Following on from last weeks discussion of CAMRA, with all the benefits it confers to the industry as a whole, and it recent shortcomings.  We now need to discuss how we take real and craft ales into the next 40 years.   What is for certain is that we will need our big “brand name” real ale producers such as Copper Dragon, Thwaites and Black Sheepto keep producing good solid ales and retain their position as being the “gateway” drink that gets people to step into the world of ale from the realm of the mainstream.  This is due to the fact that these are some of the most common breweries you find where there is only one ale pump.  Once we get people to try the more common real ales, they they will be more inclined to try different varieties and styles of beer.The real and craft ale (from this point onward refered to simply as ale) industry currently has a 3 tier structure, the top level comprised of the major “brand name” ale producers, such as those named above.  The next being those who are large scale producers, but not household names to those who have not dipped their toes in the real ale pool, examples being Brewdog, Abbeydale, Salamander, Acorn and Castle Rock.  The last tier are those smaller breweries who operate from every corner of the country, producing smaller runs of beer on a regular basis and servicing a local / regional area or specialist market, such has Halifax Steam, Brass Monkey or Elland in my local vicinity of Calderdale.

This model is one which will serve the trade well going into the future, companies from the small company tier will move into the large scale arena, as will companies move from that to being a “brand name”.  However, the next step will be one of our existing “brand names” breaking the glass ceiling and becoming a company with the public profile of a company such as Greene King, while keeping its brewing heritage and distinctive beers, sadly something Greene King has not in the authors opinion.   This needs to be done organically and not by being purchased by one of the brewing giants and becoming just another brand in their portfolio.  The purchase of Sharps in Cornwall by Molson Coors for example, sees them as an separate brewing operation currently, but 5 or 10 years down the the line, when the profile of ale is raised even higher, will they become the “real ale brand” for their owners.

If CAMRA modernise like I hope they do, then we will have a health partnership between the vast majority of breweries and the major trade body lobbying on their behalf.  But if the “57 Old Farts” remain at the top, and the number of breweries diversifying into craft keg and other beer styles increase as I think it inevitably will, then a schism will appear between the trade body and the suppliers it represents.  I don’t see this happening for the next 10 years at a minimum, but it will happen without modernisation and the emergence of a CAMRCA (Campaign for Real and Craft Ale) will become a possibility.

However this body will not be started by 4 enthusiasts and their passion for real ale, but by the industry players themselves, similar to The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) in concept, but taking in the all levels of ale trade and styles of non mainstream beer.  This body would also take on a campaigning role similar to that of CAMRA currently for its membership.

Once this takes place, then the new organisation can organise their own “branded” beer festivals on a local, regional and nation level showcasing the members products, and the CAMRA events could be let slip off their calendar, depriving CAMRA of valuable revenue.  The opening of membership to the general public and provision of services and discount similar to that of CAMRA would then drain that source of income from the existing trade body as well, leaving the organisation a limping giant.

I’m not suggesting a coup here, but CAMRA are laying themselves open to such a move. More importantly as a drinker, ignoring all the technical discussion above, breweries from any of the three tiers are equally likely to produce a solid session, interesting, distinctive, top class award winning or average beer and one of the joys of drinking ale is that it not easy to predict who will provide your next favourite beer, you only know when you taste that first sip.  Your neighbouring drinker will no doubt disagree with your opinion.   You will never get that discourse with big brand lagers and that is why the real ale game is so enjoyable, because of or despite who represents it.

  1. […] articles I wrote for Pubpaper, but targeted at CAMRA members.  You can find the original articles here and here The world of real ale is reaching the crossroads.  We have travelled far enough up the […]