Monday 9 May 2011

Should Camra promote all 'craft' beer?


I've just received my Summer edition of Camra's quarterly publication 'Beer' and I was pleasantly surprised to see a healthy debate within it's pages titled - Should Camra promote all 'craft' beer?

Arguing for the 'YES' camp is author of the Good Beer Guide Belgium and former Camra exec member, Tim Webb. In the 'No' corner is the current Chairman of Camra's Rochdale branch and author of the Tandleman Beer Blog, Peter Alexander. It is an interesting debate.

Webb argues that 'Camra needs to get involved in the new world' and that a 'new generation of beer drinkers' are 'not impressed by technical correctness of production' but instead 'get excited by exploring taste and variety'. He goes on, 'What makes beer neither dictated by technical specification nor advertising. It is defined by what experienced palates taste within it'. He describes Camra's definition of good beer as 'now plainly inadequate'.

Alexander counters in a concilliatory tone by stating that 'Few of us are so closed-minded to believe that cask is the only way to serve good beer'. However, he goes on to state that 'Our purpose, until the members say otherwise, is to promote real ale as the indigenous beer style of Britain. It is why we exist'. To reinforce this point, Alexander qoutes one of the Camra founders, Michael Hardman, 'I must point out that we're not fighting against anything, we're fighting for something'.

Alexander finishes his argument by saying that 'The craft beer movement must find it's own way in the world'.

On the following page, Fuller's head brewer, John Keeling continues the debate further by exploring the science of packaging, dispense and it's influence on flavour.

It is good to see Camra devoting some space over to this issue and exploring it in a mature and non finger pointing, knee jerk way.

This is an exciting time to be a beer drinker. The range and quality of beers out there has never, in my opinion, been better. Both keg and cask have their merits and on the issue of dispense, I'm fairly pragmatic. If the cap fits and all that. Keg has clearly moved on since the dark days of the 1970's when Camra first started and I believe that quality cask and keg can peacefully co-exist in a perfect beer world.

 However, on the question of whether Camra should promote all 'craft' beer. That is, as Peter Alexander says, down to the members of that organisation. If you are not a member of Camra and think that they should endorse keg, join the organisation and try and change it from within.



  1. I have a lot of sympathy with this argument, and certainly wouldn't want to see CAMRA condemning non-real "craft" beer.

    But you end up with the problem of defining exactly what "craft" beer is. "Real ale" has a clear, black-and-white definition, whereas "craft beer" can mean anything you want it to mean, and can all too easily boil down to "breweries we like".

    If you give support to keg and brewery-conditioned bottles from the likes of Thornbridge, then shouldn't you do the same for similar products from established breweries such as Hook Norton and Sam Smiths?

  2. @curmudgeon

    I agree. That is the essence of the argument. Real ale can be clearly defined. 'craft' beer is a very loose definition that lacks specificity. as Tandleman says in his article for Beer magazine, some brewers of real ale call their brews 'craft real ales'I challenge anyone to tell me what difference their is between 'craft real ale' and 'real ale'? The only difference I can think of is one of scale, capacity and output.

  3. Further blurring the dividing line is the fact that some 'craft' brewers do also produce their, normally keg, ale in cask.

    Will CAMRA actively promote the likes of Brewdog if they regularly provide their beers in cask as well as keg?

  4. Speaking as a member of a consumer group that promotes "craft beer", I'd say scale, capacity and output is the only sensible place to draw the line. If deciding to promote craft beer (and I'm not for a moment suggesting CAMRA should or shouldn't), one has to pick a number of hectolitres of beer and say: breweries producing below this per year need the additional support of consumers; breweries above it don't. When a successful brewery goes over the line, the consumer group can sit back and bask in the parental glow of watching a fledgling that no longer needs help.

    We're lucky over here because the line is drawn for us by legislation: <20,000hl is the legal delineation of a microbrewery, and even our biggest microbreweries are producing about half that. I'm aware it's more complex in the UK, but it doesn't mean that an appropriate figure can't be agreed upon.

    For those who would like to help the craft movement find its own way in the world I'd offer this advice: do not equate "craft beer" with "good beer". The Campaign for Real Ale does not confuse Real Ale with good beer, and you'll find the prefix "properly kept" employed in many an argument in support of Real Ale's unique advantages.

    Support of craft beer has to be separate from support of beer-you-like if it's going to work as a coherent consumer movement. And yes, that does mean shitty diacetyl-to-the-hilt brewpub lager is in, just like vinegary mild is within CAMRA's remit.

  5. oops. should be 'there' instead of 'their' in my comment earlier