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20-05-2011, 20:04
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The debate over whether CAMRA should support non-real craft beers continues to rumble on, as Tandleman puts it (http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/rumbling-on.html). In the latest issue of CAMRA’s quarterly “glossy” magazine BEER, there is a “for and against” opinion piece, with Tim Webb putting the case for, and Tandleman himself arguing against, although certainly not saying there is no merit in any non-real craft beers.

Now, as you’ll have gathered, I am no cask exclusivist, but on this issue I am inclined to agree with Tandleman, primarily because embracing non-real beers opens up a can of worms. CAMRA does what it says on the tin – it campaigns for real ale, something that has a clear and objective definition. It is not my view that means it should campaign against other beer styles (and founder member Michael Hardman agrees (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1db39caa-2e6e-11e0-8733-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1DGN497WW)), or regard “real ale” as encompassing the vast majority of what is good in the beer world, although sadly there are still some in the organisation who see things that way.

However, once you start supporting craft beer as such, whether real or non-real, you have to make subjective judgments as to what qualifies. If Tim Taylors, a respected, long-established small family brewer, started making a non-nitro keg version of Landlord, would that be craft? Or Black Sheep, a very successful new brewery (no longer really a micro), albeit one whose cask beers are often thought a little dull? And, if not, why not? How are those beers different in kind from keg Jaipur IPA? And, if keg Landlord, why not keg 6X, or keg Pedigree?

Since the inception of CAMRA, there has always been a strand of opinion that anything widely available and produced on a large scale was inherently dull, and should be shunned in favour of the obscure, extreme and niche. At first this involved dismissing any cask beers produced by the erstwhile Big Six national brewers, then anything brewed by the major regionals like Greene King and Marston’s, then pretty much anything from any established family brewer, then even the products of successful micro-brewers that have expanded into mainstream pubs like Black Sheep and Butcombe. You meet some members nowadays who dismiss out of hand the entire output of brewers such as Shepherd Neame, Wadworth’s and Robinson’s who in the early days were the absolute acme of what the campaign was all about.

By and large, this kind of exclusivity has been rejected, but the advent of “craft beer” enables the issue of sorting breweries into sheep and goats to be opened up again. The embrace of “craft beer” would allow the righteous brewers operating at the cutting edge to be exalted, and those who have committed the deadly sin of achieving mainstream success amongst non-enthusiasts to be cut down as tall poppies.

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