CAMRA Revitalisation : “One Step Beyonnnnnd!”

“I am an American aquarium drinker. I Assassin down the avenue….”

(“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” – Wilco)

“Hello. My name is Jim. And I’m a member of CAMRA……”

I live my social life in a bubble. My particular bubble has beer at its core. Talking /drinking/socialising about/around it. This bubble leads to the formation of an “echo chamber” mentality. One that reinforces your personal belief systems, because no other system intrudes.

Let me be clear however. My beliefs are mine. I own this bullshit myself. The fact that others share them makes them equally intelligent / deluded (delete as appropriate).

On and off, I’ve been a CAMRA member for 30 years or so. I wandered in and out initially having become massively underwhelmed – having got “involved” – at the cliqueyness (a real word?) of branch meetings.

I was young – at least 20 years younger than the majority – and obviously had no place speaking up. I’d wandered in to a “club”. And I needed another membership to join in.

It felt like walking into “The Slaughtered Lamb”. I gave up.

Then, 6 years ago, I started to pay attention to beer again. Something in beer had changed. There was a new feeling, something refreshingly carbonated. It had a name “Craft Beer”. I was intrigued.

I felt like Pizarro. I wanted to explore this New World of beer. To slash away at the undergrowth in the jungle to reach the temples, uncover the gold. I drank my first Human Cannonball. I’d found gold. I wanted more.

I started blogging. And I’ve never looked back.

Through that I started to meet some of the leading lights of CAMRA locally. Passionate people, who cared about BEER. In all its forms.

Yes, their pre-eminent adoration was “Real Ale”, but they weren’t blind to the charms of good beer not served from a cask. They just loved good beer. Their hearts were open to change. They campaigned for change.

In Venn diagram terms, there is an intersection there with that bubble. These guys have a foot in that intersection. Call them “progressives” if you like.

But that bubble, is tiny. As anyone who attended the enormofest that is The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival can attest. Beer Nerds were completely swamped by “Beer Drinkers”. People who may never attend a beer festival NOT run by CAMRA. For whom the organisation is some kind of guarantor.

THESE are the people who keep pub cash registers opening and closing. Not Beer Nerds like me.

THESE drinkers or – to further distil – the Silver Card toting CAMRA Members – are the people to whom the recently launched “Revitalisation – Proposed Changes” are aimed. The ones who have the final “Yay or Nay”

And that is what worries me.

CAMRA had – at AGM – gone some way to recognise “Craft” Beer with the Key Keg Fudge. Getting some craft ‘in” with reference to secondary fermentation in the vessel.

Or – to allow paraphrasing – “Not all Keg is Evil”

Some of us even had our little bit of fun….

May I be so bold as to say GOOD BEER IS JUST THAT. GOOD BEER.

Bollocks to divisiveness. If it tastes good, it IS good. It really is THAT simple.

So, to me, the key change elucidated in the Revitalisation proposals is this one. The one that may be hardest to swallow with the Silver Carders…

  • CAMRA’s scope widens to include quality beer of all types

Think about that the a moment. It is tectonic in its shift.

“…. quality beer of all types…..”

WOW.

THAT is going to be the Devil’s own job of a sell to the voting masses!

Now then, before I get slaughtered, those who know me well know, I adore cask conditioned beer and did myself – until about 5 years ago – prefer it to any other method of dispense.

Then I slowly started to recognise (and truly appreciate) that hoppy Pale styles of beer actually benefited from gentle carbonation. That it actually lifted the hop flavours. Yes, I’ve got an issue with temperature, but I quickly found a solution. Give it a minute or two to adjust. It’s not rocket science.

But don’t try persuade me about Stouts and Porters (not to mention Mild). Cask (and – being a militant Northerner – through a sparkler) is the only game in town on the dark side. For texture and flavour, unbeatable.

And another “recommendation”….

  • CAMRA will campaign for and promote all on-trade venues where quality beer, cider and perry is sold, not just traditional pubs and clubs

I kind of get the point. But Clubs? When pubs are in crisis, with the value of the land they occupy worth more than the business? With pubcos sitting on property riches? I’d stick to supporting and campaigning for traditional pubs.

Don’t get me wrong, some pubs aren’t worth the effort.

But that’s one area where I’d narrow the focus.

A big personal bugbear is this next one though….

  • CAMRA will not extend its current support of the off-trade

Now there’s a thing.

I’ve lost count of the number of breweries in this country, is it 2000+ now? How many of them thrive on draught beer alone? For those – and I guess that’s not a small number – that don’t, small pack is vital. Without it, they couldn’t survive.

Personally, I like the choice of breweries we have. And the choice of beer they bring.

Breweries need to make money. In the competitive market as it stands, draught beer  alone doesn’t do it for many.

It sickens me to hear of excellent beer producers folding under the pressure of work, trying to master all elements of the business, running to stay still. The sheer stress.

It isn’t practical for all breweries to have “brewtaps”. The graft involved is immense – especially for small operators – and these guys need other ways of getting beer in people’s mouths. And that means small pack.

There are numerous small independent retailers pushing out. Supporting Micros. Giving them shelf space. Selling exceptional beer. Why should THEY not be supported too? If the Campaign is prepared to support “clubs” which have other sources of income – membership etc – why not Independent off-sales? (And balls to undercutting supermarkets)

That one is a burr under my saddle.

And don’t get me started on Cider & and Perry.

I keep hearing about almost 200k people being members of the campaign. I truly wonder for how much longer these numbers will be sustained.

The CAMRA NEC Revitalisation proposals need to walk a very fine line to carry the membership. There has been some good mood music coming from CAMRA HQ recently. Although it shouldn’t have taken a prompt from the likes of Jaega Wise to kick start the obvious.

And I saw some of the vile filth that the likes of Jaega and Melissa Cole had to put up with on Social Media. Much of which would have been trolls with no interest in beer, just in being offensive.

But change scares some people. Traditional beer drinkers among that number. This “Revitalisation” is important.

The Campaign needs to change to remain relevant to modern drinkers as well as its traditional hinterland. It simply NEEDS to embrace good modern beer along with more traditional ales.

Alongside (and in partnership with) SIBA, it needs to support the producers. In particular independent Micro Breweries and their other (equally vital) outlets.

The outcome of the vote won’t please all. And many membership cards may hover near the shredder depending on the outcome.

Mine included.

Be kind to one another.

Jx

11 comments on “CAMRA Revitalisation : “One Step Beyonnnnnd!”

  1. Your last two paras say it all:….. Support I particular independent micro breweries and their other outlets.’ However, we are a consumers org. Not a welfare group for independent micro breweries (craft beers). We are (at least I hope so) independent from breweries. or focus are craft beers not keg beers.

    • “Not a welfare group for independent Micro Breweries (craft beers)….”

      Now I would agree, were it not for the continued support for “traditional Cider & Perry”.

      I also sense (from your comments) an antipathy towards keg beer.

      It is my firm belief that Good Beer is just that. Good beer. Irrespective of the vessel within which it is contained. The general “anti-keg” argument is rooted in the days before Hardman & Co founded the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. The fact that some members keep harking back to “Watneys Red Barrel” as a comparator to updated methods of dispense is laughable. And I choose my words carefully.

      In a pub with slow turnover, personally, I’d rather have good beer served any which way, than see the pub shut. And I know many senior Campaign figures agree with me.

  2. On National TV last night, an Only Connect contestant’s introduction included the info that he’d “just become a CAMRA member- a decision process that took 30 years”.
    Later the quiz host threatened to dock points when his teammate said the connection between words including feisty was that they were all about women…I despair.
    Good beer is good beer. Period.
    And yes, I’m a CAMRA member. An active one.
    My experience of a branch meeting echoes Jim’s.
    This head in arse attitude makes my blood boil.

  3. I am NOT a CAMRA member, due to my region’s poor stance on anything other than cask. They don’t even seem interested in some of the newer beers coming out of newer breweries that ARE served on cask. They are only interested in maintaining a supply of their favourite fusty old staples. As an active member of the UK home brewing community, we face similar attitudes and perceptions…. people’s idea of what “good beer” actually is, is a mile away from reality. Yes, its subjective, I have no problem with opinion, but when a beautifully crafted beer with fresh flavours and great condition does not get any attention, but the same old pints of Wainright are selling by the bucketload to people who are supposed to be supportive of the scene…. its a shame.

  4. You make some great points. But I do feel that CAMRA shouldn’t go out of their way to support bottled products when pubs are dying. Draft should be the priority, but I feel like some people will buy bottled ales cheap in the supermarket and think it’s fine because ‘CAMRA says this is real ale’.

    As a landlord, this drives me crazy

  5. I read the latest edition of ‘what’s brewing’ only because my dad is a camra member, and i found it actually quite funny that they can’t actually bring themselves to say either the C work, or god forbid the K word either, and when I read the letter from Mr Godwin, it was at that point I actually closed the browser…..they are no way forward thinking, and to be honest I think they are actually kidding themselves if they think they are. Lots of your very well written posts here have highlighted that beer doesn’t have to be cask to be good, I think camra could do well by reading some of your stuff and many other beer bloggers too.

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