Thursday, 10 March 2011

All in the Same Boat*

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. 

Cartoon with the help of Stringers Beer.


Richard said...

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...

Absolutely - hit the nail on the head there. If you're a keg brewer and you believe CAMRA are so antiquated in their opinions, why would you care what those opinions are?

The Beer Nut said...

The role of the PubCos and their stranglehold on pubs and the BBPA doesn't get a mention in Pete's blog
From my reading of Pete's point, there's no reason it should. What I think he's saying is that you have to allow for individual elements within the beer culture to do what they do: you can't expect CAMRA to suddenly support keg, you can't expect A-B InBev to stop brewing mass-market lager and you can't expect the the PubCos to change their attitude to tenants and beers. The bigger picture is more important than the tensions which will exist between the players and it's best not to air this laundry where the neo-pros can see it.

As for a post where you slag of other people's choice of beer, how about this? Not exactly welcoming the new brewers of keg.

Tandleman said...

Close but no coconut.BN. I meant individual choices, but it was of course, in any event, written tongue in cheek1 (-;

Ghost Drinker said...

"Pete is also concerned about squabbling."

One of the big reasons I got into beer blogging in the first place, was I loved the way people had there debates around beer. It's always good to get others views on a favorite subject, and it can more times than not, open your eyes to something you've not thought of before.
Even bad comments are still comments about beer, and I'm one for thinking that people who actually read things that we're bothered to write can make up there own minds, what they want and what they will drink.

Sat In A Pub said...

What, you mean we're all in this together? Now where have I heard that before...?

StringersBeer said...

I'm not sure that the industry should speak with "one strong voice" is likely, or even desirable. I'm not even convinced that there is one industry - just because we all make a similar basic product (fermented vegatble juice), doesn't mean that we're all in the same boat.

The interests of small (can I say "craft"?) brewers don't necessarily align well with those of huge international combines, or, for that matter, the family brewers and regionals with their tied estates, whether or not there's "real ale" in the portfolio.

For the wider public the question has to be how well the brewers' interests align with the consumer interest and some kind of social responsibility. I guess most people want a quality beverage, choice, value for money and (I'd argue) sustainable local businesses. The drivers of big business tend towards reduction of choice, a particular view of what quality means, and a drive away from localism.

CAMRA historically, focussed on organising consumer pressure in support of styles of beer (characterised by a particular dispense method) that were being wiped by big businesses. "Craft Keg" is in a different place. It needs (as you point out) "legitimacy", and to keep fresh air between it and "Crap Keg" which CAMRA actively campaigned against. But of course CAMRA can't, as things stand, be expected to support a producer of keg beer.

So how can there be "one voice"? And what's wrong with a diverse market and diverse opinions? And what's wrong with rocking the boat?
Are we so frightened of the neo-prohibitionists that we have toe the "beer party" line, whatever this might end up costing?

Tandleman said...

Good points, but I suppose I am thinking that where there are differences, these can be put aside, but where there is agreement, they can be jointly acted on.

Surely there are a lot of things to agree about, for example the rates of beer duty?

The Beer Nut said...

On a point of pedantry, CAMRA supports most of the biggest producers of keg beers in the UK and, judging by the glossy ads in many CAMRA publications, vice versa.

Tandleman said...

BN - That's another reason why we shouldn't worry about it, not a reason to worry about it.

Cooking Lager said...

You are not going to get everyone speaking with one voice, nor should you. That would be quite scary. CAMRA are only one group and frankly given more significance than they deserve. Even at 120k members it is insignificant compared to the number of drinkers.

CAMRA doesn't need to redefine "real" ale or even support anything it doesn't want to, and thanks for answering my question why some foreign keg beers are served at festivals and some are not. CAMRA are free to define whatever criteria it likes.

When it stops campaigning for an increase in the price of a can of lager or bottle of wine then I'll believe it is a campaign for real ale and not a campaign against things bearded people dislike.

When it stops hawking the line that I cannot be trusted with alcohol because it is so dangerous as to require a responsible and controlled environment I'll accept it speaks for drinkers and not just a small group of beards.

StringersBeer said...

Agree on Beer Duty rates? Clearly not. Not when some brewers are owned by multinationals who make their money from spirit brands and actively campaign to keep beer duties high. When bigger brewers are campaigning against PBD? That's my point. The unified "beer industry" is a myth, and the beer market is grossly distorted.

It's a fact that duty is bizarrely high in this country. But what with us "all" being in "this" together and "all" having to pull in our belts, I'd be amazed if anything happens to change things for the better.

StringersBeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil, said...

"squabbling" is our perogative as bloggers, same as sweeping statements and bad spelling. If you take those away, what will be left!?

Neville Grundy said...

A good post, TM, that throws up some interesting points.

As you no doubt remember from your trade union days, people with apparently common interests (like, for instance, two separate left wing groups) seem to prefer to engage in in-fighting, perhaps because it's easier than tackling the real enemy. Plus people have an uncanny knack of identifying the wrong foe.

Factionalism is a fact of life in any activity or interest, not just politics, where people hold strongly held views on issues, so appeals for unity, no matter how well intended, are unlikely to succeed.

However, I would like to proved wrong in the world of beer, so I hope your representations in the CAMRA review bear fruit.

Gav said...

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.)

Sums it up well. I still want to see more, and better cask ale widely available. NUKeg is a a insignificant distraction at the moment and in my experience suffers from the same problems as Old Keg,that is, too cold, too gassy, to much carbonic bite, loses flavour and condition too quickly.

Tim said...

Chemical Fizz anyone? #Winning

Leigh said...

nicely said - I try not to get involved (im a kinda 'can't we just all get on' kinda guy) but it's interesting some just see it as debate...

coxy said...

The nu keg revoloution is a insignificant and not worth discussing when the real issue of importance is the closure of so many pubs whether they do ale or not,vast swathes of villages across the country have no pub now.We first need to assatain if they are closing because of the new demographic not wanting them, or if its a price issue we need to lobby the government hard on duty .

Erlangernick said...

"We first need to ascertain if they are closing because of the new demographic not wanting them, or if it's a price issue ..."

Wot--I thought they were all closing because of the smoking ban!

Eddie86 said...

There's an option for Licensees now Tandy:

The Society of Licensees

A chance for the trade to come together? I hope so

Curmudgeon said...

"I thought they were all closing because of the smoking ban!"

You said it :p

Coxy said...

nah they are closing in alot of villages because all the poshies have moved in and the working lads can't afford it anymore, smokers still go to pubs ,they will do anything for a fag anyplace, anywhere, or maybe they just smoke in the shed now with a bottle of ale, like some old sitcom.

Erlangernick said...

A dream of mine is to open a nanobrewery with "pub" in some countryside village sometime in the next decade or so. But having worked (slaved) a bit in the gastro trade as a youth, this will likely remain just a dream. (At least the pub part of it!)