), the excellent blog by Reuben Gray who led the official pub crawl or Beer Ireland.

Why haven’t you signed up for EBBC15 yet?