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One of the proposals included in CAMRA’s Revitalisation Report is that “CAMRA should permit the stocking of British beers that do not meet the definition of real ale at CAMRA beer festivals.” Now, this is a significant concession, although it must be said that CAMRA festivals are already allowed to stock non-“real” foreign beers, in both keg and bottled form, and some interpret that pretty widely.
But it is interesting as much for what it doesn’t say. Does it extend to bottled as well as keg beers, meaning that a festival would be entirely within its rights to offer bottled Old Tom, Boltmaker and Ghost Ship? Does it also extend to ciders, where the definition of “real” is far more obscurantist than that for beer? And does it go wider to encompass a more general acceptance that quality may be recognised and celebrated in beers that don’t quality as “real”?
I find myself aligning neither with the “all non-real beer is crap” diehards, nor with the modernisers who wish to extend CAMRA’s remit. I firmly believe that, in terms of campaigning, CAMRA should limit itself to doing what it says on the tin – supporting real ale, the breweries that produce it and the pub culture that surrounds it. But, on the other hand, I feel it has always been too narrow-minded in refusing to accept merit in any beers that fall outside the definition, and in too often insisting that “real ale” is inherently superior to any other form of beer. I would welcome a relaxation in the rules about what CAMRA spokespeople and publications can praise, but danger lies in any attempt to draw a hard-and-fast line somewhere else.
As I suggested in the linked post, while I wouldn’t expect to see CAMRA branches rushing to stock Carling at festivals, surely they’d be fully entitled to have a British Craft Lager Bar featuring the likes of Leeds Brewery Leodis and Hawkshead Lakeland, which could be a good way of attracting both publicity and punters.
And it would be interesting to see how this would affect CAMRA’s quarterly glossy magazine BEER. Currently, I find this to be a profoundly unimpressive publication, full of vapid puff-pieces and more like an in-flight magazine than anything with pretensions to serious journalism. It is hamstrung by its inability to discuss any products that fall outside the definition of real beer and cider. So might its perception be improved by being able to extend its remit to include some wider-ranging drinks journalism? As referred to above, a big feature on British craft lagers would be a good example. And maybe a feature interviewing licensees of keg-only pubs asking them why they don’t stock cask?