Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Bit of Fun or a Serious Proposition?

You will all no doubt remember the recent (and ongoing)arguments about craft beer and how difficult it is to decide what constitutes craft brewing and all the circumlocutions consequently being trotted out? These sort of amounted to "well it is done with care and love" or some such oily euphemism, which meant really, that "craft" is what we want it to be. Fine and dandy I suppose, but maybe one reason why the nascent organisation Craft UK, seems on the face of it, to be dead in the water. Won't this bird fly then? "No" would seem the ready answer, as it makes itself difficult to identify with, seems complicated and without any real conviction. It kind of whistles in the dark. I think if  I were a craft brewer, I'd prefer SIBA to carry my torch.

If defining craft is difficult enough, we now have the new (though Zak Avery says it came first) intending to appeal to all comers, Campaign for Really Good Beer. Not good beer mind you, but really good beer. Try defining "really good beer" in a way that anyone will agree with, though I suppose that isn't really the point. The point is probably to cock a snook at CAMRA, to subtly and not so subtly pressure them to change in some way and to have a bit of a laugh all round. The problem with that approach is somewhat obvious. If you don't set out clearly defined aims and don't take yourself seriously, then in the long run, nobody else will either. As Zak Avery says here about Craft UK, though it would seem to fairly apply to both,  "it is somehow simultaneously so broad and so narrow as to be meaningless".CRGB seems particularly vulnerable to lack of definitive purpose

So is either actually a bad thing? No of course not. I'm very relaxed about it, both from a CAMRA and a personal point of view. It is good to see that people (however inadequately) are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and try and kick off something that they feel is needed (however poorly judged) and it does indicate at least that people are taking beer a bit more seriously - more seriously in fact than their curiously ill defined organisations seem to be doing - but that's fine. It takes time to get a proper track to run on, so we have to wait and see in some respects. It could be big, though I have a sneaking suspicion it won't be.  Personally though, given that they bothered at all, I'd like to have seen a Real Keg emphasis, as that at least could have begat a movement that could be generally understood, had some ready proponents and would have filled a gap in the market. Neglecting to find a gap, territory that can be claimed,  a place of their own if you like, to my mind dooms both of these organisations to being sideshows at best. The other obvious problem as I see it, is that there are overlaps with existing organisations such as CAMRA and SIBA. It is difficult enough to elbow your way into a gap, but much more of a mountain to climb, if you want to challenge existing incumbents.

The optimistic scenario is that CAMRGB will somehow become a populist movement, but there are obvious problems. Really good beer is really just "beer I like". No common sense of purpose and lack of easily assimilated definitions will be a deterrent to many. And if a charge starts to be made to be a member, it is unlikely to retain more than a handful.

No-one wants to pay something for nothing and "really good beer" is as glib as it is meaningless. Both organisations have missed the target here.


Bailey said...

I think we agree with this, TM, especially that it's good someone is doing *something*; but that neither of these is going to be "the one". Also can't see us ever joining a 'lighthearted campaign'. As much use as a 'funny mayor'.

Your suggestion re: real keg is really interesting. Seems obvious now you say it -- fills a gap in the market, and could help to define the difference between 'bad old keg' and 'good new keg'. (Not everyone seems convinced there is a difference between Watney's Red Barrel and, say, Magic Rock Human Cannonball.) The angry brigade who write into What's Brewing won't join, and that's fine.

(Help me out, though: what the heck is a "whistle in the dark?" An idiom that's lost on me.)

Owen said...

To whistle in the dark is to guess aimlessly, a bit like a stab in the dark but less violent ;)

I think the problem with such an organisation is neatly illustrated by the results of Craft Beer UK's poll about who should be allowed to join; every option has the same number of votes.

Bailey said...

Cos when you whistle in the dark you're not sure who will hear it? I see. Tandleman's poetic streak coming through again?

Tandleman said...

I'm poetry in motion me. Multi faceted. Etc.Etc.

Tandleman said...

Bailey: Whistling in the dark = to be confident that something good will happen when it is not at all likely

Real Ale Girl said...

I agree with you on this Tandy- and I think the name CAMRGB clearly gives the impression of a jibe at CAMRA. If you want to launch a serious, representative oragnisation for keg, or craft, or what not, then give it a serious, represenative name which isn't based on getting back at a long standing organisation.

SteveF said...

Meanwhile, CAMRA has just broken the 130,000 members mark.........

Saga Of Nails said...

There's nothing wrong with having a jibe at CAMRA. As the big boy, and the self appointed upholder of traditions, it is always going to be a legitimate target for ridicule. CAMRA has 130,000 members with 130,000 widely differing opinions on the Real Ale and craft beer scene. Once an organisation becomes very large, schisms are always going to be a possibility.

Personally, I have nothing against CAMRA's lack of attitude towards keg ale (if this is indeed the case), as it's focus has always been cask or bottle conditioned ale. But if CAMRA makes a definite decision not to have a policy on keg beer no matter what the quality (as above), then it cannot legitimately complain if another organisation fills the gap.

I find it difficult to find CAMRA's official stance on various issues and would like their webpage to provide a clear link to this. Just one page which states the official stance regarding keg beer, craft beer, and cask beer. I actually find myself not knowing exactly what CAMRA stands for these days, which is not a good sign for an organisation.

Tandleman said...

SoN - Indeed there isn't. "if CAMRA makes a definite decision not to have a policy on keg beer no matter what the quality (as above), then it cannot legitimately complain if another organisation fills the gap.". Indeed it can't doesn't shouldn't and wouldn't if the gap that is being filled is the supporting of a particular kind of dispense that CAMRA doesn't campaign for.

As I said in Zak's blog:

"That is not the issue - the problem is that many voices within CAMRA, including many influential ones in high places, continue to disparage any non real "quality" beers."

That attitude is not as wide spread as you would have people believe, though it does exist. Many of us are working on the campaign "for" bit, not the campaign"against". We are winning that argument.

Nor is it policy to slag of keg beers. We are pro choice, but campaign for real ale.

Tyson said...

I'm waiting for them to being out the RGBG: the Really Good Beer Guide.

Saga Of Nails said...

Lets not open the massive can of worms that is the GBG, eh ? I could rant for hours about that. (but shall refrain.)

I really don't understand why people talk about dispense as any kind of definition of style. You could have electric pumps serving cask ale, and it would still be Real Ale, wouldn't it. Of course it would be Real Ale served badly which is a different issue. The method in which you get ale out of a cask does not define what is in the cask, surely ?

A problem that CAMRA has is that most people's impressions of the organisation stem from the standard but vocal CAMRA drinker that the see in the pub. And while CAMRA has no comment on keg beer, many of these drinkers do, which is where the impression of CAMRA having a negative or disparaging stance of keg beer comes from. The problem is that the most vocal and opinionated people leave the biggest impression.

Tyson said...


I'm confused.

Who's talking about method of dispense? Tandleman did slip the phrase in, but I'm taking that WAS a slip. I'm pretty sure he wasn't trying to say there is only one way to serve cask beer. As for electric pumps. the GBG used to (when there were more of them about) regularly feature pubs which had them. And, as I recall, it wasn't served badly, either.

And while we're at it, what exactly is the can of worms that is the GBG?

Tandleman said...

My bad that, but there is another thread on Zak's blog using it, so I kind of quoted it back.

T_i_B said...

Whilst I do think there is a good case for a "Campaign for Key-Keg" I don't think that either Craft UK or worse still CAMRGB really fit the bill at all. Far too vague and wishy-washy.

John Clarke said...

Yes I'm equally baffled by Saga of Nails' comments about electric pumps. What on earth is he on about there?

Rob Nicholson said...

>Lets not open the massive can of worms that is the GBG

Oh go on, let's open it! It's late, I'm sipping a nice red wine (see CAMRA members do drink other stuff) and I've not bought the GBG again this year.

Saga Of Nails said...

I'm not a massive fan of the GBG. I'll leave it at that.

Re: Electric pumps, I have not actually used them much for cask ale, but they act pretty similar to dispensing straight out of the barrel using a tap. I have however probably pulled a quarter of a million pints of cask ale through beer engine, and also probably a similar number of pints of lager through electric pumps. An electric pump is a digital method of dispense as it were, either on or off, whereas a beer engine is much more analogue. you control the flow, therefore you get much more control over how the pint will be poured. Have you ever seen bar staff swill glasses of lager just as they start pouring them ? They do this because the lager is coming out, looking flat, and they want to use a drastic method to liven it up. That is because they cannot control the flow rate of the liquid and don't understand any other way of rectifying the problem.
Of course cask ale is not carbonated, but conditioned, and in an ideal world, all Real Ale ought to be perfectly conditioned every time, but it isn't.
Good bar staff changes the style of pour according to the condition of the ale, and with electric pumps this just isn't possible to the extent if you were using a decent beer engine. Sometimes ale needs a bit of energy to enhance the pint, sometimes you want to be serving it much more carefully if it is lacking condition. Shaking a half flat beer will make it look fine but it will of course lose what little condition it has left. I'm a firm believer that beer engines are the perfect tool for the job.

CrayolaSarandon said...

If you've not read it already., you need to read this old chap:


CrayolaSarandon said...

In response to us being a Light Hearted Campaign.
We're deadly serious.
We just know when it's OK to raise a smile.