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20-08-2014, 16:47
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I read with interest and without surprise that Roger Protz (http://protzonbeer.co.uk/columns/2014/08/18/stop-the-squabbles--we-need-a-united-front-to-champion-all-good-beer) veteran and still going beer writer, would like to see a more united front in the continuing pursuit of good beer. The article can be read by clicking the link above and is well worth a read. In it Roger makes the usual points in trying to encourage togetherness and overall there is little if anything to disagree with. I particularly like his point about the growing generations (not all young and female by my observation) of "sweet" cider drinkers, though to call some of these abominations cider, is stretching it more than somewhat given the low (if any) apple juice content, but the point is still particularly valid. Another very obvious but overlooked point (though Roger puts it in reverse) is that the vast majority of pubs are kept open not by cask ale or craft keg drinkers, but drinkers of utility lagers such as Carlsberg, Carling and Fosters.

Where I part company with him is where he says "I can understand why so many CAMRA members resent kegged beers, after all those members have campaigned for years to protect cask ale against boring and flavourless pasteurised beer and thanks to their efforts the war has been won." I wonder about that. I am sure that many CAMRA members do resent keg beer, though, as there is so little competition from keg beer in the standard three to five percent range - the norm for cask beer drinkers - do they really need to? Ordinary lower alcohol beers don't really present as well when kegged. It's one of the reasons why so few do it. But "the war has been won." Has it really? It has been won in the sense that cask beer's market share is shrinking less in today's market than other products (except craft keg oddly), but is it out of danger? I'd say not and while craft keg is a factor, there are a number of others. Oddly, availability is one reason. Too often cask is available, but poor. Cask ale being very perishable, depends on a quick turnover. It requires folks that will happily rattle back two, three or four pints in a session and it would seem that there are less drinkers of that ilk around now. Volume drinking is, if not exactly going out of fashion, decreasing in popularity, especially with younger drinkers who don't quite see beer, or indeed themselves in that way, being often more eclectic in their likings (both beerwise and socially) and pretty concious of outcomes in terms of weight, health and image.

The demise of many local pubs has diminished cask ale drinking too. True many closed pubs were pretty poor, but even those, in my younger drinking days in Liverpool, were almost all cask, though of course not so latterly. Turnover leads to quality and while choice was less, bad pints were rare. And there is a quality issue with cask in many places. I rather think we are getting a little nearer than we realise to the bad old days of the 1980s when Ruddles, Theakstons, Boddingtons and others became national brands with a resulting drop in quality overall. Nowadays it is seen as enough by many (as it was then) to have a slow shifting, badly kept set of beers such as Doom Bar, Greene King IPA, Deuchars, London Pride and others of that ilk, that demonstrate the same "boring and flavourlessness" - to quote Roger - that the old keg beers of yore did, with the added disadvantage that it will likely be sold to you in less than perfect condition and temperature. In the "bad old days" when pubs were brewery owned that happened so much less. Most breweries policed their estates somewhat assiduously then.

There was a very good piece in his blog by Martyn Cornell (http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/why-the-micropub-association-should-be-furious-with-camra/)on the subject of CAMRA's stance on pub closures and changes of use. He makes a lot of good points, including some that may not meet with universal agreement. But where he is certainly right is in his point that CAMRA should have a campaign to raise the standard of cask beer sold in the UK today. I agree with him, though in my case, as it would be as well as, not instead of campaigning against certain pub closures. My CAMRA Branch has an over-riding campaigning objective of so doing - and we have pretty good cask beer on the whole, so it could be argued that we don't need to do so. Other CAMRA branches - and they need to be honest with themselves - ought to do the same. As long as cask beer is sold in many outlets in its blandest form, as long as pubs don't cellar and keep it correctly, as long as access to the market for more interesting beers is made either impossible or impossibly expensive by the Pub Companies, cask beer will always be in danger. When you can confidently expect a perfectly kept pint of interesting cask ale in the vast majority of pubs, then maybe, just maybe the war will be won. Not until then though and that's a long way off.

There is still plenty campaigning to be done. The war to keep cask safe isn't yet over. The enemy though isn't craft keg, which is very encouraging of new entrant beer drinkers (a big plus to me), it is the quality of cask beer at the point of dispense and probably always has been.

Neither Cask Marque nor the Good Beer Guide will guarantee good beer sadly, but we should feedback to both when it isn't up to snuff. If nobody complains..............

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