Monday, 6 June 2011

CAMRA - Stuck In the Past and Complacent

I've had a few days to think about CAMRA Chair, Colin Valentine's rant against bloggers as publicised by Beer.Birra.Bier and Pete Brown.  I presume that like me most  bloggers are long standing CAMRA members, so it seems strange to criticise a section of your membership.

His comments have already been refuted by the aforementioned bloggers but one important point in favour of 'craft beer' went unsaid. CAMRA has consistently ignored the huge number of licensed premises which are resistant to cask beer. Clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, concert venues and sports events mostly never stock cask beer mainly due to the irregular patterns of trading. CAMRA has never had a coherent policy for promoting bottle conditioned beers in these places which would be an improvement for the discerning drinker. In fact CAMRA branches rarely do much campaigning at all to increase the number of premises selling decent beer preferring to concentrate their efforts on disparaging the output of the larger brewers and praising the microbreweries.

The emergence of quality keg beer should be a cue for a concerted assault on the non-cask venues to persuade some to stock high quality British beers from the likes of Freedom and Meantime or any of the large number of good keg beers from U.S., Belgium or Italy. Some could even convert to cask further down the line. The truth is that CAMRA is ageing fast. They're happy with their 70s outlook hence the proliferation of Jazz Bands, Folk Groups (yes I know it's getting cool again) and Morris Dancers at beer festivals. How can the the Twitter generation relate to CAMRA?


  1. Yes, and in many low-turnover venues it would be a great improvement to have some decent brewery-conditioned bottles, but that's something CAMRA sets its face against. Look, for example, at the craft beer list put together by Mark Dredge for Byron Hamburger.

  2. That's quite a list. I don't frequent burger bars but I'd make an exception for those beers.

  3. Yet another blogger calling for CAMRA to embrace something that is excluded by the very name of the organisation, the Campaign for Real Ale. Why don't you demand that the Cats Protection League take in stray dogs while you're at it?

    Most bloggers that I read calling for CAMRA to push keg beer are not CAMRA members, and have no intention of joining - they frequently say as much, often in very aggressive language. There is no reason why a democratic organisation should change its policies at the behest of non-members. If they want a say, they should pay their subs and take part in the campaign's democratic processes. Actually, that applies to bloggers who are CAMRA members too: they should put motions to the CAMRA AGM and argue the case with the people who have the power to change policy. Whingeing on a blog will alter nothing.

    As for pushing real ale in a bottle in places that don't have cask beer, good idea, but CAMRA branches are busy enough with the core business, bearing in mind they are run by volunteers who actually have lives, jobs, families and other interests too. They cannot do everything.

    I've had disagreements with CAMRA, both at branch level and national level. I have spoken at branch meetings and at the national AGM, sometimes on the losing side of the vote, but I always accept the decision, whichever way it goes. If you want CAMRA to change, that is the only way to do it. As so-called craft keg is nowhere to be found, it is not really an issue, is it? You and other bloggers are exaggerating the relevance of the style - why, I've no idea. I've yet to come across 'craft' keg anywhere, and I don't confine my drinking to just one pub or even just one town.

    Finally, it is quite in order to criticise a section of your membership when they are wrong in terms of the democratically agreed policies of the campaign.

  4. Nev - I'd be very happy for you to prove me wrong, but I'd love to see some evidence for the statement "Most bloggers that I read calling for CAMRA to push keg beer are not CAMRA members, and have no intention of joining - they frequently say as much, often in very aggressive language". Either you don't read many blogs, or you're using a broad brush approach to criticise bloggers - which is exactly the thing I found so irritating about Valentine's original ourburst.

  5. I don't need to provide any evidence when I'm talking about what I've read on blogs. What do you want? A copy of my browsing history?

    For someone who objects to "a broad brush approach", you're not above making assumptions about me, even though you know nothing about me.

    By the way, why would I want to "criticise bloggers", seeing that I have been running a beer and music blog since March 2009. I disagreed with some people, that's all. Keep it in proportion.

  6. I have been a CAMRA member for 36 years, was a founder committee member of Wirral branch in 1976 and am a former Chairman of the branch. My devotion to real ale is unwavering. The vast majority of bloggers will have similar views.
    That doesn’t mean that I have to keep my head buried in the sand. I spend a lot of time in Belgium and enjoy some superb keg beers which are far better than pints of tepid, flat Greene King IPA or Bombardier for instance which I’ve received on far too many occasions or traditional cider for that matter (why is cider part of CAMRA’s remit?) The Americans have approached the subject of brewing good beer without being chained to a set of rules and are now producing some superb beers.
    In 1974 it was simple. Keg and tank beer were awful, full stop. The first generation of
    CAMRA devotees drank cask beer or nothing. The more inquisitive drinkers of today under the age of 30 don’t feel hidebound by dogma. If it tastes good they’ll drink it regarding of dispense. So CAMRA will either fade away as the membership grows old or the new drinkers will eventually take control unfettered by past restrictions. The only question is when the change will take place.

    Millions of pints are supped in those venues that will never take cask ale. CAMRA has only ever nibbled around the edges of these outlets. How often does the cask ale drinker get that sinking feeling when invited to a wedding or anniversary celebration that will be awash with awful keg beer. A total waste of a Saturday night. If CAMRA campaigned to introduce craft or RAIBs into these venues that would be real service and more useful than pushing existing real ale pubs into taking beer from another obscure and unproven micro. But, CAMRA branches are unwilling to do this. They’d rather organise a coach trip to a beer festival or a town already awash with good beer. That is true because I’ve wasted my time in the past trying to change the mindset from within. I failed.
    CAMRA has never been criticised by beer drinkers to any great extent previously and don't seem to be handling it very well.

  7. Nev - I've no idea why you'd want to criticise bloggers, and that's why I pointed that I think that saying 'most bloggers' is innaccurate. I'm not sure what I've said is out of proportion.