WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT CRAFT BEER …
I admire the efforts of Tim Webb in the last couple of issues of Thirsty Times to raise the profile of “Craft Beer” on the CAMRA agenda. It remains embarrassing that CAMRA persistently champions any number of side issues, some of which are not even relevant to beer, yet continually fails to recognize good, tasty, British brewed beer, albeit served using modern (perhaps imported) storage and dispense methods.
However, we are not the Campaign for good and tasty beer. We are the niche within a niche that is the Campaign for REAL ALE and it is my honestly held belief that we should be concentrating with added focus on our founding principles. Our message as a single-issue campaigning voice would be much louder as a group of almost 200,000 real ale drinkers shouting a simple message without the fog of other “campaigns”. Over time, our campaigning message has become diluted by the decision to support a huge number of these related issues, from cider to historic pubs, from public transport to foreign beer, from complaining about short measures to moaning about levels of alcohol taxation and that’s before I have a poke at so called Real Ale in a Bottle.
Marking CAMRA’s 40th anniversary in 2011, one of the Campaign’s founding fathers, Michael Hardman MBE, said “we are the Campaign for Real Ale – we set out to safeguard that type of beer. If people think that pressurized or processed beer is threatened, they can go away and set up the campaign for genuine Australian lager brewed in Scunthorpe. None of these beers needs any protection.” (Reference : Will Hawkes – The Independent – blogs 23/9/11).
If we are interested in traditional brewery buildings, we can join the Brewery History Society. If we like old pubs, there is the Pub History Society. CAMAL used to be the Campaign for Authentic Lager; the Society of Preservation of Beer from the Wood (SPBW) is still going, and there are member groups of the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU) that are active in most EC beer loving countries. The Campaign for Really Good Beer (CamRGB) was formed specifically to embrace all good beer. APPLE is for cider drinkers (oh, hang on, that is a group within CAMRA but you get my point). All are begging for new members and all are interesting and worthy groups.
But they have hardly any members and zero influence, I hear you cry. Exactly my point! As CAMRA has grown it has transitioned from being the voice of the real ale drinker to become the voice of the beer drinker, nay the alcohol drinker in the recent face of neo-prohibitionists, solely because it is the biggest, most successful, closely relevant, consumer group.
The message to promote fresh, tasty, locally brewed real ale, in a variety of styles, served with a natural sparkle at cellar temperature through a hand pump in a pub at a reasonable price is a simple one that we are losing in the mist.
Most members join CAMRA to campaign for real ale – and don’t think that simply paying a subscription and supping the stuff doesn’t count as campaigning – it does. Real ale remains the type of beer that needs to be safeguarded. We might regularly drink craft keg beer or take the occasional cider, we might often travel abroad on the quest for good foreign beer, we may read a lot about beer, we all like pubs - old pubs, new pubs, craft beer bars and brewpubs, we drink bottled beer and we pay our taxes. Perhaps we like red wine, gin and the odd whisky; we may prefer good cheese, meat and bread. Art or politics may be subjects that stimulate us or being sympathetic to any number of charities and other worthy causes but our individual campaigning – and the issue that still gets me most excited and passionate - is for real ale – and real ale alone. Simples !
Quoting Hardman again, this time from the pages of the Campaign newspaper, What’s Brewing, in December 2011
“ I’m still happy that the core idea is there but I’m a bit concerned that the Campaign is becoming a bit too diversified. Everybody says single-issue idea campaigns do not work, this is one that did work and why we should change tactics I don’t know. Distractions like the full pint campaign, for example, are irrelevant.”
Perhaps you are not with me on this and you may think that this particular horse has bolted. If so, and CAMRA is stuck with all of the other hangers-on, then you may say we must avoid further embarrassment and embrace so-called “Craft Beer”. It is ridiculous to support a beer from Czechoslovakia or Germany and not give a shout-out to nearly identical, good and tasty beers brewed in Camden, Greenwich, Norwich, Henley or dare I say, Aberdeenshire. A niche within a niche within a niche.
CAMRA’s policy making and your influence on its future strategy and campaigning is an open book and a most transparent process. If you agree with anything or nothing that Tim or I have to say then I urge you to join the debate. It is a simple procedure to take a motion to conference in Nottingham next April and let 800+ of the hardest of hardcore campaigners debate the merits of proposed policy changes. Alternatively, just rock up to conference, drink some great beers, meet good like-minded people, join the debate and assert YOUR influence on YOUR Campaign.