Monday, 15 November 2010

Muddy waters

I was at a very nice beer dinner on Friday night. It was organised by CAMRA, the Westmorland branch as it so happens. The whole thing was very enjoyable, yes sure, I'd have preferred stronger more tasty beers and was a little taken aback by comments that a 5% beer was not for the faint hearted, but for the vast majority of the attendees I'm guessing the choices were to their preference.

There has been a lot of fuss over the last week regarding CAMRA's stance on keg beer. It was all started by Pete Brown, the outgoing1 beer writer of the year. Martyn Cornell also jumps in with a bit of a dig at the only consumer beer movement in the UK. Anyone who knows me will also know that I am a CAMRA member who also has sympathies with the views of Pete and Martyn; I'd prefer there to be an all inclusive beer movement that concentrated on quality rather than where the CO2 in the beer comes from. However, perhaps we're not going to get there in the near future.

It was unfortunate that on arriving at the venue of Fridays dinner we went straight into the function room. Unknown to me the cask beers were all in a bar just across the way. The function room bar had the usual selection of keg beer and being in need of a pint several of us plumped for a pint of Guinness each. This later caused an interesting situation when the CAMRA volunteer beer runner for our table was handed an empty Guinness glass. He clearly thought about objecting, although I'm unsure whether this was due to it being dirty nasty keg or just because really his job was to run for the beers that were matched for the meal rather than clearing away dirty pots.

Pete Brown was speaking at the event. He spoke enthusiastically about beer and how it brings people together in ways that almost nothing else does. He spoke about how, when he was in advertising, found that it was the one product that would inspire passion more than any other product he was responsible for. I was sat on a table occupied largely by CAMRA sceptics. I think I'm right in saying that none of use would hide the fact. We all attended the event and enjoyed it. We all attend CAMRA organised beer festivals and largely enjoy them too.

Speaking later to another brewer who had been sat on another table, we observed that although the beers were all good examples of session beers there was little that stirred our inspiration; in our view a multi-course gastronomic delight requires different beers to the highly drinkable session beers that work well in pubs, but I suspect this view would probably be limited to our table and perhaps an equal number of other people in the room - perhaps 10% of those present.

Despite this misgiving the social cohesion between the people in the room was highly observable. Several brewers, active branch members and CAMRA sceptics alike, shared in a common enjoyment, in the form of a malt and hop based beverage that both tastes good and also enables a state of neurological contentment, where even us sceptics could mingle and love everyone there.

The Pub Curmudgeon makes some interesting observations on his blog regarding the CAMRA sceptic view. Mudgie himself often shows a healthy scepticism but interestingly warns of the problems of changing the definition of Real Ale. He also points out that often, and despite this point being denied by many, CAMRA manifests itself as the campaign against keg, rather than the campaign for cask. Sure, the official line is that it does nothing of the sort, but the blindness to this fact betrays the lack of understanding that some of us see activists as being the old dinosaurs that they deny they are.

Which brings me on to Tandleman2 and his rebuke. A lot of important points are made, many I don't agree with, but it does make me think, what is the point in worrying? CAMRA exists because a lot of people support a point of view. They are a minority when you look at the total beer drinkers in the UK even to the point that it's tempting to wonder why they bother either. Cookie even suggests that cask should be abolished, which I know he doesn't really believe, but his approach does put this "shit storm" into perspective.

I'd like to see an all inclusive beer movement, one that even includes people who appreciate lout. But realistically it isn't going to happen anytime soon. As Tyson pointed out on twitter, you can't even get CAMRA to agree on sparklers, what chance have we got of changing the view on extraneous CO2? The view is just far too far entrenched for us to expect a change until it hits them between the eyes.

Stringers makes some interesting points about keg. I'm still actually trying to understand what their stance is, but it's thought provoking, which makes it all the more interesting. In the comments it is made clearer that perhaps it is silly to continually complain3 about CAMRA.

What seems clear to me, and is the main point in Tandleman's post that I disagree with, is that there is a growth of craft British produced keg beer. It's small at the moment but I do not agree that it is just done " .......for the gratification of beer geeks" and that " doesn't actually exist". Meantime, for instance, has many outlets around London selling its keg beers. And anyway, do beer geeks not count? A smaller minority than cask drinkers perhaps, but they do exist and their, our, numbers are growing.

I agree that CAMRA can only be changed by democratic process from within. This by itself shows that it's not likely to happen very fast, the active members are the voices that count, like it or not.

Perhaps, as Stringers and others have suggested, we shouldn't complain and just get on with the job of forming something that will satisfy these rare beer geeks. Perhaps it is already happening organically in this apparently on-line world that doesn't really exist. Yes, you know, the one that had scores of people meeting up in Manchester for one hell of a twissup. But of course, that can't of happened because we are all just on-line nutters who don't really exist.

One thing is for sure, CAMRA isn't going to change and the CAMRA sceptics are not going away; there is more chance that that Labour will start agreeing with Conservatives. Good job really, otherwise blogging would get a bit boring I suggest.


1Pete is most indignant that because the annual awards dinner is two weeks earlier this year, he is only beer writer of the 50 weeks rather than the year, bless.

2OK, sorry Tandleman, but I couldn't resist it.

3But I doubt I'll stop writing about what I see as our4 bad points any faster than Tandleman will stop defending the organisation.

4Just remember, I AM a member too and occasionally go to branch meetings. And I even like most of the members.


Ghost Drinker said...

You mentioned a few people winced at a 5% brew, where they CAMRA members as-well like you? You certainly didn't have a problem with ABV at GBBF! Good times :)

Unknown said...

Ghost, no, they were not CAMRA members like me, they were the type of CAMRA members that don't get the link between food and wine and the dissonance of low ABVs when presented with food with respect of people who are also foodies.

I am also a foodie.

Tandleman said...

Yes let it be is the answer. If there is change afoot and the figures presently don't suggest that any change is anything other than minuscule, it needs to grow and gain momentum. It is more than chutzpah to suggest CAMRA should redefine things on the basis of anything that is happening now. This is a bit like the Irish journey. If you want to get where you want to go, you shouldn't be starting from here. But straws in the wind have been observed and an eye out will no doubt be kept. Let's see if this new wave of keg really has some legs and wider application.

Nor do I believe that non CAMRA beer enthusiasm doesn't exist. And it is real. All my Sunday mates love beer and only one is a CAMRA member, but what happens in London or the blogosphere beer wise isn't what really happens elsewhere. Ed on his blog has exposed that in a way that is easy to "get". To all intents and purposes, to almost everyone, quality British keg doesn't exist. That is the "beer geek" point that I made. A distorted mirror.

What happens in any organisation (if we can call the loose confederation of bloggers and tweeters that) is just as likely to blind them to reality, as CAMRA is blind in their opinion. We are both looking at ourselves here and again thinking we look lovely in the mirror. It isn't really like that.

So buy me a quality pint of British keg at the do next week Dave (if you can find one) and I'll drink it with pleasure, but I won't be holding my breath for a future based on it, though of course it has a place.

I don't like being one of the main defenders of CAMRA, but I do it from a sense of fairness, not dogma. I've drunk more keg than most here and abroad, so been there got the T shirt. Thanks to Ed, RedNev, Coxy, Barm, Kieran, Flagon of Ale and others for chipping in too. Nice to have support in my reasoned arguments. (-;

Neville Grundy said...

Craft keg, as I think it should be called, actually doesn't exist in my beer world. In recent weeks I've been drinking in Southport, where I live, Crosby, West Lancs, Liverpool, Leeds, Keighley, Wigan and Preston. Literally dozens of pubs. I have never seen the slightest shred of evidence for this supposedly burgeoning quality keg movement. In fact, I've only read about it on blogs. I'm sure people aren't lying and that it exists somewhere, but not around here.

As it is clearly insignificant in terms of quantity (I accept that might change, but I'm not holding my breath), why should CAMRA alter its definition at the behest of people, many of whom don't even pay subs to the organisation?

StringersBeer said...

Over here at Stringers Towers, we're pretty much mellow on the subject of containers. We have observed that over-gassing can ruin some kinds of beer, and that cask can give really excellent results. We also note that there's some lovely beer sold in keg (and in filtered carbonated bottles for that matter). CAMRA sets out to promote the beer that does well in cask (and as BCA), rather than the other kind. That's cool.

It might be better if CAMRA brought some of their texts up to date - things like "[keg] beer is chilled and filtered to remove all the yeast, and pasteurised to make a sterile product" need a bit of qualifying.

We went to the very same dinner that you did Dave. I thought the food was a bit ho-hum, and while I found a couple of beers to be positively unpleasant, one stood head and shoulders above the rest. For the most part the beer was the kind of session bitter that I would have been happy drinking pints of - but would have picked something else to go with food.

Unknown said...

Tandleman, there is a danger of us all approaching this from a position of righteous indignation. I think we are all guilty of that from time to time. A convergence of our points of view I think.

Where I think we have to agree to disagree is the significance of the British craft keg; I repeat that I do not agree that it is minuscule, but even if it is, why is it? Many in CAMRA believe that are waging a war against keg, period - and many outside think so too.

Whether or not the lack of British craft keg is the fault of CAMRA might be a debatable point, but it IS a view held by some. Some of these people don't tweet or blog either.

Nev, I don't think craft keg is burgeoning either, and I'm not sure that anyone thinks it is. To say that any change is massive is just as erroneous as saying it's minuscule in my view. It does exist even if mainly in swanky bars and a few restaurants, mostly in London. Mostly in the places I expect you wouldn't be seen dead.

Stringers, I think in essence my views are similar to yours. Indeed, the definition of keg that you mention is reproduced in The Cask report. You know, the one written by Pete Brown. That definition is simply wrong and symptomatic of what what we're talking about. I agree with the view that CAMRA does not have to support keg, but shouldn't tell lies against it either. Only politicians can get away with that sort of lie to win and even then, not so easily now it would seem.

But enough of CAMRA, if I go on Tandleman will only come back to try and have the last word; we're the same in that respect, that we would both like to be able to close a discussion with our own world-view. I wonder who will win on this one?

But the food. Stringers you are right, it wasn't out of this world, but then I thought it OK for the price. I shall have to remember to invite you to my food and beer matching event I'm planning. You never know, I might even get some craft keg there......

Tandleman said...

I quite like your world view Dave. There is certainly more we see eye to eye on than not. Mind you, despite spending more time there than you, I am not quite so influenced by events in London.

Had too many duff pints for that to be the case.

Over to you for the last word! (-:

Unknown said...

Tandy, actually, I don't think I have any more to say......

Tim said...

@Tandleman said "I don't like being one of the main defenders of CAMRA"

Someone please help me. A cats got my tongue........

In all seriousness Peter, you are always the one to bite at little digs at CAMRA in blog posts. Not that there is anything wrong with that.