There is something in particular that Pete wrote which has gnawed at my subconscious since I read his post.
"So what do we do in 2009? Form a cross-industry lobbying group? Take pre-emptive action against tighter licensing restrictions and more duty rises? Fight back against the misinformation about binge drinking with a concerted, positive campaign about the benefits of moderate drinking and the truth of our wholesome pub culture?" - [No we don't]1
I realise that there isn't anybody to really represent me. CAMRA help me in their support for real ale, which continues to be the strongest part of my wet sales2. I'm a member of the BII, which seems to still be the best for me, but are a quiet ineffectual organisation as far as I can see. The BBPA of course represents the PubCos and regional brewers. The All Party Parliamentary Beer Group does a good job of lobbying but I can't afford to join them directly. I could join SIBA and there might well be some benefits there and I do keep thinking about it.
Then I look wider at my business. As with most pubs these days, the majority of my revenue is not in fact from cask at all3. I also sell keg beers, bottled beers, wine, whisky, food and accommodation. It is true that the cask beer is an expectation most of my customers have, but then they also have an expectation of clean sheets and toilet rolls.
I can see why Fair Pint are using underhand and possibly illegal tactics against the BBPA. Being run by the powerful major beer tie reliant companies the BBPA are a giant that Fair Pint are struggling against. Equally, the BBPA are there to defend their members, so the fight is inevitable. I can't help feeling that the BII and Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association are piggy in the middle and not really sure what to do. I don't really know the answer to this one, but it does look a little messy and it would have been better not getting to this stage.
Meanwhile, I look on a little bemused at the discussions that have developed over some lager being banned from a CAMRA festival. Oliver Thring has written an article on the Guardian website which has generated a lot of interest. Tandleman takes up the case for CAMRA in response;
".....the mistaken assumption that CAMRA is an umbrella organisation for beer. It quite simply isn't. CAMRA's role, as defined by its constitution, is to promote and defend the interests of cask conditioned ale."
You can't argue with that.
At this point I want to explore the position from the pub perspective. It is almost impossible, although I'll admit not entirely, to run a pub with no lager whatsoever. It is possible, although with difficulties, to run a pub with options of more diverse lagers. I know, because that's what I do. In fact it is more likely that if a pub majors in cask it is also likely to experiment with more unusual keg products too. I would argue this strengthens the position of the pub from a real ale point of view all the more.
I understand the opposition to any beers at a CAMRA festival that use bottled CO2, but perhaps there are some softer issues here. If at a festival a craft brewed lager is presented then it might have some effects that are beneficial to cask beer. Firstly, there is something there for the potential converts to try, those that do like something cold, fizzy and less challenging. Secondly, the beer fans will recognise and perhaps even try the product so next time they are going to that weird pub that doesn't serve any recognisable big brands with their reluctant mates they can reassure them that there really is a decent lager to try. And really, it will be cold and fizzy, not warm and flat. It's an easier move out of a comfort zone of the macro brewed fizz to craft lager than a straight jump to cask.
To return to the assertion that CAMRA is not an umbrella beer organisation I'd like to make observations. I think there is a need for this non-existent umbrella beer organisation and it's need is not going away, nor is it likely to. Meanwhile, CAMRA is the next best thing and I think will remain the focus for the void. Beer and pubs are intertwined and most pubs sell less cask than keg. CAMRA support pubs and so are even more likely to continue to come under scrutiny for their inherent and inevitable disdain of keg beer.
If I now try and look at this overall picture of the organisations on all sides of the beer world I see a very diverse mêlée of potentially confrontational perspectives. Is it perhaps an inevitable result of the great diversity in our beer and pub culture that there will be clashes of opinion. It is because we have an interesting and complex situation, which makes for an exciting world, that we will inevitably have diversity of opinion as well.
I didn't start writing this as another CAMRA blasting article. I'm more hoping to illuminate why there is so much of it about. And we don't need more of the "it's in the name" replies to this, we know that one and presumably as CAMRA is a democratic organisation 120,000 people can't be wrong. Pete Brown says he's "sitting very closely outside the industry looking in" I feel I'm only just in the industry and the closest I've got to a useful organisation is CAMRA and that's not quite what I need. In fact, much of the time I feel I'm further from the centre of the industry than Pete is and I've also got one foot firmly outside.
In conclusion I feel I've asked more questions here than I've answered. I wrote this yesterday and parked it for proof reading this morning. It seems this blogs twin4 Pencil and Spoon might also be looking at the same issues. I need to stop writing and start reading.
1 Your right, Pete doesn't write "No we don't" at this point. He writes something far more colourful and rightly gives his true thoughts on the matter. But as I'll ask Ann to proof read this before I post it, I'm limiting it to these words.
255% of my total alcohol sales plus another 5% "cask" cider.
3Cask only makes up 16% of my total revenue.
4Mark Dredge started Pencil and Spoon exactly the same day as I started this one.