Thursday, 11 November 2010

CAMRA's Enemy Within?

The ripples from Pete Brown's recent reflections on draught beer dispense have widened and observers such as Rabid Barfly, Zythophile and Barm have entered the debate.

Zythophile contextualises the CAMRA viewpoint, and to me that's quite important, since CAMRA has defined the debate for many years with a general tendency to define cask beer both by what it is, and by what it's not, which was explicit in their raison d'etre as a campaigning body.

But times change, and so do markets and technology, and memberships. Over time CAMRA seems to have made itself a hostage to fortune over their strict definition of what keg beer is - see the opening paragraph here. And today many of the new wave of brewers who produce excellent and award-winning cask beer are also displaying an encouraging open-mindedness about kegging some of their beer using new technologies. Attendees at The Rake's recent South-West Beer Fest would have noted how much good beer was available on keg, some from brewers who retain a commitment to casking their beer. How does CAMRA's orthodoxy adapt to deal with this?

Then we have the huge but largely passive group of new members signed up over the past few years. The numbers give CAMRA significant clout, but the membership seem largely distanced from the politics and agenda-setting. And now the organisation is proposing to centralise control of subscriptions in order to manage funds for campaigning. Campaigning for or against what? Full pints? Pub closures? Like some other bloggers, I'd like to see some work on promoting good cellarmanship, not just printing an advertorial of the latest Cask Marque joiners and leavers. Judging from my recent local experience, in some areas you need to buy your pint from a tied house to ensure it's in good form. Or perhaps CAMRA see that as SIBA's job? Or do they already do it via GBG updates? I dunno.

Keg beer won't go away. CAMRA itself hasn't been averse to selling it at GBBF. And encouragement and availability of foreign beers at official fests could be said to have fanned the flames that has created the market that UK-based keg brewers are keen to take a share of. There's also been much said about CAMRA's ageing activist base. How and whether those people can be replaced will be something the organisation will have to address in the near future, or face gaps in its coverage. But another threat to their effectiveness or relevance is clinging to 70's attitudes in the 21st Century. It will be interesting to see how 'fit for purpose' they think they are when it comes to picking apart the bones of their current review.

18 comments:

EyeChartBrew said...

I wonder how many of the "huge but largely passive group" of members of CAMRA are only in it for the discounts on the GBG's and other swag? Like myself, that is.
//TB

Barm said...

To clarify a couple of things:

As I understand it, there is no keg beer served at GBBF. The German and Czech beers are served by gravity or air pressure. I believe Earl's Court has its own bars selling keg, but these are nothing to do with CAMRA.

The "strict" definition of what keg beer is is the same one that's been used by the entire brewing industry in the UK for the last 30 years. It's a bit premature to change it just because some brewers are experimenting with keykegs in London.

Sid Boggle said...

@Barm: there has been keg on the US bar. A few years ago when a shipment went AWOL, the entire US offering was Sierra Nevada kegs served via extraneous CO2. I didn't hear any complaints, though...

Cooking Lager said...

You should have started this shit storm, Boggle, not responded to it. Create a new shit storm. Keep your No1 spot!

Ian said...

The Sierra Nevada was not served under CO2.

Sid Boggle said...

@Ian: An 'extraneous gas' then.

@ECB: As a 'Top Bun', you may not know much about UK Trades Unions, but this kind of adding value was popular when they tried to attract new members. Nothing wrong with it as such, except you wonder who's joining for the cheap travel insurance, and who signs up to add their voice to the groups...

rapopoda said...

Cask Beer has two key values
1) Heirloom
2) It an appropriate and arguably better dispense mechanism for some, but DEFINITELY NOT ALL, styles of beer.
CAMRA is a useful organization for education and standards for "real ale". It is the opinion of this frequent visitor, however, that their dogmas will be their undoing. If they hope to increase their impact and import, and ultimately survive as something more than a cute historical footnote, their focus needs to move from their definition of "real" to artisanal.

Ian said...

Sid Boggle said...
@Ian: An 'extraneous gas' then.

so NOT CO2, it's important in these debates to be factually correct.
CAMRA will never accept CO2 as a method of dispense, the issue with the 'new' Keg beers revolves not just around the method of dispense but that other important criteria 'is it still a live beer?'

Barm said...

New Keg is a pretty good neologism actually, I like it. Is it still a live beer? Yes it is. It's not filtered, it's not pasteurised, it's just racked bright off the yeast into the keg. As far as I'm concerned that's more real than Marston's filtered FastCask rubbish.

beerevolution said...

Even air contains 0.0314% carbon dioxide...

Uh-oh...

:)

Kelly

Sid Boggle said...

@Ian: Are you still talking about the SN beers served under gas at GBBF? I know they were served under extraneous gas pressure (factually correct). Is nitrogen OK? A blend of gases?

Jason Stevenson said...

It is the CAMRA statement that beer in a keg needs to be filtered and pasteurised that gets me ever time. Yes we use CO2 and that stops the beer spoiling but it does not have to make it "Fizzy" what do you think the yeast produces when you add sugar!!! (alcohol and deadly CO2!!) at least we are not adding anything to our beer but Water, Hops, Malt (Barley and Wheat) and Yeast. No extra sugar but beer brewed to German purity laws, so it can't be all that bad can it?

Well I can tell you, it's not every week we struggle to keep up with demand for our "intangible" product my hope that even if CAMRA don't embrace Keg they change the negative stance they have and stop campaigning against small "Craft breweries" that choose to keg there beer.

Jason Stevenson
Lovibonds Brewery

Barm said...

Jason, when has CAMRA campaigned against you? I haven't seen or heard anything like that, but then I don't live in London. I do know that Meantime, who make more kegged beer than you do, get a lot of positive coverage, including a half page article by Protz in last month's What's Brewing.

Sid Boggle said...

@ Barm & Jason: Seems to me you can't know the stance every branch adopts towards brewers in their areas. And it also occurs that Meantime now cask more beer than they used to. It's hard to see CAMRA criticising brewers who offer (and are committed to) both.

Tandleman said...

As I recall, the Sierra Nevada was served by that other gas. Air!

Jason Stevenson said...

BARM, Sorry if you read my post as CAMRA campaigning against us, this was not my intention.

I have explained my position on Ed's and Tandleman's blogs so will not fully go into it.

My statement should have said that whilst CAMRA maintain false statements on their website the more "passionate" (we shall call them) members of CAMRA will use this to round on us and quote it back to us as it is on the web site of the "UK beer authority"

Jason

Rob Nicholson said...

>that their dogmas will be their undoing. If they hope to increase their impact and import, and ultimately survive as something more than a cute historical footnote, their focus needs to move from their definition of "real" to artisanal

Many CAMRA members are not blind to this and the result was that an review was instigated by the members at the last AGM. This review is been chaired by an external person and many of us hope that it will end up with a much clearer strategy for what CAMRA is for the next (say) five years.

A radical view is that CAMRA has won the fight and the organisation should be disbanded or turned into a beer enthusiasts club. At the other end is the view that there is still much left to campaign for but that is most likely not the aims of the 1970s.

Interesting times.

Birkonian said...

CAMRA certainly hasn't won the fight in vast swathes of the U.K.
Here in Wirral, Birkenhead is a town of 100,000 residents without a GBG entry and no 'New Keg' either. Metropolitan drinkers may tire of cask, the rest of us are still waiting for it to arrive.
My opinion is simple. Some keg and bootled beers may taste o.k. butcask and bottle conditioned beers taste better.