Sunday, 12 October 2008

It's political....

According to Charles Foster in his wonderful 10 Reasons to drink Real Ale, ale is political. I always knew this. But what is interesting is the problems that this creates. Political normally means thinking either left or right. This has created a cognitive dissonance for me recently.

I have always thought of myself as politically free. I don't vote for who most closely upholds my deep values, but for who I think will be better for me, my family, my friends and my wider community. There is a wider compassionate part that also looks at the people I don't know but who are truly in need of help. I believe that this classifies me as a floating voter.

I have always thought that the mass marketing from multinationals is generally bad. It makes us buy something that is fit for purpose, but may not be good, is consistent in quality, rather than good quality and where most of the value is in the marketing and the costs of the route to market. Whether you like it or not, and I don't like it, it is the thing that keeps the vast majority of our economy going.

It has been recently proven that real ale is more likely to be consumed by affluent people. But wait, don't we feel that CAMRA is a little bit lefty? I think it gives that impression and so does Jeff Pickthall on his blog. But look at the replies to Jeff. Most seem to disagree. On another blog Kerran Cross, who is very clearly to the left of politics, seems to think real ale is the preserve of the rich.

Anti-globalisation is seen as a lefty point of view. Perhaps this is the key lefty impression that CAMRA exudes. But wait, buying local, organic, hand crafted and artisan is for the poncy right surely?

Ann and I travelled down to London recently on Virgin Trains. We could have taken the car and avoided the drunks and constant users of Virgin Mobile phones, but it would have cost us more, emitted more CO2 and taken longer. The red wine was reasonably priced but not good quality. The beer in the buffet car was not worth having. We could have travelled First Class but we're not that poncy, yet.

Without Virgin, or something similar there would be no Intercity trains. Yes, there is the option of a nationalised industry, but is that really any better? It may not be any worse, depending on your viewpoint.

The French drink wine. They drink a lot of it. The social class of the drinker is irrelevant, it is still a national drink. The price of the wine varies incredibly. The consumers disposable income effects the choice and there is a relationship between quality and price, even if there is some question about how much that quality is really worth. The french really care about the provenance of the products they buy and do not consider it poncy to care about that.

Is this because there is only so far you can go with the economy of scale of the production of wine? Grapes are not something that can be harvested with great big combines in huge, oversize fields after cutting down all the hedges. Barley is produced in this way and there is little difference that the quality of the barley makes to the beer. We never think that beer is better because it is made with barley grown on a sunny slope overlooking a Mediterranean beach and has been hand picked by a fair maiden just after sunrise. Hops are different, but I'm ignoring them for now.

So beer can be made, distributed and sold very cheaply in supermarkets. Beer can also be sold more expensively in pubs. This is by necessity a more costly route to market. It can be made in smaller, regional breweries with less economies of scale and perhaps a little more care but because the route to market is shorter there might be cost savings here. It can also be made by small breweries, who perhaps care less about profit and more about people. The brew pub probably benefit from some nice cost savings such as beer duty relief and a very small transport network, but it's still a significantly more costly way to deliver beer to consumers because of a lack of any economies of scale or mass marketing.

Real ale is most successfully produced by small breweries. This appeals to both the anti-globalisation people just as well as it does to the artisan snobs. Perhaps the dichotomy that exists is because real ale appeals across the board to anybody who cares. People who care tend to have a view and when it comes to politics they tend to categorise into left and right. The more you care, the more vocal and passionate you might become.

Perhaps it is a false dichotomy because although Real Ale is political it is both left and right. It is just a view which is passionately held by many. Perhaps CAMRA is not left or right. Perhaps it is just political but individuals left or right views do come out and then opposition to these views precipitate across the organisation and outside.

The government is big, it thinks big, it looks after the big companies. It won't make any difference to the little man if the other side gets in, they will think about the global position as well - and real ale does not fit with that.


Tandleman said...

Some people have the need to label things Dave. I think that's why CAMRA attracts the labels it does, rather than for anything that is evidence evidence based.

The Woolpack Inn said...

You're so right! Like beer. Is it a stout? Is it a porter? Is it a mild? Is that hoppy enough to be an IPA?

Who cares?

Is it nice?