Monday 4 April 2016

Existential Crisis (probably part 1)

"Craft Beer Doesn't Exist"

So, CAMRA is having a rethink about how to remain relevant. I'm torn in several directions on this one. Instinctively, my first thought is "good, about time" My second reaction goes along the lines of "well, can it ever change enough to satisfy me?"  Finally my mind drifts to the question of "why does it matter anyway?"

I think it's a question of perspective. There is a dissonance between the commercial considerations of the beer industry and the underpinning principles of the hardcore activists in CAMRA. I became acutely aware of this very soon after I first entered into business in the beer and pub sector over 12 years ago.

Part of the motivation for starting to write this blog was that, as I saw it, the vast majority of the words about good beer were written by CAMRA sympathetic writers. Therefore it was a given that the beers that were lauded as good were all cask or bottle conditioned and everything else was rubbish. Unless of course they were foreign, because…… well I never really did understand the reason for that.

Equally, there were a whole load of things CAMRA told me I should be doing, to make them happy, that I didn't really think were sensible from the point of view of making an honest living1. I could list them all here, and perhaps I should in another blog post, but it is true that there is a commercial barrier to any significant changes being achieved.

The real consideration for any beer business is not whether it should engage positively with CAMRA, because it make direct business sense, but because there is a softer PR and community relationship to consider. Doing things to make CAMRA happy might make them say nice things about your pub or brewery. This is definitely a successful strategy for some businesses, but certainly not for all.

The alternative view is to consider if setting ones business against the ethos of CAMRA, a way that might be considered more craft, sends out a powerful message about whom you are and what you're trying to achieve.

Hardknott has been a little fickle in this regard. We've tried to engage positively from time-to-time. We've also been antagonistic on other occasions, mainly because we believe in certain things that are appropriate for good beer, things that make our beer better, and things that do not. 

Generally, engaging positively with CAMRA has rarely helped my business, and has rarely produced a return on the time and effort invested to be worth doing.

If I just ignore CAMRA and try and rub along, don't shout too much, and just get along with my job of brewing great beer, things are OK, but the world isn't set on fire.

If I start to mark out the differences between what I think is great for beer, and the way CAMRA sees beer, I get noticed as that antagonistic HardkntotDave and more people want to buy my beer.

As a relevant aside, I've been known to be skeptically antagonist towards SIBA (Society for Independent Brewers) – this has almost entirely come to a halt recently. Initially, when I first started brewing, I was of the view that they were also out-of-touch and detrimental to the progression of small breweries. Last year, when Mike Benner became chief executive of SIBA, having moved from CAMRA, I was concerned this would be a backwards step for SIBA. I feared Mike would bring too much of the old CAMRA dogma to SIBA. I was wrong, and BeerX proved just how wrong I was. SIBA have listened to what is going on, and moreover, looked to the future. But that is the subject of a separate blog post altogether.

So, in summary, I discount the idea that I should just sit back and ignore CAMRA. I can't, and shouldn't. What they morph into, or not, will effect me one way or another. The remaining two thoughts will continue to be relevant. It certainly is about time for a solid review, but will it be enough? We'll see.


1I am more and more minded about the negative vibe created by me pointing out that my foray into the beer and pub industry has, over the years, generated a negative trend of the real-value for my personal wealth. Pubs and brewing are not a game for anyone who wants to get rich. It is possible to do quite well, depending on how you wish to go about it. This blog has had the MO of remaining fairly candid about my perspective. Yes, I've sometimes slipped into an alternative up-beat kind of way of projecting my thoughts, by way of trying to big-up my own PR. The reality is that I'm significantly disappointed in the overall financial performance of my business ventures compared with how I'd be if I had stuck with PAYE way of living. I find CAMRA persuasion difficult in helping my business and the Craft Beer bandwagon the reverse. So, my executive summary is; CAMRA ethos = = bad for my business. Craft beer ethos = = good for my business.

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