Tuesday, 31 March 2009

CAMRA and I

It seems this post is a little overdue. Recently I was slightly taken aback by being accused of being schizophrenic by Tandleman and ducking and weaving by John Clarke in response to this post. Now it's not the fact that they pointed these things out that I was surprised at but more the fact that they thought I didn't know or that they themselves thought it odd.

So, it would seem that it is time for me to nail my colours to the mast as far as CAMRA is concerned.

I love real ale. I love drinking it and I love the fact that it is an important part of my business. The longer I am in the trade the more I feel this way and the more I am convinced that it is going to be a significant part of the future of the licenced trade. I also believe there are other beers that can compliment real ale and help promote a better beer culture, which in turn will help real ale.

I support the main aims of CAMRA. I am a member and try to be involved where I can. But CAMRA is a consumer pressure group and its policies conflict often with my attempts to make a measly living out of my pub. Therefore I am also a sceptic.

The CAMpaign for Real Ale does, as it's core purpose, exactly what it says on the tin. The organisation does also campaign about other issues such as pubs closing. It organises the Good Beer Guide and publishes various other beer titles. I don't have a problem with these things generally.

CAMRA is the only beer and pub orientated consumer group in the UK. Perhaps there should be another one, but there isn't. It has always been, in my mind, a significant pub campaigning organisation. Very often the combination of the "fizzy chemical rubbish" type talk, "the war against lager" slogan and the very definition of real ale can be at odds with the wider issues of the licenced trade. Pressures on pub owners come from all sides and CAMRA is one side of this.

Full pints, beer price, pubs closing and many other side issues makes CAMRA the voice of the generic beer drinker as well as that of real ale. But its determination to give the message that real ale is the only thing that counts makes the organisation seem schizophrenic to me. Real ale is not the only thing that counts in a pub, so if CAMRA cares about pubs it needs to accept that we can discuss these things.

The mass media is not taking beer seriously as a quality product. I think this is partly as a result of narrowness of real ale. Do we really have to form a new beer consumer group to cover wider issues? One that will inevitably fight against CAMRA? Would that really be a good thing? I think we all need to do more to help protect the image of quality beer in a more holistic way. 

I really enjoy the active and constructive commenting that occurs in the beer blogging world. I try to engage in it constructively and intelligently. I don't know if I manage that, but I really try. Yes, I also watch my words sometimes in the hope of avoiding damage to my business unfortunately, sometimes, I get the bit between my teeth and go for it.

Sometimes comments from others make me think and change my own opinions. Perhaps that also makes me seem uncertain about what I think. Perhaps it shows I am not sure exactly what to think on many issues. I'm not going to blindly stick to my principles when somebody has convinced me I'm wrong. This, surely, is one of the great things about blogging.

Avoiding discussion on issues and not being "sidelined by siren calls luring us onto the rocks" feels a little like believing the king has all his clothes on, just because somebody told you so. Of course these discussions are occurring, all over the place in the blogosphire. It's upsetting some people, perhaps that is a shame, but also it's probably inevitable.

Is this ducking and weaving? I don't know, I'm just trying to be honest, that's all.

9 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

I sympathise, but I think you haven't really identified a clear issue there.

I am a life member of CAMRA. Much of what it does is great - in particular providing a local social scene for the beer enthusiast.

But I feel many of its national campaigns are misguided.

As a life member, I have paid my historic subs, so there is little point in resigning. But when CAMRA makes common cause with anti-alcohol groups, I really do start to wonder.

Artist formerly known as Wurst said...

Dave, when the time comes, I will make you a lieutenant in APRK, aka Army for Proper Real Keg! I think you've earned your stripes as a publican and brewer. I will of course fly to England and hold a press conference when this all unfolds. Part of the APRK philosophy is understanding that real ale is important, but does not go full circle when it comes to quality beers. Many real ales are horrifyingly bad because they are not taken care of. Would one rather have a pint of Proper Real Keg, or a crap pint of real ale?
I've had crap pints dispensed without a breather and with a breather. There are so many variables that can turn real ale retched. That's why we need to look at all options and decide accordingly.

Velky Al said...

I think part of the problem of CAMRA, and I am speaking from a non-member but vaguely sympathetic viewpoint, is that there seems to be this continual concept that somehow real ale is always good ale, and if not necessarily good, then better than keg.

I find it interesting that when I meet CAMRA members in Prague, as happens from time to time in various random pubs, they are all to a man drinking lager and pontificating about how wonderful it is, yet I get the feeling that the very same people wouldn't be seen dead with a pint of lager in their hands at home for being seen as fith columnists orthe thin end of the wedge.

To be perfectly blunt, I think the Marston's MD hit the nail fairly and squarely on the head in his recent rant.

What CAMRA has done in saving real ale is excellent, but they should also, as a consumer pressure group, promote improved quality in lager and keg beer as well. Perhaps a broader campaign group is necessary if CAMRA is unable, or unwilling, to accept the fact that keg beer can be every bit as good as cask.

Woolpack Dave said...

Curmudgeon, I think my issue is that I want to be able to continue to be a sceptic whilst also supporting the overall concept of cask ale. I want to be able to support CAMRA, but not ignore what I see as potential opportunity to really improve pubs and beer.

Sausage, yes, we need to be free to explore those options without being afraid of it somehow compromising some sort of fundamental religious type belief.

Velky Al, the problem is that it would be useful to have a consumer group that was looking at promoting wider quality beer. I don't really want to see a group that might end up at odds with CAMRA so I would prefer CAMRA to broaden it's view a little. It has improved and many, including Tandleman, have this broader acceptance, nay embrace, of other styles of beer.

Tandleman said...

I think you may have confused what I said in some ways. I think the siren call was about mischievous bloggers luring you, not keg beer. My views on that are quite clear. If someone wants to brew quality keg, more power to their elbow, but I do believe that here, at the quality end, it will only ever be a niche.

The schizophrenic bit was a remark about a specific post, not a general comment, so please don't think it was an all embracing statement.

Now that's out of the way, you shouldn't worry Dave. Most of us in CAMRA have fairly broad beliefs about beer, but those at the top rightly campaign solely for real ale. That's their job. CAMRA always used to campaign for choice when lousy keg was sweeping cask aside. I'd like to think that choice is still what we believe in. CAMRA is a broad group of people. We don't all think in a certain way and when it comes to beer, we all act schizophrenically from time to time.

I note too that you say "Very often the combination of the "fizzy chemical rubbish" type talk, "the war against lager" slogan and the very definition of real ale can be at odds with the wider issues of the licensed trade." Indeed but these I think are quotes from (mischievous) bloggers making their own points, not from CAMRA policy or from CAMRA officials. Members are just that; individuals who speak for themselves in the main not for CAMRA. Personally I'd like those who knock CAMRA - not you Dave - but say Timbo - to list each policy they object to and detail what's wrong with it, rather than simply bandy about random quotes from individuals and calling people "beardy weirdies" and "freaks."

Finally some of the dafter campaigns such as Full Pint are rightly being moved to aspirational, rather than active and the cask breather is up for debate. Good. Things change and evolve.

I played a small part in the former (Full Pint)which I won't bore you with. See? I'm one of the good guys really! (-;

Tim said...

Hi Dave,
I agree with what you have said. I joined CAMRA because somewhere along the lines people were starting to assume that I was CAMRA bashing too much, but of you look through my older blog posts Ale makes up about 75% of what I drink. As I have stated before I appreciate CAMRA on the whole, I just disagree with some of the national campaigns. At some point I have gone down the road of discussing weird beards, mainly as these posts get a lot more hits (over 1500 yesterday) and I assume that this is what people want me to write about. Plus the stereotype is funny and any offense that people take is when it hits a little bit too close to home. CAMRA realise this, and the new members handbook does not contain any images of beards or bellys. A step in the right direction.

Tandleman said
"Personally I'd like those who knock CAMRA - not you Dave - but say Timbo - to list each policy they object to and detail what's wrong with it"

This is exactly what I was planning to do in this weeks posts. Stay tuned

Woolpack Dave said...

Tandleman, I know you're one of the good guys. You give me hope.

I don't think Tim is a bad guy either. I'm really pleased he's joined CAMRA. He might give us a perspective from the anti-CAMRA angle.

Tim, just try and be constructive. As I've said, I'me really pleased you've joined CAMRA. I'd rather we had more sceptics on board and hopefully we'll show the world that CAMRA really is a broad church and the "beardy weirdies" are actually a minority.

Andy said...

Dave, one of the things I like about reading your blog is you are a pragmatist, not an idealogue and always seem to approach matters with a resonably open mind. You are always pretty fair to both sides of the debate even when you have a strong view. You would make a lousy politician....but hopefully being a good brewer and publican is ample compensation!

Woolpack Dave said...

"You would make a lousy politician"

That's almost the nicest thing I've ever been accused of.