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16-11-2010, 02:45
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I was at a very nice beer dinner on Friday night. It was organised by CAMRA, the Westmorland branch (http://www.camrawestmorland.org/) as it so happens. The whole thing was very enjoyable, yes sure, I'd have preferred stronger more tasty beers and was a little taken aback by comments that a 5% beer was not for the faint hearted, but for the vast majority of the attendees I'm guessing the choices were to their preference.

There has been a lot of fuss over the last week regarding CAMRA's stance on keg beer. It was all started by Pete Brown (http://petebrown.blogspot.com/2010/11/real-ale-preference-or-dogma.html), the outgoing1 beer writer of the year. Martyn Cornell also jumps in (http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/maybe-they-should-have-kept-to-revitalisation-and-dropped-the-ale) with a bit of a dig at the only consumer beer movement in the UK. Anyone who knows me will also know that I am a CAMRA member who also has sympathies with the views of Pete and Martyn; I'd prefer there to be an all inclusive beer movement that concentrated on quality rather than where the CO2 in the beer comes from. However, perhaps we're not going to get there in the near future.

It was unfortunate that on arriving at the venue of Fridays dinner we went straight into the function room. Unknown to me the cask beers were all in a bar just across the way. The function room bar had the usual selection of keg beer and being in need of a pint several of us plumped for a pint of Guinness each. This later caused an interesting situation when the CAMRA volunteer beer runner for our table was handed an empty Guinness glass. He clearly thought about objecting, although I'm unsure whether this was due to it being dirty nasty keg or just because really his job was to run for the beers that were matched for the meal rather than clearing away dirty pots.

Pete Brown was speaking at the event. He spoke enthusiastically about beer and how it brings people together in ways that almost nothing else does. He spoke about how, when he was in advertising, found that it was the one product that would inspire passion more than any other product he was responsible for. I was sat on a table occupied largely by CAMRA sceptics. I think I'm right in saying that none of use would hide the fact. We all attended the event and enjoyed it. We all attend CAMRA organised beer festivals and largely enjoy them too.

Speaking later to another brewer who had been sat on another table, we observed that although the beers were all good examples of session beers there was little that stirred our inspiration; in our view a multi-course gastronomic delight requires different beers to the highly drinkable session beers that work well in pubs, but I suspect this view would probably be limited to our table and perhaps an equal number of other people in the room - perhaps 10% of those present.

Despite this misgiving the social cohesion between the people in the room was highly observable. Several brewers, active branch members and CAMRA sceptics alike, shared in a common enjoyment, in the form of a malt and hop based beverage that both tastes good and also enables a state of neurological contentment, where even us sceptics could mingle and love everyone there.

The Pub Curmudgeon makes some interesting observations (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2010/11/baby-and-bathwater.html) on his blog regarding the CAMRA sceptic view. Mudgie himself often shows a healthy scepticism but interestingly warns of the problems of changing the definition of Real Ale. He also points out that often, and despite this point being denied by many, CAMRA manifests itself as the campaign against keg, rather than the campaign for cask. Sure, the official line is that it does nothing of the sort, but the blindness to this fact betrays the lack of understanding that some of us see activists as being the old dinosaurs that they deny they are.

Which brings me on to Tandleman2 and his rebuke (http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/no-case-to-answer.html). A lot of important points are made, many I don't agree with, but it does make me think, what is the point in worrying? CAMRA exists because a lot of people support a point of view. They are a minority when you look at the total beer drinkers in the UK even to the point that it's tempting to wonder why they bother either. Cookie even suggests that cask should be abolished (http://cookinglager.blogspot.com/2010/11/abolish-cask-beer.html), which I know he doesn't really believe, but his approach does put this "shit storm" into perspective.

I'd like to see an all inclusive beer movement, one that even includes people who appreciate lout. But realistically it isn't going to happen anytime soon. As Tyson (http://tysonsbeerblog.blogspot.com/) pointed out on twitter, you can't even get CAMRA to agree on sparklers, what chance have we got of changing the view on extraneous CO2? The view is just far too far entrenched for us to expect a change until it hits them between the eyes.

Stringers makes some interesting points about keg (http://stringersbeer.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-keg-is-best.html). I'm still actually trying to understand what their stance is, but it's thought provoking, which makes it all the more interesting. In the comments it is made clearer that perhaps it is silly to continually complain3 about CAMRA.

What seems clear to me, and is the main point in Tandleman's post that I disagree with, is that there is a growth of craft British produced keg beer. It's small at the moment but I do not agree that it is just done " .......for the gratification of beer geeks" and that " .....it doesn't actually exist". Meantime, for instance, has many outlets around London selling its keg beers. And anyway, do beer geeks not count? A smaller minority than cask drinkers perhaps, but they do exist and their, our, numbers are growing.

I agree that CAMRA can only be changed by democratic process from within. This by itself shows that it's not likely to happen very fast, the active members are the voices that count, like it or not.

Perhaps, as Stringers and others have suggested, we shouldn't complain and just get on with the job of forming something that will satisfy these rare beer geeks. Perhaps it is already happening organically in this apparently on-line world that doesn't really exist. Yes, you know, the one that had scores of people meeting up in Manchester for one hell of a twissup. But of course, that can't of happened because we are all just on-line nutters who don't really exist.

One thing is for sure, CAMRA isn't going to change and the CAMRA sceptics are not going away; there is more chance that that Labour will start agreeing with Conservatives. Good job really, otherwise blogging would get a bit boring I suggest.


1Pete is most indignant that because the annual awards dinner is two weeks earlier this year, he is only beer writer of the 50 weeks rather than the year, bless.

2OK, sorry Tandleman, but I couldn't resist it.

3But I doubt I'll stop writing about what I see as our4 bad points any faster than Tandleman will stop defending the organisation.

4Just remember, I AM a member too and occasionally go to branch meetings. And I even like most of the members.

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