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".
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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