| Beer, CAMRA, Cask ale

What should CAMRA do now to save cask ale – and itself?

CAMRA members who voted against a motion to extend the remit of the organisation think they did so to preserve cask ale. In reality, they’re killing  it. 

On Saturday, the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA’s) Revitalisation Project reached its conclusion. At the organisation’s AGM, members voted on a range of measures that would modernise the campaign and broaden its scope. All but one of these measures was passed, and there is undoubtedly cause for celebration that the campaign has resolved to promote the benefits of moderate social drinking, show more support for pubs, and think more about inclusivity. But the one proposal that would have really changed everything – that CAMRA should “act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub-goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers” – was not passed. 72% of CAMRA members voted for it, but it needed 75% to pass. A small minority of the organisation’s members have prevented the majority from moving it forward.

I’ll concede that this tweet, posted on Saturday night when I heard the news, was a bit melodramatic:

But I stand by the feelings of sadness and dismay that prompted it. I really didn’t anticipate that it would cause so much discussion on Twitter yesterday, with agreement and disagreement both being expressed passionately. The comments of many of those who delighted in the motion’s failure only deepened my feelings that both CAMRA and cask ale are in deep trouble. So I’m going to outline why here, in a lot more than 280 characters.

First, let’s deal with some of the predictable responses and get them out of the way.

 

1.”Real ale is the only beer worth drinking. CAMRA is right to fight for it exclusively because anything else is fizzy industrial piss.”

If you really think this, I have nothing to say to you. You might as well stop reading now. You know nothing about beer. Go and do something else.

 

2. “Duh – the clue is in the name! Its the campaign for REAL ale.”

No, the clue is not in the name. It’s not called the Campaign for Cask Ale. (Although CACA is perhaps a more descriptive acronym for the campaign at the moment.) Cask ale has a precise technical definition. ‘Real ale’ is a marketing and campaigning slogan created by CAMRA when it was already two years old. CAMRA invented the term and decided what it meant, and can change that meaning whenever it chooses. Leaving aside the campaign’s support for cider and perry, its commitment to pubs, and its arm’s-length support for traditional German, Czech and Belgian beer styles (so long as they stay over there) CAMRA already has changed the definition of what it considers to be real ale. It did so when it decided bottle-conditioned beer also counted as real ale, and again more recently when it declared key keg to be real ale. It has the freedom to apply the term ‘real ale’ to anything it wants, because it invented the term, and controls its definition.

 

3. “OK, I do like some other beers, but cask ale is always better so we should stick to campaigning just for that.”

No it’s not. Green King IPA is not a better beer than Westmalle Tripel. Doom Bar is not a better beer than Pilsner Urquell (although ultimately, it comes down to individual taste). British brewers are now making decent lagers and Belgian style beers, among others, that do not have cask conditioning as part of their traditional production or dispense. Is cask special? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be supported and campaigned for? Totally. But you don’t have to pretend it’s always better than anything else in order to support it. If you do, you sound like me and my fellow Barnsley FC supporters, standing on the terraces at Oakwell chanting that our club is by far the greatest team the world has ever seen, when clearly they aren’t.

 

4. “If you love keg beer so much, go and start your own campaign for keg beer.”

This is the most important and complex issue to address, and I’m going to spend the rest of this blog on it.

I suppose it’s easy to assume that the reason people like me want CAMRA to support a wider range of quality beers is that we want the the campaign to help what CAMRA drinkers insist on calling ‘craft keg.’ But for me at least, that’s not the point. And anyway, craft keg os doing just fine without CAMRA’s help. The point is that segmenting the market into cask and keg is no longer the most relevant and useful way of looking at things, if it ever was. There’s the obvious point that what ‘keg’ beer is has changed fundamentally since CAMRA was founded. But it’s about much more than that.

Cask ale’s health has recently gone into severe decline. Over the twelve months to February 2018, and in the twelve months before that, cask volume declined by over 4% each year – that means almost ten per cent of the entire cask market has vanished in the last 24 months.

It’s curious, perhaps, that this decline comes at a time when CAMRA’s membership is increasing. It’s easy to equate CAMRA’s growth with burgeoning interest in cask. Clearly, this is not the case. Cask ale has gone into steep decline as CAMRA’s membership soars. CAMRA does many fine things in support of cask, but the sum total as it stands is not doing enough to protect cask ale. So something has to change.

What I find most alarming is that no one in the cask ale industry wants to ‘fess up that there’s a serious issue here. This is a recipe for disaster, like the middle-aged man who won’t go and get that pain checked out at any the doctor because he’s scared of what he might hear, and anyway it might just go away. Last year. when I wrote about the quality issues around cask in London, I was comprehensively attacked from all corners of the industry, in a number of different publications.  Now, the plight of cask is actively being covered up. From 2007 to 2015, I wrote eight editions of the Cask Report. Every single one of them contained a figure for cask ale’s value and volume performance versus the previous twelve months. The two editions of the report that have come out since I resigned from doing it have not contained this figure – because it’s so bad. The most recent edition of the Report stated that cask had declined by 5% over the last five years, which was in line with the overall beer market. The reason they gave a five-year figure is to disguise the fact that almost all that decline has come in the last two years.

It also disguises the fact that cask, for the first time in a decade, has begun to perform worse than the rest of the beer market.

One of the central arguments of the Cask Report since year one was that while cask ale was in steady decline, it was actually outperforming the rest of the on-trade beer market. This is no longer true. The total on-trade beer market is steadily improving while casks performance worsens.

The other thing that used to be true was that cask was performing way better than keg. It was strongly increasing its share of total ale as people turned away from smoothflow and traditional keg. While that is surely still happening, the arrival of craft keg finally seems to be having an impact on total keg’s performance. For a long time, keg was in seemingly terminal decline. Now, it’s outperforming cask. (Although it would be useful if craft keg could be separated from old keg to get a clearer picture.)

Now, I imagine that to some seasoned casketeers, this chart will represent a battle cry. “See? We were right! Evil keg is making a comeback, we must protect cask at all costs! Keg is or enemy!”

Well, good luck with that. It really was nice knowing you. You know those clickbait headlines that tell you you’ve been brushing you’re teeth wrong your whole life? To a non-cask drinker, that’s what you sound like., only more annoying. And if you want to save cask ale, you need to get more non-cask drinkers to start drinking cask. You can’t do that by going on about how awful keg is. Especially when it’s not true.

Year after year, research for the Cask Report showed us that there were no deep-seated objection to cask, not in significant numbers. any way. The main reason people hadn’t tried it was that they hadn’t been given a reason to. Cask needs to be made relevant to these people in the context of what they’re already drinking: if you like that, you might like this. Craft keg drinkers are a soft target for cask to convert – they’re half way there already, as this piece of research commissioned for Box Steam Brewery (which produces both traditional cask and modern craft beers) shows.

Source: Big beer ballot 2018, Colour and Thing

Most drinkers just want good beer, irrespective of who made it or what it comes in. Most cask ale brewers now brew in other formats as well – cask now only accounts for 74% of SIBA members’ output, which puts CAMRA in the strange position of endorsing some but not all of the beer of the breweries it claims to support. Most cask drinkers also drink other drinks. Back in my advertising days. I had access to a big survey database that asked pretty much anything you could think of. One attitude statement was ‘The only beer worth drinking is real ale.’ I took people who ‘strongly agreed’ with this statement, and split them to see what beer brands they claimed to drink ‘most often’. Top of the list was Stella Artois. Some cask drinkers switch to Guinness if they’re in a pub with nothing good on. Some Stella drinkers have a pint of cask with their dads when they go home to visit. Many drinkers I know make a choice based on style, ABV or brewery before they decide whether they want cask or keg. From both a producer’s and drinker’s perspective, saying you’re only going to support cask and keep it in some isolated bubble actually confuses things rather than helping get the message across.

To engage the occasional or non-cask drinker more often, cask needs to speak to them on their own terms, where they are, and in a way that’s relevant to them. In other words, in order to save cask ale, CAMRA needs to engage with and represent the interests of all pub-goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers – precisely the thing its most reactionary members have just voted against.

Craft keg is not the enemy. There are many reasons people are walking away from cask. Look at the graphs above – no sector is having a great time here. Pubs are closing, partly because we’re visiting them less often than we used to. We’re drinking less alcohol overall, which is being exacerbated by increasingly blatant lies from the anti-alcohol lobby. Within that shrinking market, we’re drinking more at home than we do out of the home. When we do fancy a drink, we’re increasingly likely to order wine or spirits – both of which are in growth at beer’s expense. And within this scenario, cask is doing worse now than any other beer style because of its appalling quality issues – which need to be saved by training and education as a matter for urgency – and because the price of this premium product has been depressed to such an extent that publicans can sell other beers – which are easier to keep and have less wastage than cask – for a lot more money. The are the main reasons cask is in decline. CAMRA’s leadership do of course recognise all this, and deserve huge credit for working so hard to moderniser the organisation. But while CAMRA members are still spending most of their time fretting about the kind of container beer comes in, they are not tackling these other, far more important issues as urgently as they could. Broaden the remit to good beer, establish cask’s relevance within that broader remit, and champion the bigger picture. You just might turn cask’s fortunes around.

Or you could just sit there and carrying on ranting like these guys, and fade into deserved irrelevance.

28 Comments

28 Comments

Andrew Bowden

I am a CAMRA member and I am one of the 72%. To be honest, there is a part of me that was surprised the figures supporting that move was that high. But then maybe I just pay too much attention to the What’s Brewing’s letters page.

Truthfully I have always struggled how some CAMRA members can sit there and proclaim that nothing beats cask whilst at the same time celebrating and venerating beers like Budvar and most of the beers of Belgium.

I also suspect this is an age-era thing. The generation that remembers Watneys Red Barrel etal. Eventually they’ll fall by the way side. I see that 72% figure as a positive – there’s support for change. It shouldn’t take much to nudge those numbers higher, especially if there’s a few resignations over other controversial subjects such as the end of opposition to cask breathers. It just might take a bit longer for the organisation to get there. I just hope it’s not too late.

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Phil

CAMRA already has changed the definition of what it considers to be real ale. It did so when it decided bottle-conditioned beer also counted as real ale, and again more recently when it declared key keg to be real ale.

But it didn’t. There was never anything in the definition of ‘real ale’ that said it had to be in contact with the air or drawn up with a hand pump. Real-ale-inna-KK is real ale because it always was.

Is cask special? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be supported and campaigned for? Totally. But you don’t have to pretend it’s always better than anything else in order to support it.

I unreservedly agree. Anyone saying that the best beer must always be RA wants their head examined; the definition of RA is a historical curiosity based on the idiosyncrasies of mid-twentieth-century English beer culture. But, dammit, it’s our historical curiosity and it works – it marks out something valuable & worth preserving. And apparently ‘preserving’ is the order of the day once again.

if you want to save cask ale, you need to get more non-cask drinkers to start drinking cask. You can’t do that by going on about how awful keg is.

Isn’t that precisely what CAMRA – and CAMRA members – did for 20+ years without anyone complaining? In any case, “what you’re drinking already is absolutely fine, but you might like to try this” isn’t the best sales pitch I’ve ever heard.

Broaden the remit to good beer, establish cask’s relevance within that broader remit

But that’s precisely and specifically what the not-quite-carried amendment didn’t do. Saying “of course we’ll promote cask” while removing references to it is like a manager saying “everyone knows overtime isn’t compulsory, no need to actually say so”.

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Tommy Dempsey

“Real-ale-inna-KK is real ale because it always was.”

Yes, it always was, but it took CAMRA a while to understand this.

The one problem that I see, more than any other, with some of the people who are against the current beer revolution, is that of a lack of education.

Key-keg took a while to be recognised as Real Ale by CAMRA standards, because (and I’ve seen this myself from working experience) a lot of it’s members hear the word keg and immediately baulk, and ignore everything else about the product and how it works.

A remark that I’ve heard a lot of members make, is pointed out in this article;

“1.”Real ale is the only beer worth drinking. CAMRA is right to fight for it exclusively because anything else is fizzy industrial piss.”

And as Dave so rightly responded;

“If you really think this, I have nothing to say to you. You might as well stop reading now. You know nothing about beer. Go and do something else”

I find it quite frustrating to hear CAMRA members fighting against matters, yet have no knowledge about what it is they’re fighting against.

I once heard someone say that they don’t drink keg beer because “additives and preservatives in the gas” make them ill…

I couldn’t believe it.

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Rob Shaw ( formerly @WirrAleDrinker)

I remember the derision I received during a CAMRA regional meeting in 2012 discussing what became their Whatpub website for daring to suggest that recording details of real ale pubs only would limit the appeal to CAMRA members, while a website containing details of all pubs would be usable by everyone (over legal drinking age). They failed to see how a single, centralised resource could be use to positively promote real ale and educate people proactively, choosing instead to loudly bray their ignorance.

Tired of banging my head against a wall, I left CAMRA shortly after this and did not looked back.

While I was pleasantly surprised by the levels of support for the failed motion last weekend the outcome was hardly surprising, especially given the number of belligerent “cask-is-everything” stalwarts guaranteed to vote in force. Nor was it surprising given what I have experienced before by the most senior and active members.

I agree this was an opportunity missed, but does it actually matter? Craft-Keg bars and festivals are already supported by CAMRA members keen to enjoy good beer; those who follow their taste buds over their discounts. Does it really matter if the organisation doesn’t represent what its members do? How is that really different to now? CAMRA will go on, Mainstream beer will continue to dominate both on and supermarket sales, pubs will keep shutting and people simply won’t care what their discount beer fan club is actually doing.

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Alex Wright

Did they nick your idea in the end? Since there are keg only pubs on Whatpub now (if you untick real ale pubs only).

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Rob Shaw ( formerly @WirrAleDrinker)

Maybe. While Whatpub does have some info yet, it’s really not comprehensive enough, so not reflecting the whole range of product available means that people can’t make an informed decision on whether they sell something the whole group wants, thus limiting its appeal. google maps is often more accurate and contains more information…

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John O'D (@geordiemanc70)

An excellent piece that highlights why CAMRA’s demise would not be a cause for rejoicing while making a pretty clear argument that what the accompanying blurb for Special Resolution 6 tried to set out isn’t “keg propaganda”, it is very real.

I incorrectly tagged you in a tweet having mistaken a quoted tweet for your “Bye bye CAMRA” one and assuming you were already tagged – as was later pointed out, yours was quoted in the linked blog but the one quoted in the tweet was Roger Protz’s equally melodramatic one. I tried to apologise almost immediately but you wasted no time on the blocking me.

I said in that tweet that “you” (actually Roger) should have known better than the qouted tweet – with this piece you have shown that you do indeed know a lot better than soundbite tweets.

Do you have any data on whether the decline in cask is across the sector or if it has “hot spots”. If, as I hope it is, the decline comes more from the new nationals and the regionals then I would feel that it is no bad thing. Compared to what else is available, the majority of those brewers’ cask is not a great advert for the category – often pushed at big discounts into pub co outlets who need to put the “cask ales” line on their signage to keep up with the Jones’ (the same outlets who now have blackboards announcing “craft beers” when all they have on the bar is Moretti, Maltsmiths or Revisionist.

I am totally in agreement that dividing support for the beer market on dispense type, or even location of the conditioning process, is ignoring the much greater threats – the “health” lobby, the loss of pubs, the trends towards home drinking, wines, fake alcopops masquerading as cider, the pub co drain and the one that you don’t mention on this occasion – the march of the global giants that if not checked would not only wipe out cask beer but any anything but a few worldwide brands.

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PeteBrown

Unblocked – sorry for the misunderstanding.

I don’t have any data on where the decline is happening, but anecdotally I hear its worst among the ‘squeezed middle’ of smaller regionals and family brewers. I know a lot of beer fans would shed few tears for these guys, but beware the law of unintended consequences. If you’re a trad family brewer with say, 200 pubs, and your beer suddenly looks dull compared to what’s out there, any business analyst from outside the sector would tell you to flog the brewing division and focus on the pub estate. And who buys the brewing arm> Look at Thwaites, Youngs, Sharps, Charles Wells – every time it happens, to means consolidation and bigger market share for the biggest players.

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Ian Stimson

While i agree with the premise, that cask beer is in serious decline i disagree with your conclusion about what must be done about it. Shifting the focus of camra to a broader range is not going to help at all, if anything it’s going to make things worse because you’ll be splitting camra’s focus and resources onto other products. great for the market as a whole not so great for cask conditioned ales.

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Rupert Thompson

Well said Pete, 100% right. My brewery is over three quarters cask and we are very committed to cask ale, but we need to promote enjoyment and respect for all quality ‘crafted’ beers, and that way we raise the standard of all beer, from which cask will also benefit. The two biggest problems for cas are inconsistent quality and unsustainably low wholesale prices, the latter precluding sufficient investment in the former. We need a campaign for a ‘fair pice for cask’

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Neil

I’m a CAMRA member and if I’d realised the gravity (pun intended) of this vote I’d have been one of the 72%. I didn’t vote because I didn’t realise there was more than just the usual hand-wringing grumbling issues at stake. My local CAMRA has made not one mention of there being this tectonic shift decision coming up, and the first I heard of it was in the mainstream media AFTER the vote.

My experience was to log into the voting site, see a wall of work to be done, and think “oh I’ll look at that later”. If there had been a one-issue “modernise CAMRA or not?” decision available I would have voted. CAMRA didn’t help itself by disguising this headline issue amongs all the other low-hanging fruit.

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John O'D

To make the point I am trying to make in many places, the motion was not “lost” in my book.
It fell short by 900 votes. But it had a very very clear majority and as one vocal opponent has said this morning “I might not like it, but the direction of travel is clear”.

Otherwise great point about the numbers going over the high cliff edge. The concern is that the misreporting and use of terms like “lost”, “rejected” and “deemed insufficient” (not the mention the Morning Advertisers report this morning that “a majority of members did not approve the recommendation”) will result in a lot of progressive members throwing themselves off the much lower cliff and still leave the balance just the wrong way.

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Ted

I had suggested natural wastage should clear up the problem (so long as various people who feel let down don’t quit).

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Grant_2000

Has any one else ever seen pieces of machenery floating in the keg beer, like cog and wheel and bit of rubber? I have order over 5 pints recently in different bars and have ended up swallowing a bit of machenery?

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Alan Jackson

As a Canadian, I find the debate fascinating. Craft beer drinkers in North America are happy to drink beer from a bottle, can, cask or keg so long as that beer tastes good. We don’t have the tradition of beer engines and cask ale, so the focus here is on high quality beer, made from high quality ingredients, hopefully locally sourced. I even belong to a “CAMRA” branch in Vancouver – although I’m not sure if there is any actual affiliation with the real “CAMRA”. Our branch focuses on things like serving size, clean tap lines, drinkers rights, and promoting breweries and pubs that serve quality beer.

All that said, whenever I’m in England, I try to drink “real ale” as often as I can. When done well, it is a special, unique drink. There’s something almost romantic about a beer engine, too. I love them. So I’m sympathetic to the preservation of the drink and the value of tradition. I was last in London this past summer, and I did notice that the “craft beer revolution” has certainly arrived in England, and that is to the benefit of those who love a pint of unique, well-made, delicious beer. But it need not come at the expense of cask ale. At least, I hope not. And Pete, if you’ve read this, just wanted to say I’m a big fan of your books. Keep up the great work. Cheers.

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Bradshaw

“Greene King IPA is not a better beer than Westmalle Tripel”

Er, straw man alert! Surely the argument is that cask Greene King IPA (if well kept) is a better beer than keg Greene King IPA. CAMRA has never claimed that the worst bog-standard cask beer is better than the very best non-real beer.

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Richard Dakin

What should CAMRA do now to save cask ale – and itself?
That was Pete’s question. Education is the key factor and that requires clear definitions; and a far simpler and shorter revitalisation project, than has just ended, may have produced a more helpful result. To make rational movement forward, in the current, now much more complex drinks market, it is essential to define what is now available and that has not really occurred.
It does not help, for example, that ‘keg’ has been used to define a new product, when ‘keg’ used to define a very poor product. Clearly, if you look into the old and new products’ ingredients, it is obvious that the two products are completely different.
Neither does it help that key-keg has been, generally, served chilled, for all beer styles and certainly cask temperature varies, dependent on style. The beer inside each container could be identical, made from water, malted barley, hops and live yeast. The cask ale would be sucked out with a pump, or gravity fed and air would replace the live beer in the cask. The keykeg could be the same beer in a plastic bag pressed out with gas outside the bag, with no gas or air contaminating the live beer. If both are served at 12 deg C, where is the difference?
That is one example where people hear a word (keg) and misunderstand the actual product. Bottle conditioned beer, again with water, malted barley, hops and live yeast, is again the same product. However, go to a brewery shop and buy some ‘loose’ beer and the same beer in a bottle (now bottled with industrial CO2 and with no live yeast). Take them home and do a taste test. No surprise, they taste very different.
The points:
1) Define products properly. e.g. Real Ale essentially contains water, malted barley, hops and live yeast and is unadulterated by the manner in which it is served. Old keg was adulterated by industrial CO2 under pressure, key-keg is not.
2) Ensure manufacturers label drinks accurately. That way you can have Real Ale in a cask, Real Ale in a key-keg and Real Ale in a bottle. (All three will be actively conditioning in their respective container.)
So, perhaps Pete’s question could be:
What should CAMRA do now to save Real Ale – and itself?

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Buster

To Mr Dakin,

Your post has lots of good but so many missed opportunities.

I’ll declare my various interests – I’m the head brewer of Brecon Brewing and the former National Chairman of SIBA, as well as a member of CAMRA’s Technical Advisory Group… I’m also currently sat in a bar in Nashville TN outside the BA’s Craft Beer Conference, which I’m really enjoying…

Education us absolutely the key and I sincerely hope that CAMRA can find a way to be the leading light in consumer education, because we really need someone to step up.

Let’s all be very clear about what us currently happening in the UK and global Brewing scene – brewers are using their imagination and creating beers of many formats in many different types of container. Some of these will even match CAMRA’s definition of Real Ale. And by no means all of these will be cask beer. But the simple truth is that myself and the vast majority of people are purely interested in if is the beer good and tasty or is it a victim of either big brewer financial control, bug brewer incompetence or smaller brewer over enthusiasm…

My personal view is that few brewers, let alone CAMRA members, know what is happening inside any container, be it cask, keg, bottle or can.

This makes the definition of Real Ale more or less meaningless, as no one can sensibly say what exactly is inside any particular container… But we surely know if it tastes good… Or not..

Surely that is the definitive factor? If not, it should be.

I feel the need to answer certain points raised –
Beer in a keg, be it old or new if still made primarily from the same core ingredients – water, cereals, hops and yeast. To suggest otherwise is comparable to the concept of a flat earth…

However, brewers are an imaginative bunch, and are frighteningly interested in technology – there’s no way to set rules on beer anymore, because someone will find a way to be different, which is one of the great joys of this industry.

The comments on CO2 are at best ill informed. Only the brewer will know exactly what has happened to a beer inside any particular container, and let’s be very clear that a KeyKeg is not that special. Any container of beer can contain beer which is either live and naturally carbonated, beer which is filtered and reseeded, beer which is live but carbonated or filtered and/or pasteurised and carbonated. And how would we know? The current fixation on KeyKeg is hugely frustrating and massively counterintuitive.

So in answer to the questions posed, my view is CAMRA should campaign for Cask beer, because when it’s good, it’s really good. But it should recognise that not all cask is great, but good beer is good beer however it escapes the brewery…

There was a call for perfect labelling – I’m not sure that’s possible as we all like to blur the lines, either cos we can, cos it’s fun, or we just don’t care – the issue is will the buying public get it and pay for it. And frankly CAMRA members will not be in a position to determine exactly what is happening, so let’s just get on with it…

I know I’m enjoying a good beer, and that works for me

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Richard Dakin

Dear Buster,

Thank you for your comments.
I hoped to open up some discussion and appear to have achieved my aim; all views welcome. In making a couple of points, I did not wish to attempt an explanation of the current complex market, or the yin and yang of experimentation; just to touch the surface and pick out a couple of points I thought relevant to Pete’s title for this thread, which refers to ‘Cask Ale’ and ‘CAMRA’.
I too, am enjoying a good beer, which works for me, also. Cheers!

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Kirk

Agree with everything in the article. Sadly, I can tell my local CAMRA branch publication editor would have been in the 28%. I was shocked and disappointed when he wrote two years ago that pubs that don’t sell real ale aren’t worth going to. I wrote this response at the time:

“I”ve been reading North Sea Ale for a number of years but felt compelled to write after reading your latest column “Keeping It Real”. There has been a lot of news as of late from CAMRA about changing the focus of Real Ale to saving pubs and it seems the craft/keg beer is a divisive issue but it is very clear from your editorial which side of the fence you are on. Personally, I find the beer scene in the country thrilling right now. There are more breweries than ever and more choice both in supermarkets and in pubs, as well as a rise in bottle shops around the country too. There are new flavours and experiments being done with beer, brewers are becoming more creative and this can only be a good thing. However, your thoughts very dismissive of any pub/brewery that is choosing to do this with keg beer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cask ale but I think there is room for both styles and feel the best pubs (North Bar in Leeds, Cask and Euston Tap in London, Drygate in Glasgow to name a few) cater for both tastes. Naturally, the success of craft keg beer has led to larger brewers (including the likes of Belhaven/Greene King) jumping on the bandwagon and dishing out their watered down versions of these beers but some of the best beers in the country (Wild Beer co, Magic Rock) are most commonly found in keg. I found your comment “any pub that isn’t selling real ale isn’t worth going to” a bit old fashioned. I find it hard to believe that the majority of pubs in Aberdeen selling cask ale (and most in this city, offer limited selection and is looked after poorly) are more worthy of a visit than the Brewdog (I know there is no love loss between CAMRA and Brewdog) bars and Casc. I would prefer to see some hand pumps here too but there is still much to enjoy, more so than a pint of bland, off, Greene King IPA.

I also found your comments dismissive about other beer festivals too. I attend the Aberdeen beer festival at Pittodrie every year and have a great time. It’s a brilliantly organised event with a fine selection of ales but would say the Stonehaven event is fantastic too, featuring an interesting mix of keg and cask beers you won’t find anywhere else in the North East of Scotland and I felt your comments seemed to be more “don’t go there event, come to ours” (something that has really irritated me when Brewdog has done the same in the past) instead of encouraging people to check out their event.

So I think what I’m saying is, please do continue to champion cask ale, but please consider that cask ale isn’t the only way people enjoy quality beer and that there are bars, breweries and beer festivals in the area that still deserve credit for getting people interested in beer and I felt your editorial may alienate many readers/drinkers.”

Needless to say, I didn’t receive a response!

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Steve Lenane

I think that the big threats to real ale are poor quality and the price it costs to buy a pint of it in a pub. CAMRA diluting it’s efforts by promoting every other style of drink is not helpful. As you said, the nebulous ‘craft’ beers don’t seem to need it’s help, so I would wish for CAMRA to concentrate on real ale.

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