Monday, 13 October 2008

It's a matter of perspective

I believe it is an exciting time for Real Ale and speciality beers. It is the only part of the beer industry that seems to be doing OK. It is also an exciting time for the hospitality industry. More people are eating out than ever before. With the current economic crisis many people are thinking twice about that new car or moving house or that extravagant shopping trip. But we all need little treats and eating out is one such little treat that can fill the gap when we can't afford larger treats. They are "bite sized", can be justified case by case. The standard of food in this country is thankfully improving and more and more people are looking for something different.

Pubs are part of the hospitality industry, but there is much to be worried about here. Pubs are closing and the industry is running the risk of going stale. Restaurant style service is gaining ground and the habits of customers are challenging the position of the pub.

Now before I go any further, I have to point out that I really am a strong supporter of CAMRA. Without CAMRA we would very likely have little real ale and we would have to drink some sort of fizzy substitute. Having an organisation to support the beer and pub industry provides a useful lobbying group and has been, amongst other things, responsible for the duty discount that small brewers like us enjoy.

I know many people who are members of CAMRA and I'd like to think that some of the local branch members are friends of mine. This does not mean that I have to agree with them though. Most CAMRA members come from the perspective of the consumer, after all the organisation is a consumer group. CAMRA's main aim is to protect the rights of drinkers. It has been very successful in doing this for over 30 years.

Without CAMRA the pub and beer industry would certainly be different today. Although I do believe that CAMRA is one of those things that was bound to happen in some form or another. In the USA for instance there is an incredible growth of craft breweries and various beer organisations. It still remains a fact that CAMRA has had a huge positive influence on pubs.

But there are thoughts that are different to the CAMRA perspective. Some of these alternative perspectives come from drinkers who have some different views and some people who's livelyhoods rely on beer. Sometimes these can be the same people, like me.

I am getting the feeling I need to justify my voicing of opinions here. It would seem that my friend Ted thinks that I'd be better off brewing beer, especially if it had oak in it cut up with my diesel chain saw. I wonder if he thinks I'm winging about things that I can't change. Maybe he's right. But I feel an urge to express some of my own views. I will accept that they are only my perspective and everybody has a right to their view. I feel this is a better way to do it than getting out my soap box in the bar and putting everybody off their pint, although that does happen sometimes as well.

When we came here we had a rather rosy view of how to run a pub. Bright eyed and bushy tailed we set to trying to make it work. Very soon we found there were a huge stack of unsolvable problems. This stack of problems must be similar in many other pubs. It's just a question of how severe the problems are. Further to this I believed that serving good quality Real Ale that was well kept was all that CAMRA required and if you did this CAMRA would be the pubs saviour. I think CAMRA would like to believe this to be true. I'm sorry, but it's not, at least not as much as I think it could be.

Now we did go through a very dark period when we got to dislike CAMRA quite significantly. But we started to brew beer and amongts other things we got into the Good Beer Guide. I decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to join CAMRA. After all, if you can't beat them, join them. This was the start of a road to understanding better the perspective from their point of view.

It's still the case though, that if you are trying to make a living out of beer you are always considered partly the enemy. I think this is something of a shame. CAMRA want cheap beer, quality beer, comfortable pubs, cheap beer, full pints, cheap beer, a good variety of beer, cheap beer, no pubs shutting, cheap beer.......

The demands are not all achievable and certainly not all in every single pub. There are plenty of beer related blogs that are starting to explore these issues and I think this is good. I don't agree with some of the things that are said, but the discussion is very healthy, providing we keep it good humoured and try at least to appreciate all perspectives, if we can.

We believe we have changed the style of service at our property to one that is sustainable and that has a future. I intend to cover some of the issues that may be preventing the move forward of the whole of the pub industry. Pubs are failing and I believe part of the reason for this is a failure to move forward. I do believe that CAMRA hinder this to some extent by objecting to some ideas that may well be the future of the beer industry. This future requires us to look at the whole concept of the pub as we know it.

As I said in the beginning, it's an exciting time, I hope you will enjoy sharing this excitement with me.


Jeff Pickthall said...

"In the USA for instance there is an incredible growth of craft breweries and various beer organisations" - curiously enough it has happened without a self-appointed "campaigning organisation." The boom in the American craft sector depended on having a relatively free market - any beer can be sold in any bar. Ken Grossman, creator and sole owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company told me in an interview for What's Brewing "we couldn't have done it with your system [the tie]. I can't see why CAMRA supports it."

You're right about cheapness being a big concern. When you're running a bar, robbing Peter to pay Paul to make it work, the last thing you want is some herbert bending your ear about cheapness. When I worked for Utobeer we'd get idiots asking "I'm a member of Camra, do I get a discount?". They didn't realise how close they came to getting a thick ear.

The Woolpack Inn said...

mmmm..well I'm going to Oregon soon , partly for the purpose of beer research, so perhaps I'll get some more state side view on this.

Meanwhile I think I need to be careful about what I say about CAMRA as they do after all put my pub in the Good Beer Guide.

But cheap beer is not the answer to keeping pubs open, just the reverse in fact. But there is more coming on this one.....