Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?*

Just as we are at a high point for beer in the UK, so are we at a high point for beer appreciation. Like anything that elicits passion and opinion, the beer world is riven with various factions. CAMRA are unquestionably the old guard, and as of today, there are two new kids on the block - Craft Beer UK, and CAMRGB, the Campaign for Really Good Beer.

CAMRGB (website here) were first out of the blocks by my reckoning, and I like their cheery, naive (or is it faux-naive?) approach. It also helps that their logo is reminiscent of the Cuban flag, but that's sort of by-the-by. They clearly state their aims on their homepage, and it's difficult to disagree with any of them. In fact, that's the problem - it's so commendably all-inclusive that it's hard to know who will say "hell yeah, I like beer and fun, this is something that I can really get behind!". Or more pertinently, who could disagree with those sentiments? It's so warm-heartedly bouncy and eager that to dislike it would be to dislike a puppy. "Sodding puppy, with it's floppy ears and big paws, and wide-eyed innocence... aww, go on then, come here and have a cuddle". There's a saying that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything - I wonder, how does the epithet end if it starts "If you stand for everything...."?

At the other end of the scale, we have Craft Beer UK (website here), who set out their stall very clearly. The c-word is ever-present - not that one, you dirty-minded beast, but the more nebulous term, craft. In their "About" section, Craft Beer UK attempt to set out their stall, arguing that "the term 'craft beer' has been used in the UK to refer to artisanal brewers who focus on quality over quantity and brew good beer", a definition that is somehow simultaneously so broad and so narrow as to be meaningless. Is there an innate nobility in brewing less beer? Are Sierra Nevada somehow less craft for being the world's largest consumer of whole cone hops? You can work out the answer to that, I'm sure. Even more worrying is the fact that Craft Beer UK will admit breweries to their roster on application, but with an element of peer review (see this tweet and their stated membership policy). This slightly undermines their claim that craft beer is something more than "beers that I like" (see Phil's post on craft beer, and my comment of the FUBU brand for more analysis of this).

Just as neither of these organisations needs any endorsement from me, neither should they take my opinions too much to heart. It's great to see people getting behind beer, and unquestionably the drinking public of the UK might benefit from a heightened awareness of their drinking options. But I do worry that neither of these organisations is bringing enough to the table. My experience is that many people still have a bit of trouble with the notion of what exactly constitutes real ale, so trying to bring a nebulous term like "good beer" or "craft beer" into the public arena may ultimately do more harm than good. That's not to say we shouldn't try, but as the title of the post asks: *Who Will Watch the Watchers?

83 comments:

  1. graft beer?

    Its only a proposal as to how membership will be decided at the moment, we wanted a more objective system and peer review is certainly better than one or two people deciding "i like this brewer, i don't like that brewer" We could have it open to all brewers but that doesn't actually provide encouragement for innovation, support for those putting some effort in.

    I can't come up with objectives all by myself, I'm looking for input from other people and wanted to get the ball rolling. There's certainly plenty of interest.

    And as an aside, I registered cbuk before camrgb, its just my lack of being near a computer for the last month which meant camrgb got in first, not that it matters, we're approaching a perceived gap from two differnet angles; so there should be plenty of space for both. I'm a member of both cAMRa and CAMRGB.

    I love the CAMRGB logo, my attempt in comparison is pretty poor!

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  2. actually, scratch that last comment, CAMRGB were first, but I didn't realise until afterwards.

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  3. It's all very well, but bandying the "Craft" word about like this is bound to upset the Wiccans.

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  4. CBUK - yeah, 'graft beer' - beer born of good honest toil! Seriously though, I admire your stance, and the acceptance of the gauntlet thrown down by Colin Valentine. It's just that until you get a workable definition of craft, and a membership policy that is something other than "breweries we like", I'm worried that it will do more harm than good.

    Ed - CAMCL lost my support after Cookie made me an unwilling pawn in the cheap grog jihad.

    Stringers - gosh, we don't want to upset the witches, do we?

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  5. All these things, regardless of how well they stand up, are signs of how CAMRA's self-proclaimed "monopoly of the truth" about good beer is steadily being eroded.

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  6. Curmudgeon - I agree with that, but I think that it's more about there being a league (or division) table of UK brewers than anything else. Some brewers are solid gold, some middling, some consistently poor - why not just count the awards, or something that's clearly more objective than a peer-reviewed membership, or a 'beer, it's brilliant' approach?

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  7. peer review should be objective, its getting the representative panel of peers together that may proove tricky. I plan to support all organisations if possible.

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  8. Do you have a suggestion of a better way to approach membership? Have tried so far to include all brewers who have "self-declared". We want it to be as inclusive as possible but avoid "lowest common denominator" brewers

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  9. CAMRA has been wonderful for promoting good beer for many years but it has grown old and grouchy and lost focus. There are still a lot of beards and too many train spotters/tickers. Go to any CAMRA beer festival and the entertainment will be a jazz band or 60's group, pandering to an ageing membership. I'll stay a member but look forward to organisations with a more vibrant attitude.

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  10. I like the idea of 'Good Beer' but only in a response to 'Craft Beer'. Too many people like to argue over the term of "Craft Beer' and what it actually means - that's not helping anyone - but you can't really argue with 'Good Beer'. 'Good Beer' is also all about your own personal experience and at the end of the day, that's what beer should be about, and if you can spread a bit of that good news to others then that's great!

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  11. Steve - you can't support everyone, you've got to take sides!

    CBUK - no, I don't have any clever ideas, sorry. A league table of awards would be my suggestion, maybe with a weighting towards something that you consider to be a key aim of CBUK - non-CAMRA-related awards, perhaps? Or beers with high IBUs, or greater proportion of American hops in the recipe? Please bear in mind that my opinion is only my opinion, but I think that peer review for membership would be completely bogus - why not just go ahead and draw up the list yourself? It would be equally 'objective'. My big concern is that without a definition, "craft" will become as debased a term as "IPA" - is it an IPA if a brewery just decides to put those letters on a label or pumpclip?

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  12. Birkonian - I do sometimes wonder if CAMRA make deliberately perverse awards as a reaction to a perceived threat - of what kind, I'm unsure, but as you point out, they do seem to be getting irascible with age.

    Ghostie - the problem with "good beer" - and it's one that I fear I've fallen foul of - is that in the right circumstances, it can just mean anything,. which is as problematic as craft beer, which seems to mean nothing.

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  13. That's exactly it though, good beer can mean anything to anyone, and that's how it should be, if you think a beer is good, then preach it's merits to others. Even though Craft beer may still mean nothing, people are always going to find a way of fighting over it's terminology which is damaging. I'm not saying a campaign for 'good beer' is an ideal starting point, because as you say, it's rather vague - but I still like 'good beer' on a personal level, and I think the CAMRGB guys have a great passion. (like us) :)

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  14. CBUK - if 'craft beer' means something, what does it mean? Define your terms & it'll all become clear. If it's indefinable, then you're only going to end up with a club anyone can join - or else a club ruled over by a clique.

    Perhaps it's because I've only recently joined CAMRA, but I don't see anything wrong with their basic position of promoting cask beer while acknowledging that some non-cask beers are also good. Compared to cask, it doesn't seem to me that keg beers need much promoting - even the ones produced by obscure little independents like BrewDog. But I'm probably missing something.

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  15. We want to try and make it more objective, no need for "sides" good beer regardless of method of dispense. Awards aren't objective because they'd be affected by the nature of the organisation that gave them. Beginiing to think that we just open our doors to anyone that makes beer in the UK, then its up to members to decide who to support.

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  16. "I don't see anything wrong with their basic position of promoting cask beer while acknowledging that some non-cask beers are also good."

    That is the position of many CAMRA members; it isn't the "basic position" of CAMRA itself. Insofar as that is defined, it is that most non-real beers are crap, and those that aren't are essentially ultra vires.

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  17. Agree with curmudgeon, camra doesn't recognise anyuk non real ales at all and that's the problem

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  18. Birkonian suggests "Go to any CAMRA beer festival and the entertainment will be a jazz band or 60's group, pandering to an ageing membership". Well I can't speak for any other festival but as far as out little event in Stockport goes that's complete b*llocks. But than again, Birkonian does sometimes come across as being in "embittered former activist" mode - a bit like the "zeal of the convert" but in reverse.

    Meanwhile back at the ranch - it will be interesting to see how these two new organisations develop - but I use the word "organisations" in the loosest sense of the word because at the moment they seem to be sort of "me and a few mates" set ups more than anything else. And of course the elephant in the room is the definition of "craft beer" still more "good beer". Whatever you think of CAMRA at least they know what they mean by "real ale".

    John Clarke

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  19. Yes but you know what you mean by Good beer like anyone else John...

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  20. Is there an innate nobility in brewing less beer?
    No, but it's not necessarily about promoting nobility. My view -- and I don't think this is in the aims of either organisation under discussion -- is that small-output breweries are the ones more likely to need the support of an external group of drinkers. Once you're big enough, no matter how nobly craft you may be, you're more likely to be in a better position to rely on your existing customers to keep you in business.

    For small breweries the word of mouth that a drinkers' organisation can transmit can make a big difference.

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  21. Interesting enough but what are these organisations going to actually do? I suspect nothing other than just be.

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  22. Ghostie - well, I think I know what I mean by "good beer" - it's usually "beer I like". Sometimes though, it can be "well I don't really like this but can recognise it's a well made beer". That's the problem with an organisation for "really good beer" - what it's about is bound to be nebulous and (given we know how passionate people can be about this) potentially riven by disagreement.

    As for "craft beer" - as even the postings here show, no-one can decide what it means. I think for plenty of people it is just "beer I like from breweries I like" - with "brewery" almost inevitably being a micro. As Tandleman says I think both of these organisations are doomed to just be - unless they can decide on some sort of definable focus.

    John Clarke

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  23. I reckon, speed reading some of the stuff indicated by Zak, that SIBA should be concerned about the potential for losing out. If these come to anything, which is as yet a moot point.

    We in CAMRA can just get on with campaigning for cask beer and pubs. If the organisations do come to anything, we should if course talk to them in line with our Strategy Review. iIf a thousand flowers bloom, why not. The need to promote good beer is worthwhile, though the jury is out on whether these developmemts will do so or not.

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  24. It's worth mentioning this posting I did earlier in the year.

    "The result is that there is a large and growing territory in which CAMRA and “beer enthusiasm in Britain” no longer overlap. This in future may well become a problem if potential recruits with a wide-ranging interest in beer are put off by the fact that the organisation ignores and indeed sometimes denigrates many of the brews they appreciate and enjoy drinking. In the beer landscape of twenty years hence, CAMRA could have become an irrelevance."

    Personally I have no problem with it, but I think many in CAMRA from the top down to those at branch level who still bang on about "tinned beer" like 1971 never went away find it difficult to accept the concept of a landscape where a passion for "real ale" is only one of a number of overlapping "beer enthusiasms".

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  25. The definition for craft will be defined by the breweries that end up joining. We are aimining to promote the brewers that CAMRA currently don't due to having no cask dispense, especially smaller breweries. That's the aim of the map on our page. We're trying to decide the best way to decide how brewers can join, there's a poll on our website. http://cbuk.org.

    Maybe we will "just be" as Tandelman suggests, but would hope to run beer festivals and add a collective voice to campaigning for beer choice. Its not for one founder to decide the objectives though, they will need to come from the membership.

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  26. Beer Nut - but small isn't always beautiful - in fact, I'm not sure it's an indicator of anything meaningful. Are beautiful dreamers more deserving of support than anyone else?

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  27. It's about promoting choice for the drinker, which is something meaningful for me.

    I want there to be more small breweries. I want them to at least have the opportunity to be told, by an organisation committed to suporting them, "Look, mate, your beer just isn't up to scratch". I want drinkers to be able to find them in the first place to tell them, if necessary, that their beer isn't up to scratch. It's better, IMO, than just shrugging when they close and saying "Well I heard their beer was rubbish anyway", then going back to making do with the usual.

    The opposite side of the above worst-case scenario is a small brewing which happens to make cracking beer, but nobody ever found out what they made or where to get it.

    A capacity-based consumer-led group means that the outcome of whether a brewery lives or dies depends more on the beer quality and less on the brewery's marketing abilities and budget.

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  28. I'm joining in the hope I am the only local member. Then I can give local branch awards out for Foster's Lager.

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  29. I don't, honestly, think either of these organisations will turn out to be The Organisation but it's great to be having the discussion and batting some ideas around. Even if the result is that everyone decides that, actually, it isn't needed after all.

    I'm certainly bored of this circular conversation:

    1. CRAFT BEER FAN: I can't wholeheartedly sign up to CAMRA's current aims and objectives and don't see any sign that it's willing to consider changing.
    2. CAMRA FAN: then start your own club, you whinger.
    3. CRAFT BEER FAN: OK, I will. Ta-dah!
    4. CAMRA FAN: Idiot. Why are you bothering
    when CAMRA exists?

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  30. Beer Nut - that's fair point, and one that hadn't occurred to me. I have to say that I give my opinion publicly about things I enjoy, and tend to privately feed back to brewers when I think things aren't good enough (as I'm sure a few readers of this blog will attest!)

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  31. CBUK - you are only aiming to promote those brewers who don't do cask? Really? Won't that sort of limit your horizons a bit? I don't think you are saying that cask can't be craft but I would be happier if you would confirm that.

    John Clarke

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  32. I guess that starting out with clear aims and objectives lost out to vagueness and.muddle. Or do your own thing.

    Bailey. You were sailing along nicely until point 4. That might turn out to be the case but God loves a trier so who knows?

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  33. Zak, yes, I'd say most of us do. An awful lot of drinkers don't have access to the brewery, however. I mean, some of them don't even have blogs! A drinkers' organisation can bridge that gap.

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  34. Beer Nut, Bailey - I can see the sense in that, but isn't the beer blogosphere the start of that organisation? And if it is, then why am I being so curmudgeonly (apologies, Pub Curmudgeon) about it?

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  35. Yes, the beer blogosphere does a lot of that work, as I think someone said over on B&B t'other day. But I think the beer blogosphere sometimes forgets how small the beer blogosphere is. Plus, there is no substitute for being able to say "We, [organisation name], have [x] number of paying members who believe in and support our campaign for [y]". It takes it beyond mere Internet chatter and allows the possibility of focused projects using the financial and personnel resources that only a formal organisation can provide.

    Oh, and you get to do logos.

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  36. We should not rest until every man, woman and child has a beer blog of their own. We should make it as trendy as facebook and midget porn.

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  37. This change is happening anyway, as more and more of the beer market slips away to the off-trade, where CAMRA wields minimal influence, and non-real "quality" beers slowly but surely make more inroads in pubs and bars. No organisation is telling Tesco to stock Goose Island IPA, or punters to buy it. The growth in the appreciation of wine in the UK hasn't been driven by any kind of proseletysing body - it's just a slow drip, drip, drip of the dissemination of information.

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  38. Good points Mudgie. Not sure though what the seemingly inevitable lurch to home drinking will do. It is all LCD stuff really. But we can expect big polarisation and much more fragmentation. Poor souls at one end drinking down to a price, snobs at the other and cask as a determined regard action is one scenario. Beer is going through a very uncertain period I'd say.

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  39. There's a clear trend towards "premiumisation" in the take-home market. The bog-standard stuff at best treads water, but the premium shelves are groaning with British micro-brewed ales and a huge variety of imports. But nobody's telling, or even suggesting, what people should drink. OK, CAMRA says you should only buy beers with gunge in the bottom, but very few accept that as a guiding principle, although many beers with gunge in the bottom are actually very good. There aren't even any newspaper columns on bottled beers - it all works on word of mouth and simple experimentation.

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  40. Just reading an old CAMRA newsletter in which readers are recommended to visit a local off-license and try Orval, Westmalle, Schneider Weisse and Schlenkerla.

    The front page opines that "drinkers have a preference for the new beers being brewed by independent breweries who are smaller, more versatile and unconstrained by the need to impress the stock market more than the drinker."

    A full page is given over to an article bemoaning the decline in quality of Draught Bass, Tetley Bitter and Marston's Pedigree, accusing them of having undergone "blandification".

    Date of publication: 1993.

    I suggest if the inveterate CAMRA-bashers were actually to engage with the organisation, they might discover it’s rather less stuck in the mud than they imagine it to be, and has actually for quite a long time been doing the very things they claim it doesn't.

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  41. Local newsletters have a certain amount of latitude, though. Can you find any similar sentiments expressed in material published under the aegis of the national campaign?

    And, in any case, three of the four beers mentioned are bottle-conditioned anyway, so things CAMRA notionally supports.

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  42. Barm -- yes, CAMRA already does quite a lot to support good beer of all kinds. BEER magazine, as I've said a few times, shows us what a future CAMRA could be. And many of the bloggers questioning CAMRA's policies -- and you can question without bashing -- are members.

    It would just be nice if the stated aims of the organisation reflected any of this.

    It's all politics, though. If anything other than cask or bottle-conditioned ale (and 'real cider') is even seen to be tolerated, they'd lose lots of very loyal members, like the chap who wrote the letter in the most recent What's Brewing complaining about what he saw as a recent keg-friendly editorial.

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  43. @barm

    Interesting that all the beers your 1993 Camra newsletter advocates trying are all from non UK breweries. Have you a similar camra newsletter that encourages drinkers to try UK non cask beers?

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  44. I Was going to set up a campaign called 'Campaign Against CAMRA' but thought better of it.

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  45. CAMRA has the advantage IMO of standing for a definable type of beer which has a lengthy history and the advantage of tasting special. Also, anyone who makes such beer qualifies, i.e., in existence for a long time or not, big, small, middling, brewpub, it doesn't matter.

    Broadening the category introduces thorny questions of definition and judgement, some of which you mentioned.

    If in the end it's just what you think is great and I think is great, have we really moved the cause of good beer ahead?

    I wish these new groups well but for me CAMRA is indispensable.

    Gary

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  46. Saga: That would have been honest.

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  47. Gary - at the risk of re-hashing an old argument, CAMRA doesn't stand for a definable type of beer, it stands for a mode of dispense. There's nothing inherently magical about cask beer. While quality is undoubtedly steadily going up, there is still some terrible beer being produced.

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  48. Zak, thanks. I know of course what cask ale is. It is a type of beer for me, speaking broadly in a context such as the present. I do think it is special - I didn't say magical - by reference to all other beer, and deserves commensurate protection.

    Gary

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  49. Tandleman, I'm not against Camra, and am of course a member. But I'm sick of some of the policies that if it became law would actually cause more pubs to close down, then if the policy was not implemented. And a few years ago, selling me 12 copies of the good beer guide for something like 12 quid and then allowing amazon to sell the book for 7.50 really didn't make me happy that week. I know it was gross imcompetence rather than trying to stitch me up, but it was still infuriating.

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  50. SoN Well that is all rather a matter of opinion I'd venture. Not that I agree with all CAMRA's policies either. But then I argue for my opinion within the organisation.

    Quite successfully sometimes.

    Zak - Your argument about quality applies to all beer. But when cask is on top blob, it is unbeatable. (In my opinion of course.) But as Gary says, live cask beer is pretty much a UK indigenous speciality. I'd kind of thought, like Gary does, that it was worth protecting and promoting on these grounds alone.

    Maybe too many in this electronic environment of ours are just too sniffy about it, perhaps due to a preference for the exotic?

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  51. Gary, Tandleman - I think it's incredibly important to separate the quality of the beer from the mode of dispense, as I've said here, here and here. When CAMRA was founded - and let's not forget that it started life as the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, which is arguably a whole different thing - cask ale was an alternative to fizzy, pasteurised shite. That was a no-brainer. But cask ale has been promoted and protected to the point where it actually has been saved. CAMRA has achieved its aims in that respect, and now it is campaigning more strongly for the pub, for drinkers rights to a full measure, and all manner of secondary aims. I'm not taking away from its achievements by saying that - it's just a statement of fact.

    As an aside, damn, I wish I'd entered those articles for the Guild awards this year!

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  52. "I think it's incredibly important to separate the quality of the beer from the mode of dispense"

    Indeed you do, but that's a bit like saying Ye Old Oak Ham is inherently as good as Jamon Serrano. It is convenient to think cask ale is just about dispense. I would argue it is much more than that and it is not saved and never will be. It just goes through good and bad times. It always needs an eye keeping on it and that's why CAMRA does what it does and will continue, with wobbles, to do so in the future. And I can agree about secondary aims to some extent, though the pub isn't one, but the rest can go for me, if push came to shove.

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  53. "But cask ale has been promoted and protected to the point where it actually has been saved."

    Given that cask ale volumes have collapsed by 75% over the past 30 years, since CAMRA originally "saved" real ale, how true is that?

    "now it is campaigning more strongly for the pub, for drinkers rights to a full measure, and all manner of secondary aims."

    That is not the issue - the problem is that many voices within CAMRA, including many influential ones in high places, continue to disparage any non real "quality" beers. Many members cheerfully ignore that, and indeed, in the case of some newsletter editors, subtly subvert it, but as long as it continues to be a widely-held attitude, it remains a problem.

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  54. Yes, I've always thought it a bit glib to dismiss cask as "jusr a method of dispense" because arguably it's nothing of the sort. The cask conditioning bit is surely the final stage of the actual production process - the secondary fermentation in the cask. I think Zak is confusing "cask conditioned beer" with "real ale" while the two are usually synonymous it's not always the case - that's where "method of dispense" comes in.

    I admit to always bristling a bit when I see CAMRA being described as being just about a "mode of dispense" - whether deliberate or not it does seem designed to suggest that what CAMRA is about is a bit of an inconsequential triviality. Perhaps that what Zak really believes - it would be interesting to know.

    John Clarke

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  55. "That is not the issue - the problem is that many voices within CAMRA, including many influential ones in high places, continue to disparage any non real "quality" beers."

    That attitude is not as wide spread as you would have people believe, though it does exist. Many of us are working on the campaign "for" bit, not the campaign"against". We are winning that argument.

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  56. thebeermonkey:
    We regularly feature news and articles about Lovibonds and The Cotswold Brewery in our CAMRA branch newsletter The Oxford Drinker which I edit.

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  57. Curmudgeon - those are the facts, and they're hard to argue with. But isn't it more a case of market share?

    Tandleman - being a big fan of jamon, I'm not really sure I follow that logic. There's the beer that's brewed, and then there's the beer that is dispensed in pubs - those are two different things, surely, otherwise what's the point of having a campaign for real ale? Which brings me to...

    John - I'm clearly going to make a laughing stock of myself for this, but maybe you could explain the difference between cask-conditioned beer and real ale for me? Are you talking about cask priming and the like?

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  58. Is it not true that there are more micro breweries producing good ale than any time since the war ? There are certainly more micro breweries opening up each year than closing down. I think CAMRA still has an important role to play, but in my opinion, these days it is pubs that need saving more than cask ale.

    As far as I understand, Real Ale (as it is a given name to a product I believe it is correct to capitalise it, but I failed my English O level,) can be either bottle conditioned or cask conditioned. Given that glass and aluminium (or more recently plastic) are chosen for their inert properties regarding beer, the end product ought to be identical whether it is in a cask or bottle. Of course the difference comes from the amount of time that cask ale has to breathe and mature, and I assume that brewers change their recipes accordingly.

    I may of course be horribly wrong about this.

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  59. I just commented on Tandlemans blog this as well. What exactly is CAMRA's stance regarding keg beer, cask beer, bottled beer, and craft beer. It has occurred to me that I don't know and cannot easily find their actualy policy regarding these things. Their website doesn't have a clear link to their explicit aims and policies. Not that I could find, anyhow.

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  60. Cask-conditioned ale is not just a mode of dispense, if we are to look at it technically. It is beer not mechanically filtered, but generally fined before service, allowed to complete its maturation in the container from which it is served without extraneous pressure added to force out the beer. The dispense can vary for real beer: generally it is by a suction handpump system, invented circa-1800. Real beer can also be dispensed by thumb-taps straight from the cask on a stillage. It can also be drawn by electric metered pump from the barrel, this being not usual today I believe.

    The key to it is the pub-conditioning, as opposed to brewery conditioning and filtering. Craft beer as understood in North America usually is the latter type with the beer too rarely being unpasteurized.

    It is true that you can cask-condition any kind of beer e.g., pale ale, mild ale, porter, barley wine, even lager (of which it amounts to the last stage of lagering, essentially).

    But in my opinion, English real ale meant more than how the beer completed its maturation and was drawn from the cask. It meant, and still does in my opinion again, pale ale, some mild ale, some strong ale, and porter when available, made in the English way. This meant, using primarily English ingredients and lending therefore a characteristic English taste, diverse as it was, and is. Can real ale encompass a pale ale made with Cascade hops? Yes, for sure. Will the palette of ale flavours evolve as these beers come in? Yes. Will CAMRA stand for that type of real ale too? Of course, since it doesn't get into the fine details of hop and malt types. But what I am saying is, the real ale which CAMRA took a stand for in the 1970's had a definite image and more than that, a quality as compared to lager, and keg beer as it was in 1970. It still retains that special quality today because most of the non-real beer in England today is still lager and mass produced keg beer ( e.g., the nitro-dispense types). True, North American-style craft beer is now available in parts of England. I am glad for it since this kind of beer can be excellent.

    But real ale still is fundamentally different in its nature for me anyway. It is usually much less fizzy and has a "live" quality not as apparent even in top-grade brewery-conditioned beer. The taste difference is quite apparent usually. And so we need CAMRA to keep the flag flying for real ale and (I would hope) the range of English tastes which has characterized real ale for 100 years and probably much longer. This "English" aspect can't be a formal part of its remit, I understand that. All I am saying is, when CAMRA members talk to publicans and brewers, I would hope they will say to them, make beers with new tastes available by all means but don't give up please on the classic tastes, primarily in pale ale but also mild and some other types, which were the glory of English ale when CAMRA was founded. Keep that constellation of flavours going in other words.

    Gary

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  61. I hasten to correct: when describing craft beer as understood in North America, I meant of course to say that it is rarely pasteurized (not unpasteurized). Cask beer of course in England or North America is not pasteurized.

    Gary

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  62. At the risk of receiving further obscenity aimed my way, isn't the problem the assumption that CAMRA is directly relevant to the discussion? The protection of cask ale is a valuable thing but, like the view of the 100 mile diet locavore, is defined by factors other than what is good. Living on an international border, you become aware that what gets included in the diet suddenly is defined by nationalism, too, flavoured by certain slants on what constituted heritage.

    I am quite happy to accept Gary and TM's views of their beloved. Cask ale is very fine when it is good. But it is not more always good than is food from nearby. Isn't the stripping away of irrelevancies and tangents in the pursuit of the good one of the points of the pursuit of the good?

    Alan

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  63. Granted for present purposes - but the point is still valid. Not exploring vested interest in framing an argument is mind numbingly circular and misses / deflects the more interesting point that it is better to pursue the good than limit oneself to any one characterization of it, no matter how loudly it is proclaimed.

    Alan

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  64. The problem lies in the collective identification of the good in order to have a collective pursuit thereof.

    Several (most, possibly?) of the EBCU members simply regard beer as the good, and seek to promote beer culture and the joy of beer in all its forms. Which specific beers the members choose to drink is entirely up to the individual members, but their central point is: Beer Is Best.

    I think that works rather well as a slogan.

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  65. @Gary Gillman

    "It is beer not mechanically filtered"

    It was my understanding that many large and respected brewers of real ale (and brewdog) do mechanically filter their beer. Sharps, Greene King and Thornbridge being a few. I can't really refute the latter half of your post as it is made up more of personal opinion than fact.

    Like Zak I would also like to know how Real Ale is defined beyond that it is conditioned in the vessel that it is served from, minus 'extraneous gas'.

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  66. True, BN. Some once found fern ale good. Maybe the pursuit of "goodness" or "reality" or "craftiness" is all a side show. Maybe there is something so old and elemental about beer (amongst we of the beer making cultures) that debating or even searching for objective "better" is a bit silly or at least co-existent with the comforting pleasure it brings. A man's dog may be ugly and smelly but he still truly loves it. Beer is best because it is beer. Full stop.

    Alan

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  67. On the point of filtering, I have always understood that real ale, to ensure secondary maturation in the cask, is not filtered of its yeast via a mechanical filtration or centrifuge process, but rather comes clear in the glass due to finings being added to the cask, or in some cases by the yeast being allowed to drop to the bottom by gravity (i.e., naturally but it often takes time). I think all beer is separated from its yeast at the brewery to stop active fermentation, e.g., by the Unions system classically in Burton, but apart from that I would have thought beer is not further filtered for cask service. But if I am wrong I am grateful for all further information.

    Cask ale can be poor or indifferent in quality, certainly. Some big brewery bitter was insipid for example. But a lot of it was superlative (Courage's beers, say, or Guinness Extra Stout when it was bottle-conditioned).

    Apart from this, there was and is the difficult problem of ensuring a well-served pint.

    For these reasons, I would be the last to say real ale should be the only thing to drink or the only subject of all beer promotion groups. This is why I gave these newer organizations my good wishes.

    My comments are directed simply to the desirability of CAMRA continuing to exist as a single-focus entity. This will keep real ale in the limelight, and of course it will tend to improve its quality both inherently and as served at the pub due to CAMRA's campaigning activities (Good Beer Guide, its monthly newspaper focusing on breweries and traditional practices, etc.).

    Gary

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  68. "My comments are directed simply to the desirability of CAMRA continuing to exist as a single-focus entity. This will keep real ale in the limelight, and of course it will tend to improve its quality both inherently and as served at the pub due to CAMRA's campaigning activities (Good Beer Guide, its monthly newspaper focusing on breweries and traditional practices, etc.)"

    That sounds about right. Me too. I too wish these new organisations well, but as I said in my piece,there are good reasons why they are unlikely to succeed overall.

    And Alan - Next time you fancy expounding your arguments within your framework - you write the piece. Please don't expect me to do it your way and then have a go when I don't. Cut out the middleman. (-;

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  69. You can't stop me from liking you, Tandy.

    Alan
    XOXO

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  70. I've been reading online about cask ale production and it appears there are different practices amongst brewers. Some skim off the yeast after primary fermentation, obviously using some kind of mechanical device which I knew hence my reference to Unions. Another way this is done is straight from the open tank where the yeast is skimmed off.

    This beer is then racked into casks and finings are used to get an optimum ("bright") clarity.

    This is the kind of production I was thinking of.

    A further way to produce cask beer is to filter out the yeast with a centrifuge, tank it and then re-yeast in the tank with sugar sometimes added. The beer is racked in casks and again sent with finings to the publicans' cellars.

    This latter way is maybe what was alluded to in one of comments above. My understanding is a centrifuging is a rough filtration, but I won't argue the point since fresh yeast is added, and clearly this is a variation from the first and (I believe) older practice mentioned above.

    This latter way to do it sounds to me like the cask equivalent of what I understand some brewers do who bottle ale with its yeast: i.e., they filter it first and then re-seed it with yeast.

    But it's still real beer because it finishes its maturation in the container it is drawn from. That is the key thing for the real ale devotee, this one at any rate! But it is good to know the different ways it is done and I am glad to be able to clarify my earlier comment about mechanical filtration via the above.

    Gary

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  71. Zak - sorry I've not got back (101 things to do before I go to Netherlans tomorrow - just had rather fine De Schans Imperial Stout to get in the mood, but I digress).

    Cask conditioned beer does what it says. It is beer that undergoes a secondary fermaentation in the cask. You knew that of course. Real Ale is the same beer dispensed from that cask without the aid of extraneous gas (usally but not always CO2). Real ale can also come in bottle. You knew that as well. Thus some beer can cask condition but it dispensed in such a way that it is not "real ale" at the point of service - for example the sort lived fad for "real smooth".

    John Clarke

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  72. Thanks everyone for the comments - this post really has taken on a life of its own!

    John - thanks for clarifying that. I wonder how many CAMRA members would understand that distinction, let alone think of it for themselves?

    Further to that, would it be hideously mischievous of me to draw everyone's attention back to the original point - the difficulty of defining exactly what constitutes good beer and/or craft beer - and then suggest that given the debate here over what constitutes real ale and/or cask-conditioned beer, CAMRA have the upper hand only on the basis of having 40 years on any new pretenders?

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  73. Zakm - mischievous but not I think entirely inaccurate.

    Just noticed how particularly poor my typing was in that last post. Blame the Imperial Stout (which really was very good indeed - I must try and pick some more up this weekend)

    John Clarke

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  74. I take the distinction John made, but if gas is inserted in the container to push out the beer, as I understand the smooth flow process does, of course it wouldn't meet the CAMRA requirement even if the beer conditioned in a cask. And I know John would agree with that, which perhaps argues to return to the usage of the term real ale, which is starting to have a period ring.

    Zak, your point is well-argued but I would argue in turn there is a difference: in the real ale world, there is a core definition which is widely accepted. In the non-real ale world, it is much more difficult. You get into questions of size of brewery, all malt vs. malt-plus-adjunct, pasteurization or no, hop pellets or whole leaf, it just doesn't end. It is easier, despite some admitted difficulties, to plump for - define in a word - real ale. Added to which it tastes superb and is something closely associated with English brewing history.

    Anyway, excellent discussion!

    Gary

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  75. Without wishing to attract too much flak, I will just point out that some ales are clearly more Real than others. Two notorious ones, Courage Best and Doombar are really only just cask conditioned. Talk to any landlord who stocks them and he will tell you that these two are basically bright beers. There is so little yeast remaining in the cask, that they will clear in a matter of hours, and can be ready to drink less than 8 hours after being delivered and dropped into the cellar. If John Smooth was put in a cask, I cannot imagine it acting much differently to some low quality cask ales.

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  76. Some really good points here around what constitutes 'real ale'. The downside to a very clear, specific definition of what you're campaigning for is that it's easy for breweries (especially big ones) to game the system, i.e. by producing something cheap and bland which, nonetheless, technically meets the criteria for being 'real'. Hence the huge trade stands for some pretty mediocre beers at the last GBBF I attended, I guess.

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  77. Well that's true, but of course the big concerns can also issue craft-style beers if they wish to by using folksy names, trade styles having the flavour of a local business, and so forth.

    It's all valid for the market though and people will decide for themselves what they really like.

    At the end of the day, it's probably more an emotive decision whether to stand uniquely behind real beer as CAMRA has done, than anything else. I recognize too there is a generational aspect to it. CAMRA will need to make ongoing efforts to appeal to current and future generations for whom consumer movements don't have the excitement they did in the 1970's. It's actually remarkable that CAMRA is still going strong, considering all the changes in the world and beer since the 70's, but that attests to the special quality of their cause I think, it still resonates with thousands of people.

    Gary

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