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.