Last Tuesday I read a comment (by someone called String)on Mark Dredge's blog which made me a little annoyed. Well maybe not annoyed - exasperated would be a better description. This is what the commentator said with regard to the Brew Dog and the Great British Beer Festival "issue". "I think the main issue is that the Great British BEER Festival is festival celebrating BEER. Personally I wonder whether that means that the GBBF is outgrowing CAMRA & their approach. Is it time someone else organised this countries flagship beer festival? I think so."
The comments about CAMRA and Brew Dog were equally odd and one has to wonder why Brew Dog inspire such loyalty in some limited quarters and why their supporters use anything they can as a stick to beat CAMRA with.Continuing with that metaphor, I reckon though that CAMRA undoubtedly made a rod for their own back in trying to accommodate Brew Dog in the way they did. It would have been far simpler and less open to manipulation or interpretation, just to say to Brew Dog "of course we'd love you to come under the same conditions as everyone else. Supply cask beer in 18s (as you do to the pub trade) and we'll sell it accordingly." In my view, given Brew Dog's reputation, anything else was leaving CAMRA as a hostage to fortune. And so it came to pass, despite claim and counter claim.
Given that the Great British Beer Festival is coming up next week, let's have a look at the title. It is short and to the point. It is well known and it describes I believe, the fact that is a festival and a big one, with beer. "Great" seems reasonably OK in that context. What about "beer" then? Well there will be beer - well over 1000 different ones - and while you can argue about whether the term encompasses all beer, it would still seem reasonable that as it is CAMRA's Festival, CAMRA can call it what they want and sell what they want. I am willing to bet that apart from a few geeks and disappointed brewers, nobody else gives a hoot. Everyone else will just be there enjoying themselves and will have in their hand, a beer that they are very happy with. Beer is after all of the moment.
So back to the comment above. Firstly it may well be the leading beer festival in the country, but it isn't the country's beer festival; it is CAMRA's. That means that CAMRA runs it as it sees fit and does what CAMRA wants to do to promote its aims. The idea that this could be handed over to anyone else to run is ludicrous, would make a cat laugh and is just plain daft. Any commercially run beer festival on a similar scale would likely be prohibitively expensive to attend and to buy beer. Does anyone doubt the immense subsidy CAMRA volunteers provide by their free labour and expertise? Not that this means it can't be improved. Each year changes are made to many things to try and make it better, but there will always be some that feel it should have this or that beer, or that some aspect could be changed for the better, but at the final reckoning, very few will leave disappointed by what is on offer to them. There will be something for everyone. And despite Brew Dog claiming that CAMRA festivals are “stuffy, boring or misguided” I rather doubt that they will be missed, or that anyone there won't have just as good a time without them.
So let's look forward to next week. So many beers to try, so much good fun and good company. There will be a great atmosphere and a fine old time to be had is far more important than worrying about areas of contention that are of limited interest to the vast majority of attendees.
Let's just all go and have a good time.
And dammit I have ended up talking about you know who again. It still works for them. Nor am I saying that a large non CAMRA run festival couldn't be organised, but don't doubt the difficulties in doing so.
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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