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.

  1. John Clarke says:

    A few factual errors there. The four points you list were not in fact rejected by the AGM – they were suggestions out to the CAMRA National Executive. There were two motions at the AGM and while one was rejected, the other was a a small step in the right direction. It essentially said that “craft beer” is beer with a distinctive flavour brewed by artisans and added that while “most” real ale was craft beer, not all craft beer is real ale. Thus by passing this the meeting did at least recognise that some “non real” beers are distinctive and well made. Not exactly earth shattering but not also not the complete rejection of “non real” craft beer that you seem to suggest.

    It is also incorrect to say that CAMRA represents a “slowly shrinking” share of the ale market. On the contrary, surveys show that cask beer is either in growth or at least declinginf far more slowly than other sectors and is thus gaining market share. Lets not forget that “craft keg” or wharever you want to call it remains a very small niche, sold in a very small number of outlets and made by a very small number of brewers. With the exceptions of Brewdog and Camden even all those you name are primarily cask ale brewers and show no sign of changing that as far as I know

    • admin says:

      One point at a time.

      I said very slowly shrinking share of the “ale” market, not the “beer” market, ale as a whole is growing against lager etc, but craft is very slowly taking more of a share against “real ale”. I agree that it is insignificant at the moment, but give it a few years or a decade.

      By the NE rejecting them they were still born before they got to AGM, the one that passed doesn’t make a difference in reality.

      Us online beer writers game up trying to define craft beer a long time ago, we’d be here forever, the artisan definition is a bit off the mark in my eyes, some of it is by people who think differently about how to brew beer, not sure they would call themselves artisans.

      When you read the detailed wording it is true that you tread a nice line between the real ale line and accepting some, but the day to day message in us non beer geeks eyes is “real ale” is proper beer, perhaps more publicised support would be good.

      Yes many breweries list are cask producers, but they do create keg products which aren’t recognised by you to such a large degree.

  2. John Clarke says:

    Well, ale market or beer market I still think my point is valid. I also think your assertion that “craft” is gaining at the expense of cask is just that- assertion (unless you have some very up to date figures to back this us). All I can say it that cask ale is gaining a greater market share. If “non-real” craft is also gaining market share then great but I do not think there are any stats at the moment to say that increase is at the expense of cask. I do however realise we may be straying into how many angels can dance on the head of a pin territory here.

    Totally agree about the futility of trying to define craft. The best definition I have come across is “a liquid term undefinable outside of its uttered context”. Which kiind of just about sums it up really.

    • admin says:

      OK, I see your point, I’ll clarify what I meant in numbers (all numbers purely for example).

      3 years ago – it (craft beer) was taking 0.001% of a market worth £2 billion
      2012 – now taking 0.3% of a market worth £3 billion

      So its got 300 times its market share of 3 years ago, but that market has grown by 50% in this example, so its took market share in percentage terms, but not in sales terms, as its 0.3% of the extra £1 billion, but real ale has took £997 million per year of that increased market and craft beer got about £3 million per year, no sales cannibalisation, but percentage cannibalisation

      I do think real ale will plateau in near future (10 year or so), and then craft beers could start to take sales.

      This discussion could last as long as what is craft beer when talking about stats. Love the angels dancing on the pin of the head quote, will be using that again.

      That clearer?

      • John Clarke says:

        I taken on board what you are saying – although i don’t think the overall beer/ale market is in fact growing much at all. I think we are currently in the happy situation where both craft keg and cask are both gaining market share and if that is the case then I don’t think it’s really worth bothering unduly about the relative percentages.

        Will cask plateau and will craft keg take sales? Maybe. Personally I’m pretty relaxed about that. By that time CAMRA might have a more sensible policy on it I always say there are two ways of getting CAMRA to change course – you eiher slip something past the AGM so people don’t quite realsie what they have voted for, or it’s like steering the proverbial oil tanker. I think we are in oil tanker mode with this one.

        • admin says:

          Yes, I hope they do, and the non mainstream beer world can unify and move forward, but don’t think this will totally happen unless someone invents flying pigs.

          Beer as a whole is shrinking, real ale is growing within a shrinking market, craft ale is growing within a growing market within a shrinking parent market.

          The oil tanker analogy is probably true, getting something sneakily pasy CAMRA members, mmmmm.

          The joy of stats, one set of numbers can mean 10 different things.