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12-03-2015, 04:22
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As long term readers of this column know, I’m not the biggest fan of The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). *The organisation was set up to campaign for the survival of real ale in the face of a massive program of brewery consolidation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and the then move to keg distribution by these mega breweries. **Over the last 44 years, they have done a good job of contributing towards this, to the point where we have a very healthy brewing industry with the number of breweries increasing every year. *At the last count we have nearly 1300 breweries across the country, with the range of beer available being more than most people will sample in their lifetime.
What is their role now in the modern beer market, real ale is solidly established again and narrowing the gap in sales vs mainstream beers and lagers. *The number of dedicated real ale houses is growing and most other pubs have at least 2 or 3 real ales on pump, the battle has been won and real ale has firmly reclaimed its place on the bar. *Have they moved forward and kept up with modern changes to the ale and beer market or are they still sitting in the 20th Century with the dimpled pint glasses.
The craft beer scene has been with us now since the turn of the 21st century at least. *It is an ever increasing sector of the beer market. *Of the 1300 breweries mentioned earlier, a good number of them, certainly in three figures, are craft breweries who brew keg beer. **Let see if CAMRA embrace these changes in the market which encourage people to support small breweries, visit public houses more regularly (as the beer may not be sold in bottles widely or be short run beers) and to try a wider range of beers, surely all things CAMRA should be pleased with.
To quote “Beer festivals are not to stock or admit for any award, any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions that mislead the drinker into believing that there is little or no difference between the versions.”. So even if you create a cask version of a beer, if it has a keg brother which is gassed at point of service, it is not welcome at the party if you don’t make a distinct point of its method of dispense. * It has been pointed out that this rule is ignored by most local groups, but is still on the books. *The leadership are walking around with blinders on, ignoring a whole sector of the market which has an ethos which isn’t far off their own key campaigns in spirit, although moderate local groups*choose a more liberal stance.
CAMRA’s*key campaigns are 1) Stop Tax Killing Beer and Pubs 2) Secure an effective government support package for pubs 3) Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries *4) To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly. Simply add the word “and craft beer” *to campaign 3. *What craft brewers and CAMRA want are now the same. *Craft brewers generally like to have their own brewery taps when the business is mature enough and in the meantime have thriving pubs which sell as much beer as they can make, so all four become common goals. *I don’t see the reason for the divide, apart from pigheadedness from the top people at CAMRA.
However three of these goals are so generic that every trade organisation related to beer and pubs has 1,2 and 4 as core goals. *Not to want this limits the money their members can make. So they are not unique in campaigns, so what about their beer festivals? *They are good at organising these, 40 years of doing it is a lot of practice. *Their branches across the country organise numerous local versions each year. *The Great British Beer Festival in London each year still attracts very good crowds, as does it Winter Beer Festival in Manchester. *However are they the best at this now? *When you have acclaimed independent beer festivals like Independent Manchester Beer Convention, Leeds International Beer Festival, BeerX in Sheffield and Birmingham Beer Bash to name a few, not to mention the other non CAMRA events which take place in the capital and elsewhere. *Will CAMRA be needed in this capacity going forward?
Looking at the local beer festivals, plenty of pubs are now organising their own annual beer festivals, sometimes with 30+ pumps. *As I write, there are no confirmed plans for the traditional Mayfest beer festival in Calderdale this year, normally organised by Calderdale CAMRA who seem to be very quiet as even their Caldercask publication is now outsourced out to an advertising company.
10 years down the line maybe there will not be a need for CAMRA and what will they be good for then, a monthly magazine and Wetherspoons beer vouchers?



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