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15-06-2018, 12:58
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One change that was made at the recent CAMRA AGM was to remove the previous prohibition on CAMRA beer festivals selling British beers that didn’t meet the definition of real ale. This was always, in Highway Code terms, a “should not” rather than a “MUST NOT”, and some branches did disregard it, surely to some extent out of a desire to cock a snook at what they saw as stuffy traditionalism. However, removing it entirely will surely encourage others.
As I’m someone who doesn’t tend to attend beer festivals as a customer, it will make no difference to me personally. But I do have to wonder what exactly is the point. If you’re supposed to be a Campaign for Real Ale, having keg beers at a festival comes across as rather like having cats at a dog show. It has been suggested that keg and cask beers might be presented alongside each other to underline the superiority of the latter, but that comes across as a touch disingenuous. Who would want to serve X at a festival merely to show that Y was better? Plus, in any case, beer festivals by their nature rarely show cask at its absolute best.
If festivals are to serve keg beers, they should give some thought to what they’re aiming to achieve, rather than just doing it because they can. Maybe consider beers that simply aren’t available in cask form, or where it is felt that the keg format shows them at their best. A good example of the latter would be to showcase British craft lagers, which are often spoken of as a massive potential growth market, but which by definition aren’t going to be real ales. Or perhaps nitro stouts from craft breweries.
Or even why not offer a selection of the established beers such as M&B Mild and Tetley Imperial, which live on in keg form but, because of that, never receive any attention from enthusiasts? Who even knows what beers are out there in the marketplace? OK, that may be a bit of a mischievous suggestion, and is unlikely to happen in practice, but to someone interested in our brewing heritage it could be far more interesting that a random selection of the local railway arch brewers’ latest pastry stouts.
Presumably this also removes the prohibition on selling British bottled beers that aren’t bottle-conditioned. I’ve referred in the past to the insistence on bottle-conditioning as being an unhistorical shibboleth (https://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/false-equivalence.html), so this is a move to be welcomed. It will give festivals the opportunity in future to sell, for example, bottled Robinson’s Old Tom. And it could be a good thing if small brewers were given the opportunity to showcase their beers in more reliable brewery-conditioned form rather than expose them to the lottery of small-batch bottle-conditioning.

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