Friday 23 October 2015

A Popular Misconception

Our pub, along with another, had a trip around JW Lees Greengate Brewery on Wednesday night. They are the kind of thing a brewery such as Lees does as a reward to its tenants and customers from time to time, though the gap between visits is usually rather long.  Such events include a tour round the brewery and after a few pints in the Brewery Cottage (the hospitality suite) poured by the Area Manager and the hosting pub tenants - off we went. Now I've been around there quite a lot in various guises and each time I learn something new.  This time one of the Brewhouse Team - a production brewer if you like - took us round. I know him a little and he asked me not to ask awkward questions. As if I would. That wastes valuable drinking time, but as we walked back to the Cottage we chatted about Lees Original Lager and Carlsberg which are produced at Greengate. "Of course" he said, "you won't approve of lager."  He seemed surprised when I advised him that I'm a huge fan of lager and of Lees Original and that I regularly drink lager home and abroad.

This idea that Camra types all dislike lager is a quite common misconception.  It is like the misconception that Camra members don't drink pasteurised bottles, don't drink keg and don't drink cans. "They certainly don't drink craft" is the mantra. Now a few die hards mightn't, but actually most of us do drink keg beers (carefully selected of course) and most of us certainly drink lager to some extent or other lager.  Returning to craft keg, in fact in areas outside London, I reckon some craft bars are both literally and figuratively propped up by Camra members in a way that would surprise most people. (London is a different case, but it will still happen there.)

While cask beer at its best is unbeatable, not drinking lager is inconceivable to me for one.   Well made lager is an absolute delight and those that sniff at lager are missing out in a big way.  

What did I learn this time?  Well, while I knew Lees made no cask beer for anyone else since they stopped doing Burton Ale, I found out that they brew Tetley Keg Bitter, Greenalls Bitter and Ansells Bitter (both keg).

They also produce Carlsberg Lager for Carlsberg to supplement Carlsberg's own production, as well as for their own estate and free trade.


Curmudgeon said...

Greenalls Bitter - is that still even a thing?

Entirely gone in cask form, I think - must be about eight or nine years since I last saw it.

Neville Grundy said...

I'd agree that dismissing a beer because it's keg or lager is rather silly, but I find that cask beer is so superior to any other kind, even real ale in a bottle, that it is for the most part all I drink. Having said that, I was in the Pied Bull in Chester a few months ago. It's a brewpub and I was chatting to one of the brewing team, and telling them how much I'd enjoyed all three of their cask beers that were on the bar. He gave me a generous sample of their craft beer, of which he was very proud. It was full of flavour and not too bad at all. Generally, though, I simply don't come across much craft beer, but if I found one I really liked, I wouldn't let dogma stop me drinking it. The price might, though.

I've not seen Greenall's for years, thank heavens.

beersiveknown said...

I'll just go for whichever beer seems most suited to my need/mood at the time regardless of dispense (though usually avoid pricey bottles).
I wish we had more well-made lagers to choose from in the UK though

The Beer Nut said...

Much as I'd like to believe that most CAMRA folk take a broad and quality-based approach to beer, preferring Real Ale on its intrinsic merits of course, that really hasn't been my experience with almost all of the elected officeholders I've met. The one time I judged Beer of the Festival for a CAMRA event, proceedings were opened by a speech from the branch chairman about the ways in which Real Ale was better than the other kind of beer, lager. This was in 2011, not 1981. Another branch chairman once dismissed an entire non-CAMRA festival to me because there was "too much keg", none of which he had tasted.

Of course there are people like yourself, and the CAMRA representatives I've met through the European Beer Consumers Union, who are much more open and empirical about these things, but I don't think it's fair to claim that "CAMRA types don't like lager" is a misconception. It's a very real attitude out there. I hypothesise that a perusing of branch mags would show the extent, but I wouldn't suggest anyone actually do that, for health and safety reasons.

Phil said...

I wouldn't expect any CAMRA member (myself and our host included) to be completely open-minded; to become a member of CAMRA in the first place suggests you believe that cask beer is (a) good and (b) under threat from inferior beers. But that doesn't imply that all other beers are inferior to cask beer - let alone that all non-cask beer is bad.

It's true that there is a "what's the matter, lagerboy" element to the CAMRA membership (and it's a big membership). There are also a lot of members who live in places where they're never likely to be faced with a Magic Rock or RedWillow keg tap; as far as they're concerned keg means John Smith's and 'craft keg' means Devil's Backbone. But in places where 'craft' is a thing, I think CAMRA members are generally pretty well into it. That's certainly the case in Manchester.

Neville Grundy said...

You get prats in any organisation. Most CAMRA members I come across are not intolerant of other people's drink choices.

Cooking Lager said...

My experience of CAMRA is shorter than other commentators, only being a few years, but not limited to one branch, and enough to have an informed opinion. My work takes me to places I stop over in a hotel and I have been to CAMRA evenings of branches I am not a member on the basis that it’s a drinking club and I’d rather sit with some pleasant beardy types than on my own. You can just turn up and say “Hi, I’m cookie, I’m a member of xxxx branch but working in the area, thought I’d come along” You will be welcomed and have a lovely evening.

This has afforded me the view that no one knows what 90% of members think or do because they are retail customers of a discount club (beer & festivals & magazine) who you will never meet.

Of the other 10% you will meet, most are semi active, have normal lives, volunteer for the beer festival and come along to things they like the look of. They fit the TANDS description of people that enjoy all sorts of beer, have a view on what they consider quality but think cask is a tradition worth maintaining. These are the folk to sit with and chat.

There are also a smaller number of really active members. These people volunteer for everything and somewhat live and breathe CAMRA. It is a tribal loyalty to support CAMRA in everything it does and they will go for an evening out on for something they don’t want to do, will not enjoy, all out of a sense of duty to the cause. If a member has a quality keg beer in their presence they will point at it, say loudly “That is not cask” and actually think that person should not be drinking that. Wanting to “just try it” is not supporting the cause. Only tell these people to fuck off if it’s your own branch and you know them.

There are enough of these people to be significant and they are noisier than their numbers and they are tolerated because without them nothing would get done. They are the ones that turn up for an evening of filling envelopes to send something out to every member. These are the folk to avoid and never sit with and chat.

If you are going to drink lager at a CAMRA event, get a tankard to disguise it.

Erlangernick said...

As a member of CAMRA's Germany branch, I tend to neck a bit of the lout. When in England, I drink cask almost exclusively. If I were to encounter some of the famous new, well-brewed English lagers, I'd definitely try them. Or that Kout that Stonch put on at his former pub.

KeyKeg only when necessary, or to compare a KeyKeg to a cask version of a given beer.

Ed said...

Bollocks to lager, give me ales any day.

Barm said...

I remember one CAMRA festival I worked at where the volunteers had to be banned from drinking the Czech lager so there would still be some left for the punters!

Nick Boley said...

Let's be honest, there is good beer and bad beer. Not all cask is good, not all non-cask (craft, keg, lager, etc) is bad. Some is bloody good. What would you rather drink, an indifferently-kept pint of Doom Bar or an authentic continental (or UK craft) lager, or a craft keykeg beer? Not Doom Bar, that's for sure. I love going to Germany to drink their beers, which are mainly lagers of some type. CAMRA needs to be more inclusive and think more about quality beers, not be dogmatic about cask, although at its best (which it isn't always, or even often in some places) knocks spots of everything else 99 times out of 100. We must look at things like pasteurisation and over-carbonation, which are the enemy of good beers, and the problems caused by oxygen - currently a hot topic in Technical Advisory Group re KeyKegs - for beer.
Good beer is good beer, and is defined by the person drinking it at the time, but there are some really naff beers out there in all formats. Lager is often equated with industrial fizzy stuff - Fosters, etc - brewed under licence in the UK, which is not a great advert for lager. Then compare with Augustiner Helles, Andechser, Hacker-Pschorr in Munich, and there's no comparison whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Nick.