Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "L" Word


My attention has been drawn to an article written about beer, by Oliver Thring, a food blogger. It appears in the On Line Guardian and if I may say so, misses at least a bit of the point when he asks the question, "Handcrafted lagers are making a comeback despite opposition from the real ale lobby. Is Camra right to dismiss these beers, or is it just snobbery?.

On the main assertion, does CAMRA "dismiss these beers?" and does it oppose them? I rather think not. The leap of logic, present in so much of the stuff written about CAMRA, usually concerns what CAMRA should do, rather than what it does do, and, the mistaken assumption that CAMRA is an umbrella organisation for beer. It quite simply isn't. CAMRA's role, as defined by its constitution, is to promote and defend the interests of cask conditioned ale. CAMRA's Iain Loe, puts it maybe a bit more bluntly than I would, when he says "We appreciate high-quality products, and we wish good luck to these brewers. But if you want to build relationships, don't come to us and say 'We started producing beer in the last five minutes and now you have to change everything you believe in' - it's a mixture of naivety and arrogance."

Thring then goes on to conflate cask and non cask lager, quoting in the piece blogger Mark Dredge, in his praise of Harviestoun (a cask lager producer) and finishes by asking if we should be given the opportunity to enjoy these "distinctive and interesting beers", as if their availability was somehow conditional on CAMRA approval.  Beer writer Pete Brown chipped in commenting " I was judging at a CAMRA beer festival recently and there were three cask lagers on - conforming to CAMRA's dispense rules. They were classed as 'speciality beers'. Yeah, that's right - lager, that unusual, hard-to-come-by niche beer.".  Doesn't that sound reasonable until you examine it more closely? CAMRA, unlike organisations such as the American BJCP   with its 23 different beer styles, has only a limited number of  categories of beer. (Ten since you ask). There isn't one for cask lager,  though  I don't see why they wouldn't be classified as "golden ales", but whatever they are, there isn't a lager category, as there isn't enough of it around to justify such a category. Simples?

My belief is that lager, in both its cask and non cask forms, is a welcome choice when I see it in the pub. What is really important is to wean people on to quality beer, whether lager or ale, but that's another story and a very difficult thing to do in this country where pile it high and sell it cheap distorts the quality/price equation. The emerging small lager brewers are likely to remain a niche for the foreseeable future - that is the role of small producers in this country, like it or lump it.  To ask CAMRA to somehow give them a leg up by changing all they believe in, is not only naive, but an ask too far. They must stand or fall by their own ability to penetrate a market which is likely to be indifferent to them. An inconvenient truth?  Maybe, but the market will decide.

CAMRA is far too often an easy target for those who wish things beery that are, weren't so.  Words and attitudes by a few are distortedly  taken to be representative as a whole. I am sometimes drawn to defend them, not just by my membership, but by a sense of fairness - of redressing the balance.  In this case, it is simply that the case against doesn't stack up.

The founding of LOBI ( Lagers of the British Isles) would seem to acknowledge that there is a need for an organisation to represent new wave lager brewers , though I read a comment elsewhere by John Clarke that "Interestingly I understand that Taddington Brewery, producer of arguably the UK's finest lager, have declined to join LOBI".

70 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

There is still a tendency amongst some vocal members of CAMRA (although not you, obviously) to dismiss anything that does not conform to its definition of "real ale" as thus automatically unworthy of consideration. I don't see that a campaign for real ale needs to be a campaign against all other types of beer, just as the Scotch Malt Whisky Association is not a campaign against bourbon or gin, but some seem to disagree, which gives a bad impression to the likes of Mr Thring.

The Beer Nut said...

What is really important is to wean people on to quality beer, whether lager or ale, but that's another story and a very difficult thing to do

Hear hear! And that's exactly why somebody should be doing it. Because it's hard. It's a crying shame, IMO, that the size and success of the UK's existing beer drinkers' group means that there's no room for a group which promotes good beer, regardless of where the CO2 comes from, something far more important than dividing ales into "real" and "unreal".

The existence of LOBI irks me because even a lager vs. "real" ale dichotomy doesn't reflect the reality of the UK beer market.

I sympathise with the CAMRA loyalists who object to outsiders complaining that CAMRA doesn't do what they, the outsiders, want. But to turn that question around, Tandleman: why is ale "realness" more important than beer quality? If the argument for turning CAMRA into a camapign for quality British beer arose internally in CAMRA, how would you respond?

jesusjohn said...

Agree with Curmudgeon, I have to say.

Anyone have any colour on why Taddington haven't joined LOBI, though?

Curmudgeon said...

If the argument for turning CAMRA into a campaign for quality British beer arose internally in CAMRA, how would you respond?

A problem with this is how you define "quality British beer" – some would want it drawn much more tightly than others. "Real ale" is at least a fairly straightforward, objective definition. There's a risk you would replace "real ale good, keg bad" with a kind of "tall poppies syndrome".

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Why is it important to wean people on to quality beer?? Why do you care what other people drink?? I think this is largely the problem with CAMRA. Sometimes CAMRA come off a bit like religious extremists. Do your own thing and #$%& what anyone thinks.

The Beer Nut said...

How about directing the efforts at the breweries that need most assistance, then? Those that benefit from progressive beer duty, say?

Tall poppy syndrome is only going to come into play if the campaign to support them turns into a campaign against everything else, and I agree with you that that would not be a good thing.

Tandleman said...

Mudgie - Unlike you I know, but you seem to be falling into the trap here. Who are these vocal CAMRA members, how influential are they and what exactly are they saying and where are they saying it to have such influence? In the pub? Not in my earshot. In the press? Not that I've seen. Rabid comments in What's Breweing? Hardly. CAMRA doesn't campaign against all other types of beer, but for one, just as the SWA doesn't suggest that the odd bottle of Gordon's instead of a nippy sweetie is a fine plan and doesn't promote rum as a perfect alternative to whisky. There is a distinction.

BN. We've had this argument before. The term "real" isn't doing CAMRA any favours nowadays, but is historical and will stay. As for turning CAMRA into something they aren't, no, I wouldn't support it, as my prime concern is quality cask ale, just like the SWA is for whisky. I do encourage other kinds of brewers and other styles of beer, but they aren't my prime concern.Why should they be, but I'd support better beer of any style should those that produce it get their arses in gear and sort out its promotion themselves. This seems to be a "you got there first and now you won't give up the ground you've gained so I can take some of it" kind of argument, but as I said, in the end, the market will decide.

JJ. I think it isn't a simple as agreeing with the C man.

Finally as Curmudgeon implies, it would just muddy the water. The BBPA should be doing all that anyway shouldn't they?

Cooking Lager said...

Is CAMRA a campaign for real ale? When you hear them in the news they are banging on about cheap supermarket grog, preloading and binge drinking. It's a campaign for buggar all and a campaign against a free englishman's right to cheap delicious and refreshing grog.

Tandleman said...

Sausage. You don't think it better that people drink good beer of whatever ilk? Fine. I disagree, though agree of course they can drink meths if that's what they prefer.

PS. I don't mean the BBPA should be muddying the waters, though I have little doubt they do.

Tandleman said...

Cookie. You make a serious point. That's why I think now that CAMRA is bigger it needs a fundamental re-think of its role in wider lobbying. I said that somewhere this week I think.

The problem is people are drinking cheap lout when the bastards should be down the bloody pub drinking cask. Or so the argument goes. Personally I don't care how cheap the supermarkets are. That's a road to nowhere in terms of campaigning for cask.

The Beer Nut said...

The term "real" isn't doing CAMRA any favours nowadays, but is historical and will stay
I'm confused by this. If you think it's detrimental, why not try to do something about it?

my prime concern is quality cask ale
Right, sorry. It's when you said that weaning people onto quality beer is what's really important, I thought you meant more important than dispense methods.

Tandleman said...

BN - That's my observation. It gives those who like to snipe something to bite on. Hell I don't care so much I'd try and change it. My concern CAMRA wise is getting good beer locally. I have no national position or ambitions.

My prime concern IS quality cask ale - it is what I prefer - but I encourage the drinking of quality beers of whatever stripe. That is more important overall and will inevitably include cask. I don't expect everyone to prefer cask or even desire it.

Cooking Lager said...

In a free country, Tandy, people do what they want. And what they want is to sit at home with a can of cheap lout. And why not? It's great. By all means campaign to convince people to go down a grotty boozer and pay over the odds for a pint of, as you say, cask. In a free country, thats your choice. If people listen, fair play and good luck to you.

Why try to skew the law with price fixing, thinking you can force free people into doing what you want?

The world of difference between convincing and coercion has me convinced CAMRA as an institution is evil and needs ranking alongside the anti grog lobby. They are the enemy.

Sitting in CAMRA and moaning is like staying in the Nazi party to try and convince Adolf to change his mind. You are either with 'em or you are not.

Curmudgeon said...

Tandleman, I see a surprising amount of the "four legs good, two legs bad" argument around in a quasi-official CAMRA context. For example, every other month or so a letter crops up in "What's Brewing" asking "why are we supporting keg beers?" in some context or other. Richard English on the CAMRA forum (who I assume is fairly active in the organisation) is constantly banging on about "chemical fizz". The line taken by the editor of "Out Inn Cheshire" is very similar. In a non-CAMRA social context I have several times heard someone say to me "I've been drinking this beer, but you wouldn't approve", although obviously it's not as simple as that. There's still a lot of it about, and it continues to cloud the conception of CAMRA as the "anti-lager campaign".

Personally, I regard it primarily as a beer-drinking social organisation ;-)

Tandleman said...

Bloody Hell Cookie. You are a hard man to agree with, which I thought I was doing. The thanks for that is to be compared to a Nazi. )-: Cheers Mate - nice one. I should come round and shake all your cans violently.

Let me say it all again. I don't agree with everything CAMRA does and say so frequently. I agree with campaigning for real ale, I don't care enough to want to try and change the rest of it all, though encouraging people to drink better beer, doesn't seem such a bad thing. Anyway, next time a CAMRA person knocks on your door, drags you out by the balls and down to the pub, just let me know. I'll find out who the bastards are.

Tandleman said...

Curmudgeon, I've never heard of Richard English - other than on the CAMRA forums (which I've not looked at for months)/ I'd say he is is speaking for himself. I doubt if he is active at all, more what Jeffrey might call a "vexatious litigant."

"Personally, I regard it primarily as a beer-drinking social organisation ;-)"
Mostly, so do I.

Cooking Lager said...

It's the internet, Tandy. If you don't start calling people a Nazi early doors, you'll get called one yourself. Its the numero uno internet debating skill what I've been learning.

Glad to hear you're not an ale Nazi. I take it back. But you do support an organisation that is more about coercion than convincing people.

And the coercion is not a minor bit of small print, it is the main thrust of the campaign that uses your donation and support to fund it.

Hence your words I can agree with, but your actions speak louder.

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Herr'man, I'm 43 years. I could give a flying &^%$ what the masses drink. You are fighting a war that will never be won. I'm desensitized to it all now, and so should you. Your average person wants something cold and wet and just doesn't care. I am probably as hardcore as you, possible even more so. It isn't healthy having a concern about what other people drink. I've been through it all, from chucking people out of my house, to taking the piss out of Coor's Light drinkers in various bars. Enjoy your beer with your mates and lady friend. Stop trying to convert brain dead idiots. You'll add another 10 years to your life.

Tandleman said...

Well there's a lot of sense in that. Meths anyone?

Cooking Lager said...

I'll have mine over ice, Tandy. Ta.

Barm said...

If most kegged beer weren't ridiculously over-carbonated, there might not be so much hostility to it.

mikeknight said...

As founder of LOBI I totally agree with Tandlemans comments. The ale v's lager angle was voiced mainly by those leaving comments on the original article.We are not and never will be anti CAMRA (most LOBI brewers also make ale). CAMRA shouldn't be asked to compromise their position, they are what they are and that is fine.All we want to do is give drinkers more opportunity to try our British hand crafted lagers instead of the big brand lagers.

Curmudgeon said...

Possibly the consumers of keg beer actually like it heavily carbonated, though. Those who prefer less carbonated beer can drink cask instead.

Jeffrey said...

Peter, I agree with you. You put the case for CAMRA on this point very well and I'd have nothing to add to it.

On the subject of Taddington Brewery not joining in with this group, I spoke to him (Richard Hand - the brewer) about it many months ago when he gave me a call about something else. He said then he wouldn't be joining. I just don't think he sees how it will benefit him, and he's got a lot of his plate already.

Tandleman said...

Mike - Thanks for commenting on this. What you say makes sense to me.

Jeff - Appreciate your comments too.

RedNev said...

I have come across the occasional wild-eyed real ale zealot who reacts to lager in the same way that most of us would react to someone throwing up over us. People like that are bad-mannered idiots. In my view, lager drinkers who compare CAMRA activists to Nazis are little different, apology notwithstanding.

The official position of CAMRA is for real ale, not against other drinks. It is therefore for choice and was set up to ensure that real ale remained among the choices available, not to wipe out the "enemy." Non-members who bang on about what CAMRA should do are missing the point ~ you're not members, so you can have no influence on the organisation. I occasionally used to have this argument at work when non-union members would tell me as a rep what the union should be doing. I usually told them that if they wanted their opinions to be heard by the organisation, then join.

As I've posted before, CAMRA has fewer than 2 members per pub in the UK, which means that most real ale drinkers are not members. So where does all this power it's supposed to have come from?

The Beer Nut said...

Here, mikeknight, could you fix either the map on your logo or the name of your organisation so that they match?

Curmudgeon said...

Ah, but are you including the Island of Ireland as one of the British Isles, or not? ;-)

I've seen this argument go round and round elsewhere on the Web.

Paul Garrard said...

All I will say is what part of 'Campaign for real ale' don't people understand?
Nothing more to be said really!

The Beer Nut said...

I am indeed, C. And the Isle of Man too.

People who get offended by actual geography oughtn't be allowed out, never mind listened to.

Curmudgeon said...

Glad to hear it, BN, but some of your compatriots (for reasons I acknowledge, although not agreeing with) are mortally offended by the use of the term to encompass Ireland.

The Beer Nut said...

Perhaps before our economy collapsed, but now we have real things to worry about :)

The Beer Nut said...

Paul: the bit I don't understand is the "real" bit -- why does CAMRA insist that the pint of handcrafted ale in front of me is fake. It's wet and tastes real enough. Yet apparently it's not actually ale. What gives?

Tandleman said...

The mistake Ireland made was to vote to allow poorer nations than themselves into the EU. Stay relatively poor - get rich after all.

(-;

The Beer Nut said...

I think building an economy on smoke and mirrors had a little more to do with it.

John Clarke said...

Beer Nut,

"Real Ale" is defined in the OED. Look it up if it confuses you that much. Otherwise stop being so contrary.

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Clarke, calm down. "Real Ale" is a retarded definition, as any definition with the use of real. It was created by those not living in reality. Time to read some moral philosophy.

Tim said...

CAMRA may have a narrow ale remit, but it also self appointedly acts on behalf of all beer consumers in matters such as fair pricing etc. Especially with the media.

It does brand all British lager as chemical fizz in its introductory brochures citing cask lagers as ok and budvar as an exception due to it upholding brewing traditions.

It also seems that nobody argues that CAMRA no longer campaigns for real ale as such and is now just a large social club and umbrella for organising beer festivals

Tim said...

Sausage - bang on the money. Just because 'real ale' is in the OED doesn't make it a ligit term fit for everyday use.

Barry said...

Timmy that is incredibly stupid even by your standards.So being in the official depository of the English language doesn't make a phrase legit.What does then? Let me guess,when you say it is. You don't like it,tough!

Tom said...

Think Tim's right (and others above) - don't get the sense that Camra is anti-lager as an organisation, but it's obviously acting as if it's a lobbying group for the whole beer/pubs/alcohol side of things.

If Camra is putting out press releases about pub closures and supermarket prices, campaigning against the beer tie, and serving cider and perry at its festivals, then it's a bit disingenuous to just say 'well it's the campaign for REAL ALE' as a reason for ignoring lager brewers and drinkers.

Darcy Rodger said...

This is only partially true. Recent growth in the wine industry has cannibalized some of the beer industry. While as a nation we could consume more, there is of course a limit. At that point growth of one industry will come at the expense of the other.Perhaps the point is, for most of us, there is a time to enjoy both.


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Tandleman said...

I think Darcy has a point. Tom. CAMRA has always (well more or less) included cider and perry in its campaign, so that point is, I think, moot. On the wider issues, as Darcy says, what affects the industry at large affects cask beer writ small. In my view that makes it legitimate, but I have said that CAMRA, as it gets bigger, needs to better address these complexities.

Tyson said...

Tom

It's an old arguement, but it’s really quite simple. Camra is a constituted organisation representing its members’ core interest-real ale. Like other specialist groups, this will impact on many fronts. So, for example, as the vast majority of real ale is sold in pubs, so Camra takes an interest in pubs and licensing etc. There’s nothing disingenuous about it. As you say yourself, Camra isn’t anti-lager per se, but if they are ignoring lager drinkers generally, presumably because their members want to-what’s wrong with that?

Tyson said...

Tandles

Er, funny as it is, I think I should point out that "Darcy's" post is spam that is being repeated on many blogs.

Tandleman said...

Well all I can say is that I wish all spam was as pertinent as this!

Anonymous said...

Trust Timbo or whoever he's pretending to be this week to come out with some utter shite.The Oed not good enough for you out in Australia? Mind you he will probably be along shortly blaming Gazza.

Captain Jack

The Beer Nut said...

For one thing the OED is not "the official depository of the English language". English doesn't have one. Thankfully.

I don't have an up-to-date OED to hand. Could I ask the people citing it to post the OED's definition of "Real Ale" please?

Séan Billings said...

CAMRA is bound by it's constitution to champaign for real ale, as they define it, which is inextricably linked to packaging, dispense methods and the provenance of the co2. I have heard active CAMRA members say that if CAMRA were to start today, it would be different. I do however feel that if there had been no CAMRA there would be very little cask beer to get excited about. If you want to see what happens when there is no advocacy group, come to Ireland, where 99.9% of pubs (no exaggeration) will give you a choice of the same nitro stout, the same nitro red ale, and the same selection of cooking lagers. All of these beers are brewed by one of two multinational brewing giants.

CAMRA was a great idea at the time. It probably saved real ale from practical extinction, but it's remit does look a little narrow today. Starting an advocacy group for British craft lager seems to me to be a similar mistake. What about other beers which are not lager or real ale? What about, for example, an unfilered wheat beer that is served on co2? Or an Alt? Or an American pale ale? Good beer can be served on co2.

As to the OED defining what is real ale, reality is not formed by words. Unless I am mistaken, CAMRA coined the term Real Ale to describe CC beer and as such they defined it according to their own agenda. The fact that the OED recognise the term does not make beer produced outside the definition introduced by CAMRA fake.

My homebrew is served unfiltered from a cornie keg, under co2 pressure. It is quality hand crafted beer and no dictionary is going to tell me that that means it's not real.

Tyson said...

BN

"Real ale, a beer which continues to ferment and mature in the cask after brewing"

I take your point about the OED not being the "official depository" for the English language, but I think Barry is half right. For the OED is very important-at least in England Scotland and Wales. Just as the Times newspaper is considered the newspaper of record, so is the OED cnsidered its equivalent. It's a semi-offiial recognition and legal arguements can fall and rest as to how the OED defines somethhing.

This is of course not to have a go at other beer forms, merely a statement of fact as to the term "real ale".

The Beer Nut said...

I think the word you're looking for is "authoritative" rather than any level of officialdom, Tyson. And yes, I agree.

So, authoritatively speaking, you can have bottom-fermented Real Ale, but not Real Ale In A Bottle?

Barm said...

The argument that CAMRA's remit is only for cask ale falls down when people point out, as above, that CAMRA also campaigns for real cider and perry. I bet more CAMRA members drink lager than drink cider.

Mark said...

Having thought about this more and more it just gets harder to wrap my head around to see any kind of progression. Cask beer drinkers in the majority aren't interested in keg. Keg beer drinkers wouldn't touch a handpulled pint. Introducing something to sit in the middle is missing out on the two markets. Our minority of drinkers who want great beer however it is dispensed is not enough to satisfy the market. Things seem a bit stuck... And this is neither a CAMRA issue or LOBI issue, it's about the drinkers.

It's actually a sad thought that soon (even if it's not too late) British beer could just get a bit stuck (despite the fact that Britain is brewing some AMAZING beer right now).

Paul Garrard said...

Semantics hey, don't you just love it?

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

"My homebrew is served unfiltered from a cornie keg, under co2 pressure. It is quality hand crafted beer and no dictionary is going to tell me that that means it's not real."

Damn straight brother! This is also Proper Real Keg! I look at some West Coast breweries in the same way. No pasteurization and no sterile filtration, but served with the dreaded extraneous co2. This makes it highly unreal to CAMRA.

Tom said...

Fair point about Camra - don't think it would've been as effective over the years if its remit wasn't so well defined.

But I suppose the problem is that when it was founded, 'real ale' was sysnonymous with small-scale non-corporate brewing, which isn;t necessarily the case any more.

Curmudgeon said...

"But I suppose the problem is that when it was founded, 'real ale' was sysnonymous with small-scale non-corporate brewing, which isn;t necessarily the case any more."

On the contrary, in the early 1970s very large quantities of cask beer were brewed by the "Big Six" brewers, something which is no longer the case. In fact your proposition is more valid now than it was then.

Tim said...

Bazza or is it Gazza??? You know I didn't post that. Sorry again for these goons spamming your comments Pete.

Tandleman said...

Any more will be deleted.

Gazza Prescott said...

Ain't me, Bazza is his own man!

As much as I'm aggrieved at CAMRA's antipathy towards proper (i.e. unpasteurised) lagers and suchlike, I know that it'll not change whilst the current "management" are in post, hopefully when - and some must surely be retiring soon - we have a change then things will move in a more modern fashion.

I've said it many times and I'll say it many more - CAMRA are stuck in the 1970's and need to re-discover a relevance. Yes, they saved cask ale, but "what have they done for me lately"?

Not a lot - that's why I cut my card up.

Tim said...

BTW - that wasn't me who posted that previous comment. Someone is playing pretendies again.

I think Gazza has the right idea on this one.

Funnily enough the same old anon trolls come out of the woodwork to try and flame me. But I see these fools have been educated about the OED by others so I'll leave these trolls with egg on their faces.

Tim said...

Oh come on. No one is seriously going to believe that I've suddenly started to agree with Gazza.

You're right though. It is the same anon people on here who are trying to flame me.

Tim said...

Looks like I have another impersonator!

Barry said...

Timmy,you should be a comedian.Sorry you already are.Accusing other people of being trolls.Highly amusing.

Tyson said...

BN

Not my remit or of particular interest to me, but, personally, RAIB seems a fair extension of the meaning as defined in the OED.

Sean
I have to disagree-words are what DO define our reality. How else would you define it, other than by language, words and their meaning. In this context-the OED-is very important as its inclusion of "real ale" then led to Camra being able to get the term "Cask" enshrined in the law of the land. And even the BN would have to say that's as official as it gets:)

The Beer Nut said...

Tyson,

Nope, draught only. Second ed. defines it, just above "real coffee", as:
"a name sometimes applied to draught beer that has been brewed and stored in the traditional way, and which has undergone secondary fermentation of the yeast [sic] in the container from which it is dispensed; also called 'cask-conditioned' beer."

What was your definition a quote from? 'Cos it ain't the current OED.

Wurst Maker said...

I feel a strong, creative need for tracks.

Tyson said...

I was using the 1983 edition-the only edition I've got! My, slightly newer, Chambers also gives the same meaning. It's interesting that they've expanded the definition but does it matter? It is real ale, but in a bottle, no?


Camra's definition of RAIB is "Real ale in a bottle is unpasteurised and is not artificially carbonated. It is a natural live product which contains yeast for a slow secondary fermentation in the bottle. This process provides wonderful fresh flavours and a pleasant, natural effervescence".

Is this not accurate? Trading Standards don't seem unduly worried by it, so I won't be losing any sleep over it.

The Beer Nut said...

There is no 1983 edition of the OED. Edition 1 was 1928, edition 2 was 1989. Whatever you've got there isn't the OED.

And if you're taking the OED as authoritative, then no: that definition is not accurate. I've also experienced plenty of bottles where the second sentence is exceedingly inaccurate.

Tyson said...

It's actually the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. No good? I'm only a poor, working class, Northern lad. I can't afford the full 20 volume set. If I need any help with big words, I ask Tandleman.

Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on the definition. It works for me and others, as I say. But perhaps they're not taking the OED as their source? As you say, it's merely authorative rather than official.

At the end of the day, the term "real ale", unlike "cask" does not have any legal standing. So technically, as long as the description is not delibrately misleading, they can choose whatever definition they like. Although, like me, I suspect they will say that it does actually fit your strict interpretation of the OED.