The world of real ale is reaching the crossroads.  We have travelled far enough up the road that we are no longer a niche product for old men with beards and is accepted as a regular drink of choice across all sectors of the population, young, old, male, female.  We are gaining market share and sales in a declining sector and being added to more pubs beer selection on a daily basis.  It is now accepted that a pub worth its salt should have at least one good real ale on tap, with many “non ale house” pubs now having two or three such beers.  The level for being called a “ale house” is generally considered to be 4 or 5 pumps minimum.

But were do we go from here, do we stick to the traditional view of real ale which CAMRA takes, cask conditioned and no added carbon dioxide, or do we move forward to an age of “Cask and Craft Ale”.  Do we need a CAMRA or a CAMRCA (Campaign for Real and Craft Ale) going forward.  CAMRA has done a great job over the last four decades to get the product where it is today, but in recent times it seems to be losing direction, or rather being too narrow in its direction.  They are in danger of becoming beers equivalent of Will Carlings “57 Old Men” at the Rugby Football Union.

The American Craft Ale scene is thriving on a town, county, state and national level because they embrace all different kinds of beer.  All that is matters is that the beer is distinctive, well brewed, tastes good and does not come from a mainstream brewer.  They care not what vessel the beer was produced or that it does or does not contain certain ingredients, excepting the obligatory malt, hops and water, as long as all those ingredients are natural.

In a time when the big trade bodies (CAMRA, SIBA and Cask Marque) are joining forces both via sponsorship and joint campaigns, there cannot be a perceived “lock out” of certain styles of beer just because it doesn’t fit into the existing definition of one of its members.  Keg beer is no longer the domain of “Watneys Red Barrel” and bland lagers, but also includes many quality interesting ales brewed in the UK which have had success in this country and world beer markets both critically and commercially.

There is a tipping point for any organisation where reaches a certain plateau and its actions and words are judged the national stage.  CAMRA has reached this level in the authors opinion.  Its’ “Cask Report” is now a well respected publication both inside and outside of the trade and its’ press releases reach the national press on a regular basis.  However some of its words and actions over the last 6 months have tarred its reputation for those who follow the trade.

The spat with Brewdog over payment / packaging sizes / keg brewed beer at the Great British Beer Festival (depending on who you believe) was a fight with the wrong brewer who courted the publicity for their own good and discredited its adversary rather efficiently,  getting far more press than having a handful of beers at the festival ever would.  This episode made the organisation look stuck in its ways.  This view was re-enforced by the chair of CAMRAs’ derogatory comments in May about keg beer and inappropriate language when discussing supermarkets and government policy.  I agree with him in sentiment on the last two points, but would have worded it in a more professional way.  Regarding the Brewdog incident I sit entirely on the Scottish brewers lawn.

CAMRA reached 40 last year, and appears to be having its mid life crisis, the respect which they have rightly earned will erode quickly if they do not get a hold of the situation quickly and talking without first thinking in public.  There needs to be change at the top to reflect the modern face of real ale in all its guises, and not just the chair, but across the top table generally.  Young blood keeps an organisation on its toes. CAMRA cannot afford to rest on its heels.

I want CAMRA to survive and thrive, so the good work so far can be continued, but a sustained period like the last 6 months will rapidly turn me off them as an organisation.  I hope that this criticism and that from other people will be taken on board and acted upon.

  1. Bailey says:

    A fair and balanced view, very much in line with ours. Unfortunately, it seems that we are expected to take sides as people take to simplify the debate. If any tolerance is shown to any keg beer, the suggestion seems to be, it opens the floodgates and undoes 40 years of hard work.

    Personally, I think that’s daft.

    Can’t be doing with a black-and-white view of the world.

    • admin says:

      I’m glad it came across that way, it was intended to. Good beer is good beer, the americans don’t get a lot of things right, but big food, good burgers and their craft ale scene are things they do very well.

  2. Ed says:

    I though Brewdog ended up looking like scheming liars over the GBBF thing, but then I’d been tiring of their stunts for some time.

    I’ve seen a few people post about CAMRA having problems, but all of them seem to ignore the facts that CAMRA is bigger than it’s ever been, is still growning, has an average age that is coming down, and has an increasing proportion of women members.

    Not to say that there aren’t things that I’d be happy for CAMRA to change, but I can’t imagine they’re losing any sleep at CAMRA HQ about how the organisation is going at the moment.

    • admin says:

      They are doing well at the moment, with their membership becoming younger and more diverse. But this is the plateau I think they are hitting. Real Ale is accepted as an acceptable drink, and they are a well respected (in the main) as national organisation. But can they rest on their laurels, and then in 5 years time find out that membership is falling and they have become irrelevant. Success takes hard work and that is what they have been doing for 40 years, If they relax now, then it could be undone very quickly. Younger people are more open to new ideas where they are relevant and I think that is what CAMRA should be moving to.

  3. Steve says:

    The move can only be effected by young members and other forward-looking elders proposing motions at AGM and getting them accepted, which (as I’ve said time and time again) is easier said then done as conference is largely populate dby the more conservative CAMRA members, as they tend to be the ones with the most free time (big generalisation maybe). Even motions to allow cask breathers are continually voted down.

    • admin says:

      These conservative members are what will become the “57 old men”. People who want change will be disheartened and eventually drop away from CAMRA to form an organisation which suits their demands. This is the point in time where CAMRA will be in danger of decline in serious way with a rival organisation vying for members. A little bit of leeway will go a long way in keeping more “radical” members on side.

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