Tuesday 24 March 2009

Campaign for Good Beer?

Since I've started reading the thoughts of other beer nerds online I've noticed there's a certain amount of disquiet about CAMRA:

This person
 has after much dithering decided not to joining CAMRA as they obsess about marginal issues and ignorantly only promote ale in the good beer guide. He jokingly says he'd like to see CAMEL - the Campaign for (cheap) Economic Lager. 

This person
has had run-ins with CAMRA members and wants to see a Campaign for Proper Keg Beer. 

And this person thinks that CAMRA members are fat beardy wierdys who fart lots and are too cosy with Weatherspoons.
I'm sure I could go on.

But is this all justified? Do we need something new? I do have my own problems with CAMRA so I'd hesitate to say they're not guilty but so far I think the case is not proven.

Yes there are fat social misfits in CAMRA, probably at a higher proportion than in the general population (does anyone remember 'Team Tango'?)  but I can't help but feel that someone who spends their free time writing a beer blog is on dangerous ground when they start mocking others. I'm happy to be out and  proud as a beer nerd! And I've had more problems with people farting in pubs than at beer festivals (which are usually held in places with high ceilings). Bring back smoking that's what I say, you never noticed farts when pubs smelt of fags.

As to decent keg ales and lagers CAMRA does in fact actively promote them provided they come from outside the UK. OK, so that get out clause CAMRA give themselves is clearly bullshit but it does mean you usually see quality keg beers at CAMRA beer festivals at the foreign beer bar. At Greenwich beer and jazz festival as well as the foreign beer bar there was even a bar from Meantime brewery selling their 'proper' keg beers.

Now I have drunk some decent keg beer in my time, at Sam Smith's pubs and the Meantime brewery's pub amongst others but to be honest I still prefer decent cask beer to decent keg. Whilst I was at Heriot-Watt I even got a try a beer in both cask form and filtered and kegged form. The keg beer was good but the cask version was noticeably better.

CAMRA members can come across as being like Orwellian sheep chanting 'cask beer good, keg beer bad' but to be honest I still think this is a good starting point. The problem really arises when they don't take this as a starting point but, as Richard Boston said back in 1976 "show the fanaticism of religious dementia". He continued "It has been said of some of their members that they would drink castor oil if it came from a handpump, and would reject nectar if it had no more than looked at carbon dioxide". People who behave like that are obviously twats but surely they can only be small minority of CAMRA members.

One of my particular bugbears with CAMRA is the simplistic line on bottled beers that 'bottle conditioned = good and filtered = bad'. The higher carbonation you get in bottled beer makes the difference between 'real ale' and keg much less obvious. I'm sure most hardened beer nerds will have  come across horribly infected bottle conditioned beers from micros and be fully aware that there some cracking stuff in bottles without yeast. But once again CAMRA do actually fudge this one a fair bit. In '300 beers to try before you die' there are loads of beers without yeast in that are highly praised, many of them from the UK.   

As to CAMRA's links to Weatherspoons I'm not convinced there's anything more going on than the discount vouchers for members and the plug CAMRA gets in the Weatherspoons magazine. I suspect that CAMRA are simply sticking to their long held policy of promoting pubs almost exclusively on the quality of their beer. Awful pubs Weatherspoons may be, but they do generally have a wide range of cask beers on and they're usually kept well. As it is, I do disagree with rating a pub solely on the quality of its beer as drinking a decent pint in a shithole doesn't alter the fact that you're in a shithole, but the Good Beer Guide still has its uses. It does, after all, make clear when a pub is a Weatherspoons so they're easily avoidable. I should have twigged that Surrey University sports bar would also be as crap as it sounds despite the decent beer though. 

So is something new needed to replace CAMRA? No, I don't think it's necessary.

Should CAMRA evolve into a Campaign for Good Beer? Yes, but I think that's happening anyway. 

Should people get involved to help this happen? Well, you can if you like but even though I'm a member I can't see myself going to a CAMRA branch meeting. It would be full of beardy wierdys and smell of farts. No, I shall campaign for good beer by buying it, making it and drinking it. And of course mouthing off on the internet about it!



  1. I like to consider myself a drinker, with a knowledge of beer. With knowledge comes the acceptance that not everything is the same, and you make do. And another point, how good does it really have to be? I'm in agreement that there's something very nice about cask conditioned ales. But in saying that, there's some ales that are also very nice kegged. Take a trip to San Diego for the proof. Anyone who would say it's crap because it's not cask conditioned is a fool. CAMRA has instilled into the everyday Joe that keg beer is inferior to cask beer. But is it really? It's subjective.
    Would you rather have a pint of John Smith's Magnet on cask, or Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA from the keg? Granted there are differences in Abv, but I'd take the Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. There are some cask beers that I won't even rate. I can't stand Fuller's ESB on cask, but love it in keg form. If I had the choice of drinking Samuel Smith's OBB, or a bottle of their Pale Ale, I'd take the Pale Ale, which I believe is their Museum Ale in bottled form. Museum is no longer available in cask form, but it's quite possibly the best cask conditioned beer I've ever drank.

  2. I think people are forgetting why CAMRA was formed in the first place. It was to fight the tide of tasteless keg beer and protect cask conditioned real ale. While it is nice to know about how succulent some Yankee keg beers are, it is neither here nor there as far as UK keg beers are concerned, as the vast majority are still dire. I too have drunk excellent US keg beers. So what? It isn't the case here and we don't campaign in the US.

    As for attending CAMRA meetings or not, suit yourself. It isn't for everyone. Oh and as for beardy weirdies, these are by far in the minority and not at the forefront of anything, except maybe farting, but as most don't attend CAMRA meetings despite what you might think, (unless you are in the South where most of them seem to hail from) that's not a great worry.

    Good to have you in the blogging world. Keep telling it as you see it. Now I've discovered you (thanks Sausage) I'll put a link to you on my blog.


    This is a good statement:

    "I can't help but feel that someone who spends their free time writing a beer blog is on dangerous ground when they start mocking others."

  3. Artist formerly known as Wurst: I'm quite happy to make do (particularly if the alternative is not drinking!), and as said I definitely rate some draft keg beers over some cask beers. I do, in general, prefer cask to keg though.

    Tandleman: Thanks for the link (and thanks to the Artist formerly known as Wurst too).

    Yes, CAMRA did fight off the red (barrel) menace but that was a few decades back and there does seem to be a feeling CAMRA hasn't moved on enough.

    And don't take the beardy wierdy thing to heart. It was meant to be a bit of self depreciating humour as I'd criticised exactly that line earlier in my post and I'd said I'm a CAMRA member myself. I don't have a beard though. Or a beer gut. But I'm not saying anything about the farting.

  4. I think packaging is about choice. It's not practical for small micro's in the north to send casks down to London, or overseas. Put the same beer in a keg and you don't have that problem.
    CAMRA does seem to have an image problem, but instead of constantly critising it, I am thinking about joining so I can do something about it. This won't stop me CAMRA bashing and slinging crap at weird beards though!

  5. Yeah, they do have an image problem. They need a Sexy Men of CAMRA calender or something along those lines.

  6. LOL! Excellent idea for the CAMRA sexy men calendar it's sure to be a best seller.

    As to keg being better for transport, yes that's true, but the beer might start the same but it won't come out the in cask or keg versions. I supect with keg beers you'd probably be better off with doing something like what Fullers does with bottled Pride and ESB and bumping up the strength a bit to get more flavour.

  7. There is a point to add here. One of the biggest problems a small brewery has is getting its containers back. Kegging beer won't solve that. And plenty northern brewers do send cask beers south. That's where reciprocal arrangements and beer agencies come in. They also ensure casks are rapidly recycled. The industry is a lot more complicated than most think.

  8. Good point, but breweries do reach a size where they want to start selling things further afield. The brewery I worked at managed to flog a load of cask beer abroad (they made sure they'd got a hefty deposit on the casks first). It got held up at customs and turned to vinegar.

  9. "I can't help but feel that someone who spends their free time writing a beer blog is on dangerous ground when they start mocking others."
    It might be dangerous but it can sometimes be jolly good fun!

    I have a love/hate relationship with CAMRA - it does some fantastic work mainly carried out by volunteers but at the same time seems a little out of touch with the real world - I don't think I could sit through another CAMRA meeting as I either lose the will to live or want to give someone a good shake. It's my age!

  10. !I have a love/hate relationship with CAMRA " So have I mate and so do most people who do a lot of work for CAMRA.

    Oh and this "real world" that CAMRA is out of touch with. Please detail. I'd like to know what I'm missing, so I can mend my ways.

  11. "I don't think I could sit through another CAMRA meeting as I either lose the will to live or want to give someone a good shake."

    As someone who has chaired thousands of meetings in work, Trade Union and CAMRA, I can assure you that feeling happens at almost all meetings (-;

  12. Tandleman - Brewdog are distributing in disposable plastic kegs and casks now. While this does add a small premium to the price of the product, it does negate the need to return kegs/casks. Surely the ongoing cost of collection and cleaning is similar to the cost of the disposable container in the long run?

  13. "As someone who has chaired thousands of meetings in work, Trade Union and CAMRA, I can assure you that feeling happens at almost all meetings (-;" - I sit through and chair meetimgs at work, many moons ago did it with the Labour Party and have in the more recent past sat through Quaker business meetings. I still have to at work as that's my job but when it comes to one's recreation it gets more difficult each time to find the motivation. Perhaps I should give it one more go?

    "CAMRA - it does some fantastic work mainly carried out by volunteers" - I'm as guilty as the next person of sometimes forgetting this.

  14. Tim - Disposable? I know of plenty who sell their beer in plastic. All are very much returnable. Tell me more.

  15. Tandleman, I'll drop you an email in regards to disposable kegs.