Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CAMRA - doing exactly what they say on their tin

I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, though I was aware of its existence long before I started drinking artisanal beer, whether lager or ale. Indeed, I vaguely recall my initial love affair with Velkopopovický Kozel having much to do with CAMRA having made positive noises about the beer, how the mighty have fallen.

Inevitably, learning more about traditionally made beer, and being British, albeit a Brit Abroad, CAMRA has become a point of reference. It is through the sterling work of CAMRA that I have learnt much about cask conditioning, stillage and even whether or not to use a sparkler (I am from north of the Watford gap, so they should give you an idea). It is also through learning about natural carbonation methods used in brewing that I discovered that there are still some breweries using the German "spunding" method of carbonation - which in terms of mouth feel and body is far closer to cask conditioning than force carbonation, and something I appreciate very much.

When I am drinking traditional British ales, I like to drink them cask conditioned, I think they taste better than their force carbonated peers. That is of course pure personal preference, it is not something I am adamant or fundamentalist about. Having said that, I generally believe that methods of dispense are secondary to the quality of flavour in the beer itself. I have had plenty of bad cask ale, and plenty of good kegged beer, just as I have had my fill of bad keg and great cask. In my experience, the brewery that does a good job in keg will do a good job in cask, simply because they do a good job all round. Also from experience, breweries that force carbonate the majority of their beer simply have no clue when it comes to cask.

I am fairly sure that I am in the majority in feeling this way about the whole keg vs cask thing, all I want is flavourful beer, regardless of how it is dispensed. However, and I think this is important, CAMRA have every right to say that at their festival they want the beer on show to conform to its opinion on the correct way to pour British ale. In the CAMRA way of thinking, great British beer is served from a cask, and you have to be very mean spirited not to be impressed with the level of attention and care that goes into organising a huge cask ale festival, especially when using kegs would no doubt be quicker, easier, and cheaper. If you believe that something is worth doing right, then the Great British Beer Festival is a prime example of dedication to a belief system.

Some of course claim that CAMRA needs to change with the times and accept kegged craft beer at its events, and while for some that may be a persuasive argument, it doesn't really wash for me. CAMRA has been successful by doing what it says on the tin, campaigning for real ale. The Great British Beer Festival, as a CAMRA event, is thus a reflection of their beliefs as to what constitutes great British beer, and that for CAMRA is cask conditioned ales.

BrewDog's latest CAMRA-baiting antics smacks of kids saying they want to join your game, but only if they can play by their own rules and then getting stroppy because the rules of the game have already been decided. The most ridiculous thing here is that BrewDog already have a range of cask ales, so why deliberately seek confrontation over something like method of dispense? I used to like BrewDog, but now they are as annoying as fundamentalist missionaries insisting that they alone have the gospel truth.

If, as we seem to hear on a fairly regular basis, there are bigger things to worry about than the method of dispense, why then are BrewDog being deliberately confrontational and contrary, if not for the oxygen of publicity? Ultimately the whole cask vs keg thing is a sideshow, what is important is that great beer is being brewed and made available to consumers. Thank goodness then for British brewers like Fullers, Lovibonds, Thornbridge and Meantime, whose beers are consistently good and representative of the best of British brewing.


  1. ironically two of those four breweries don't produce real ale so they aren't present at GBBF either.

    Good post though

  2. I deliberately choose a couple of non real ale breweries, who beer I think is superb and worth drinking regardless of dispense.

  3. I have said it before, Brewdog are the Ryanair of the beer world. If I found out that Michael O'Leary was a secret shareholder I would not be surprised.

    That said, I deliberately avoided the topic on my blog because it just adds fuel to the fire, which is what they want.

    I do like their beer but not their attitude these days.

  4. Perhaps they should call it the Great British CASK Beer Festival since being cask is more important than being great beer.

  5. Perhaps, though in fairness when it started in 1977 there was really no other definition of Great British Beer as the kegged stuff was pants, apparently.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. [oops, word missing]

    I was just about to make this same point as "anonymous" (above).

    CAMRA publishes a book called the "Good Beer Beer Guide" which excludes some very good beers.

    It produces an event called the "Great British Beer Festival". Whether you interpret that as a Beer Festival in Great Britain or a British Festival of Great Beer, some great beers are excluded because of an intransigent devotion to dogma.

    Given that it seems the amount great beer being produced that doesn't satisfy CAMRA's dogma is increasing, that dogma is going to be subject to increasing scrutiny.

    CAMRA can only expect resentment and ridicule as long as it treats "real ale" and "great beer" as synonymous and exclusive.

  8. Nice to hear Great British Beer Festival on Womens beer brewery of day.

  9. Jeff,

    I understand where you are coming from, and like the fact that you are willing to put your name to your comments (not that not doing so is an option anymore on here).

    I think British beer in all its forms would be better served by something above and beyond the squabbling and infighting. Perhaps a "Festival of British Beer"?

  10. Two of those four don't produce real ale? Which 2? Because I've drunk not just real ale but cask ale from three of them.


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