CAMRA are bringing out a mixed bag of feelings this month in me. Pushing me away from them is the rejection of the majority of the craft beer motions submitted by the working group which was set up to investigate the matter to its National Executive, although my annoyance is that one in particular was not passed which I shall discuss later. Alongside this is my personal view that they gave their support to the “beer duty escalator” e-petition far too late, although after speaking to the CAMRA marketing manager on Twitter at the time, I agree with him that a co-ordinated industry campaign would have made more of an impact.
However you cannot criticise the Community Pubs Month that is running throughout April. This campaign supports all areas of the brewing trade, directly as in giving publicity to events at local pubs or indirectly in the case of brewers by encouraging beer sales on trade. This is in a time where we are losing far too many pubs in the UK on an annual basis, not being helped by the recent increases in beer duty, cheap off sales and the greed of giant pub companies such as Enterprise Inns.
However moving back to the craft beer issue, CAMRA’s mission is to “support and promote good pubs and real ale”. Who can disagree with the first part, we all want good pubs to survive, but it is the second that is starting to appear to an increasing number of people as being too exclusive.
The proposals which were rejected at the end of March at the AGM can be summarised as
1) recognise good beers exist which are not real ale.
2) CAMRA and SIBA to write definiton of ‘Craft Beer’
3) Positive Campaigning is encouraged throughout CAMRA
4) Audit of CAMRA publications to remove negative comments about ‘Craft Beer’
There were 5 points, but the last was more procedural.
Only point 3 was passed by the National Executive of CAMRA, the one which really made no difference at all. Point 2 would have been almost impossible to implement as beer writers have been wrestling with this issue for the last 6 months and still not come up with a good answer. Point 4 was practical on digital media and future publications, but you can’t retrospectively clean up the already printed word. The only point I wanted to see passed was number 1 – that good beer does not always mean real ale.
There are very good beers out there that do not totally or even partially fall under the current auspices of CAMRA. Brewdog, Hardknott, Thornbridge, Magic Rock and Camden beers can be classed as ‘Craft’ and are well respected among those who know a good beer. We cannot forget the excellent produce of Germany and Czech Republic, Belgium and the craft scene in the US. CAMRA are stating, by rejecting point 1, that none of these are good beers by their definition.
Thankfully they do not take the opposite line that all cask beers are good beers, a fact which is patently false (Greene King disprove this in one sweep), as is the statement that all keg and craft beers are good beers. In every field, at every level of quality there is the good and bad. However it cannot be forgotten that personal opinion is the most important thing when it comes to beer, one mans nectar is another mans vinegar.
I repeat that modernisation is needed by the executive of CAMRA, however it is ultimately down to members to drive this change through pressure on the same people and they won’t get the new members who will push to make these changes when exhibiting the attitudes they do. One cynically blogger speculated that most new members of CAMRA join for the free entry to beer festivals and Wetherspoon vouchers alone. I’m sure a good number do currently!
I’ve never denied that CAMRA do a good job for their aims, but they do represent a slowly shrinking, although still vastly significant share of the ale market. I acknowledge that they are making a good fight back against mainstream lager as a whole and applaud them for it. So lets not finish this piece on a down note, you cannot dispute some of their branch pubs of the year within West Yorkshire, Sparrow Bier Cafe deserves the Bradford award and the West Riding Refreshments Rooms in Dewsbury justify the Heavy Woollen award.
Enjoy your beer however it is dispensed or produced.