A warning: I shall repeatedly use the phrase “craft keg” to refer to a cross-section of beers currently available that do not fit in with CAMRA’s definition of Real Ale. I can’t think of a better term that would mean anything to enough people so that’s what I’ll have to use, even though I dislike the term. If you can’t deal with that, don’t read on!
Yesterday I picked up on a blog post by Tandleman here that itself referred to a letter in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing by Tim Webb. Apparently Mr Webb wants CAMRA to change and embrace the brave new world of “craft keg” and other great improvements in the world of beer. In his blog post Tandleman is, perhaps not surprisingly, somewhat more reserved about the level of change CAMRA should make, but agrees there should be some change.
What surprised me more, as a CAMRA member myself who has long said that the organisation needs to change it’s attitudes to avoid being left behind, and as part of the team behind one of the different sorts of beer festival that have grown up in the last couple of years on the back of the “craft” boom, is that I thought, “No!”.
I thought it quite vehemently actually. But I think I have sound reasons. I don’t suggest CAMRA doesn’t need to change in some ways, to become a little more tolerant and accepting of other’s (including a portion of its own membership) foibles. To modernise its language and eliminate misinformation. But to embrace and extend beyond its Real Ale focus? No.
The thing is, we now have a newly vibrant and I believe still growing beer scene where Cask Ale and Craft Keg can co-exist quite happily if proponents of one don’t take that to be the same as opposing the other – in fact you can be “for” both as many, if not most, drinkers are . A number of events have sprung up catering for the new market who want a mixture of great beers in both cask and keg – I should know, I’m involved in one of them. But what happens if CAMRA changes completely to embrace this? What if every beer festival they run starts to look like an IndyMan, a Craft Beer Rising, or a Beer Bash? Gradually, those events that set out to be something different all round start to lose some of their unique qualities. They start to look less different to every other event and eventually you might reach the point where they are simply an independent event of no real difference to the CAMRA one down the road. And when these events are seen as no different to any other, those with modest resources as opposed to backed by a large organisation, will be the ones to disappear. The (re-)homogenisation of beer festivals, just like the homogenisation of beer that was part of the reason CAMRA came to be in the first place. *
So yes CAMRA, acknowledge there are other good beers, be welcoming of the fact, don’t oppose them, but continue to fight for Real Ale, for pubs, for what you stand for. Strive for improvement. Leave room for others to do their thing and coexist happily, collaborate and be friends. But don’t feel you have to change because all good beer has to have a CAMRA-approved badge. Just to do the above well is change enough, and UK beer will be all the better for it.
* maybe that’s extreme. Maybe it would never go that far. But can you be sure it wouldn’t?