Pete Brown wrote an emotional and excellent piece pleading for unity in all things beery a couple of days ago. It attracted quite a bit of comment and the usual "black spot" for CAMRA. Pete is concerned that "factionalism and blind prejudice – on various sides – is threatening to kill, or at least stall, the beer revolution."
Well OK. Let's accept there is a beer revolution, though Pete doesn't define it for us and many would say it isn't actually a given. But let's just say there is. He calls for more tolerance, which is a good thing and gives us something to chew on. He doesn't like people slagging off other people's choices of beer. Now I agree with this and like him I dare say I have to plead guilty for doing so from time to time, though trawling my blog, I couldn't actually find any examples where I've done that. I can find a few complaining about a landlord's choice of beer, or about the quality of a beer at a given time or place, but that is surely legitimate? I'm a consumer and blogger after all. His concerns are presumably mainly directed at the industry at large which is legitimate. Slagging off shouldn't apply there either.
Pete is also concerned about squabbling. Squabbling kids in fact. He doesn't say who the squabblers are though. If he means bloggers, even if it is so, which I rather think it isn't, who'd give a monkey's chuff? I doubt if we count for that much. Each of us may well disagree with some of what other people write, but I don't think we slag each other off as much as we maybe should even, nor do I believe we feel particularly alienated by those that disagree with us. We are pretty well behaved for a passionate lot really, so though he doesn't say, I think he is looking wider.
As Ed says in a very good piece in his blog, there are wider concerns within the industry. The policy disagreements between the BBPA and SIBA make the differences between keg beer brewers and CAMRA absolutely pale into insignificance in scale. The role of the PubCos and their stranglehold on pubs and the BBPA doesn't get a mention in Pete's blog, though clearly they have had a dramatic effect on beer, pubs and industry over the last 20 years or so. The attitude of the BBPA, who are trying to look many ways at once, while totally failing to take the industry lead, is to say the least, worrying. Disagreement on policy is rife between on and off trade, the minimum pricers and more. It doesn't paint a pretty picture.
So what should we be positive about? Well supporting British beer of course as Pete says and if your tipple is generic lager or John Smith's Smooth, well that is entirely up to you and fine by me. If you want to drink "Gales Seafarers, Adnams Bitter and London Pride" that's also just fine and dandy. I actually drink more "brown boring beer" by way of Lees Bitter than anything else, so on a personal level, I'm already doing my bit. I most certainly understand that these beers are still what most drinkers actually recognise, identify with and yes, like. I also welcome the new brewers of keg as they provide choice and choice is always good. It's a CAMRA aim is choice. (Mind you I'm still entitled to remark that if you are the publican, I'd like some greater variety please.) If you want to drink imported beers (though I'm not sure how that helps British beer)or keg beer, that's up to you too. I do wish you'd do more of it in the pub though, as I like pubs and want there to be plenty of them, so I can go to them, but if you don't, well that's up to you too. I like to think though that I passionately support British Beer and British pubs and if there is a call for unity around that, I'll sign up now.
Oh yes. CAMRA. Of course aren't they always the problem? Stick in the muds who want to continue to support in their own way, a cause that they were founded for and have always believed in. I emphatically agree that CAMRA members should not slag off other kinds of beer in a generic and offhand way. That should be actively discouraged. People that do so are no friends of British beer and in fact no friend of the Campaign. They should grow up. As for changing though, when "new keg" has gained its foothold and has enough support to sustain itself, then CAMRA members might be convinced that definitions should be changed. (Old CAMRA,(to use Pete's term,) members will mostly be dead or inactive by then, so that should make that much easier!) Until then what would be in it for CAMRA? A major split probably.
It seems to me that the very small amount of "new keg" beer that is around at the moment is still looking for consistency, quality, distribution and most of all, legitimacy. I'd guess that's what they really want from CAMRA. Legitimacy.( I'd also venture that in purely beer terms, the new keg beer movement doesn't actually need CAMRA, so goodness knows why they are so obsessed with the subject. People in CAMRA aren't obsessed with them for sure.) None of that should matter though. You don't have to agree on everything, or change your basic views, to work together and I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing for a coalition of all aspects of the beer industry to fight for common interests. In fact I have actively advocated such in the CAMRA review.
Finally far more worrying to my mind, isn't CAMRA's views of beer conditioning and dispense, but how it handles its status as a consumer champion. That's where the real issues are and where power lies. It is there that CAMRA could best be influenced and persuaded in the cause of British beer and beer drinkers. The bigger picture mentioned by Pete can be served best by helping CAMRA tread the right path as a super complainant and for the industry side to sort itself out and start speaking with one strong voice. That is a much bigger task. There is far more danger in getting that aspect wrong and giving all the help possible and working with CAMRA to get it right, would be a far more productive path to follow than the normal (uninformed) CAMRA bashing.
So maybe we can't always be "cheery beery", but at least let's all work together to support British Beer and Pubs.
CAMRA has a policy on keg beer. Keg is not precluded in the Memorandum and Articles of Association. So it would be policy that would have to change, not CAMRA.
*Having read through Pete's comments since this was written, I don't think he and I are a million miles apart.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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