Sunday, 1 April 2012

Missed Opportunity


I promised I'd let you know the outcome of the small group CAMRA set up to look at craft beer. I am not sure that I'm meant to, but since the groups existence is in the public domain, I don't see why its outcomes shouldn't be.  It was all done in a bit of a hurry, but taken very seriously by the participants. We corresponded a lot, exchanged views, read a lot of stuff including a lot of blogger articles and comments, which I contributed - mine and others - and met to decide what we wanted to put to the National Executive. There was no disagreement from any of the Working Party about the final proposals. We set the background by setting out principles behind the recommendations, These included:

*The group agreed that the wider spread use of “craft beer” and “craft-keg” created danger
of confusion in the minds of consumers and as a result could devalue CAMRA's definition
of real ale and the campaigning power behind it.

* That CAMRA’s primary campaigning aim is and should remain the
protection and preservation of real ale, by our definition, and we should be unashamed of
continuing to state that the Campaign believes real ale, produced, kept and served in the
right way, continues to be the best way of presenting British beer and our key aim should
be the promotion and support of those who make it and the places which serve it.

*However, the group agreed that it is important CAMRA reaffirms the intentions of its
founding principles. CAMRA was established to promote choice for drinkers at a time
when choice on the bar was under threat.

*As such, the CAMRA should remind members that it is a positive campaign for
something, not against things which are not real ale.

*In this, CAMRA should be open to the concept that good beer does exist which is not real
ale. 

*This does not mean CAMRA needs accept non-real ale at festivals, nor directly campaign
for or support non-real ale producers.

*CAMRA can however throw its weight behind generic promotions of beer drinking and
pub going which are not limited solely to real ale or real ale serving pubs.

Our recommendations were:

1. While not changing our primary campaigning position, CAMRA officially
recognises that good beers exist which are not real ale


2. CAMRA, in association with SIBA, attempts to write a definition of “craft beer”
to help prevent further confusion and abuse of the term – the group feels this
definition does not need to be a tight, technical specification, but a broad
“qualitative” definition


3. That the value of positive campaigning is reinforced and encouraged throughout
the campaign


4. An audit of all CAMRA publications and websites, both nationally and at branch
level are audited for negative rhetoric and this is removed


5. The group drafts three “holding” motions which the NE can amend or withdraw
once it has considered this report and the motions themselves

 Unfortunately the National Executive did not agree with our group's proposals and only passed the third recommendation. All others were rejected after discussion, which is, to say the least, disappointing.  (You can forget the last one, which was entirely dependent on the approval of the first four and was for CAMRA AGM use.)

So. It seems there is a long way to go it in moving the current NE round to thinking differently about the Campaign.  Things might change next year of course, when motions on the subject are more likely to be put straight to the AGM by individual members, given that an internal approach has failed to achieve change.   As Ian Fozard said of 40 year old CAMRA in this month's "What's Brewing": "Imagine if in 40 years time we’re still campaigning for real ale as currently defined and deriding other beer styles?" I for one think this was a missed opportunity, but it is only a matter of time. Yesterday's thinking is already doomed to the past where it belongs.  No-one wants to see the real ale baby thrown out with the bathwater* and there are plenty of us that will fight to ensure that doesn't happen. There really is nothing to fear in sensible recognition of changed times and moving with these changed times, while still strongly campaigning for real ale and for the pubs we drink it in.

I said in this post here that leadership needs courage. It also needs vision. This was small stuff really. An acknowledgement that a minor change, a couple of points of clarification and a return to our original value of promoting choice, would be a nod to the changes happening around us. It would have been a modernising influence, while still firmly maintaining our commitment to real ale.  It wasn't that big a step surely? 

Let's hope the two progressive motions that I mentioned here will pass today. I'll be checking Tom Stainer's twitter feed of proceedings.  *I apologise for the odd cliché in this article. I usually avoid them like the plague.

52 comments:

sean liquorish said...

Sadly this is what I privately suspected would happen with it once it got inside CAMRA, you did your best as a working party, but without the support of the big guns you were doomed to fail. It reads to me as a fairly balanced set of proposals between the existing CAMRA policies and the current shape of the beer world. A very missed opportunity as you say. Seems a bit like they were just paying lip service to the topic. I had hope when i posted about it here

Justin Mason said...

Sadly it seems like the all too common blinkered approach of 'if we ignore it then perhaps it will go away'. However this issue won't go away and it can only be a matter of time before their attitude changes. Let's hope that CAMRA realises this before membership and therefore campaigning power suffers.

Justin Mason said...

Sadly it seems like the all too common blinkered approach of 'if we ignore it then perhaps it will go away'. However this issue won't go away and it can only be a matter of time before their attitude changes. Let's hope that CAMRA realises this before membership and therefore campaigning power suffers.

Matt said...

As I've said before, I think any attempt to define "craft beer" is a non-starter because it's a subjective judgement. Guinness is a tasty, adjunct free "craft beer" to some, a dull nitrokeg stout to others. I can't see how you can come up with a defintion that objectively says it's one or the other.

People should also stop obsessing about whether CAMRA gives its approval to "craft keg" or not and look at the bigger picture. In a declining beer market, I would guess lager still accounts for 70%of sales, keg bitter and stout 20% and cask beer 10%. I might be slightly off with some of those guesses but the point is that "craft keg" is statistically insignificant and likely to remain so.

sean liquorish said...

Last year I predicted that in 10 years CAMRA will shrink if they don't keep up with the evolving beer world, last year Hybrid beers were not on radar, 6 months later its a well dicussed topic, craft keg topic is over a year old and still nothing from them that is positive, I worry for their future.

sean liquorish said...

Matt

Numbers aren't everything, real ale was 1% of sales 45 years ago, and 7% at lagers peak. So would we dismiss real ale on the basis historically. Certain things punch above their statistic weight. Craft beer can be one of them

StringersBeer said...

No surprises there then. Stereotypes reinforced and "Craft" handed to the marketing droids on a plate. Oh well. Nice try, Mr. T.

Bailey said...

What a shame. The proposals you set out seem very reasonable. Well done for trying, at least, and your openness and honesty does CAMRA credit. (Hope they recognise that!)

In all honesty, this is what I expected. I know from experience that policy doesn't get turned round overnight and, tempting as it is to jack in our memberships over something like this, we'll try not to be too hasty.

Erlangernick said...

Nice stuff. What about: "'Craft beer' is a term only really relevant to modern American beer culture, so we should leave it to them." I think that could've gone over well.

Chris said...

All seemed perfectly reasonable to me. What a shame.

Operationally, it wouldn't have much effect on CAMRA's day-to-day activity, but would have been a sensible PR move, have helped eradicate ridiculous polarized arguments and allow everyone to just get on with drinking good beer.

Cask beer should be defended. Pubs need a consumer action group to support them. Those two objectives don't necessarily need to be linked.

Matt said...

Sean, the situation with cask beer in the 60's and "craft keg" now isn't comparable.

Cask beer started with a high share of the market - indeed, if you go far enough back, 100% of the market - which began to fall first because of bottled beer, then keg beer and finally lager. There were millions of drinkers who had drunk cask beer who, when it became unavailable in their local (or even town), resented the fact. Thousands of them cared enough to want to do something about it. CAMRA blossomed because there were already lots of drinkers itching to join a consumer revolt against the big brewers and their awful keg beer - they effectively channeled a mood that was already there, they did not create that mood.

The campaign for "craft keg" seems to me to be the opposite: bloggers and brewers trying to create a trend for which there isn't much of a public mood. That's why I think "craft keg" will remain a niche product only found in specialist bars, not the majority of of pubs which sell either just mass-produced keg or mass-produced keg and cask beer.

Curmudgeon said...

Very disappointing, although not at all surprising.

I liked the proposal for "An audit of all CAMRA publications and websites, both nationally and at branch level are audited for negative rhetoric and this is removed" - this is still far more common than you might think. Out Inn Cheshire is a notorious offender.

CAMRA continues its long march into irrelevance.

Curmudgeon said...

"real ale was 1% of sales 45 years ago, and 7% at lagers peak."

Eh? When CAMRA was formed, real ale's market share was much more than at present, and absolute volumes even more so.

See these statistics. Since 1980, cask ale's market share has almost halved, and absolute volume declined by more than 75%.

Martyn Cornell said...

The campaign for "craft keg" seems to me to be the opposite: bloggers and brewers trying to create a trend for which there isn't much of a public mood.

Ah, it's those noxious bloggers again ...

Matt, bloggers are irrelevant to the UK beer scene. Really, if you added up all the UK-based unique followers of all the beer blogs in the UK, if they totalled 5,000 I'd be amazed.

The point about "craft keg" (horrid phrase) is exactly that it's now appearing alongside cask beer in specialist bars, that many drinkers who go specifically to specialist bars to drink the beers found there genuinely care little about dispense methods, that when they go to Camra festivals they'll wonder why the beers they enjoy in specialist bars aren't at the festival, and their willingness to join an organisation that rejects beers they enjoy will be seriously compromised. It's the refusal by Camra to accept that many people enjoy both cask ale and craft keg that will be its ruin.

Curmudgeon said...

I still don't see "craft keg" making the vital breakout from the specialist bars to the mainstream.

Of more concern is CAMRA's general dismissal of brewery-conditioned bottled beers, and its questionable support for bottle-conditioned ales from micro-breweries, most of which in my experience are utter muck that gives beer a bad name.

sean liquorish said...

There is a big difference between real ale and the multiple merger conglomorates which existed by the end of the 60's. Why did ale go into decline and need the creation of camra, inconsistency, keg gave landlords a guarantee, camra got real ale back on scene, lets not let them hold it back

Leigh said...

Thanks, Tandleman. I'll also take this opportunity to thank you for your candour with this issue, and your 'behind-the-scenes' posts. Supremely enlightening. Thanks for keeping us all (members and non) in the loop.

John Clarke said...

The point I think Martyn misses is that "craft keg" is a tiny niche within a niche. Similarly the people who drink it represent the tiniest fraction of beer festival attendees. It's therefore a bit of an exageration to say that "many people" enjoy cask ale and craft keg. Those few (relatively speaking) that do are pretty "beer literate" and go to CAMRA festivals knowing exactly what and what not to expect - they certainly don't "wonder why the (keg) beers they enjoy in specialist bars aren't at the festival".

Interested by Martyn's assertion that bloggers are irrelevant to the UK beer scene. I wouldn't say they are totally irrelevant - just rather less so than some of them seem to think they are. It's an interesting point actually - I suspect bloggers are much more influential in the "craft beer community" than they are with the pubgoing or, to narrow it down a bit, even the real ale drinking mainstream. It's an interesting disconnect isn't it?

jesusjohn said...

Good work, Tandleman.

John Clarke said:

'The point I think Martyn misses is that "craft keg" is a tiny niche within a niche.'

This is something I keep hearing. It is undeniably true, but seems to be an argument used to avoid two points:

a) just how fast non-cask craft beer is growing, as Pete Brown mentioned in the Cask Report:

"The only part of the on-­trade beer
market that’s outperforming cask ale
is the sub-­category loosely termed
‘speciality beer’." - pg.13

b) just how quickly craft keg could roll out in the context of an on-trade that is pushing (like it or not) for premiumisation.

Cookie's lout might be cheaper at the supermarket, but other brands that haven't been devalued by such volume chasing will attract better margins.

As I wrote last year: 'it will only take a pubco push of Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada or Meantime nationwide to make the craft keg scene an almost instant reality. Those such as Thornbridge positioning for that moment are right to do so.'

http://jesusjohn.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/keg-is-expensive-and-here-to-stay.html

In London, such a push is already a reality in the M&B Nicholson's branded pubs. It's a matter of time (sooner or later) but it will happen nationwide.

John Clarke also added: 'Those few (relatively speaking) that do [attend beer festivals liking all craft beer, cask or keg] are pretty "beer literate" and go to CAMRA festivals knowing exactly what and what not to expect'

This is true. But *most* people go to beer festivals because a big tent with loads of beer is fun.

If they turned up and there were a limited selection of taps and chilled lines, I suspect they would not be turned off at all. I only commented on these pages last week that I know plenty of sleeper CAMRA members who joined at festivals in a fit of beery joy who wouldn't have the foggiest if 'asked if it was cask'.

I grant you there are few people (though I'm one of them) frustrated that CAMRA - which is de facto if not de jure the UK's beer-lovers club - can't find space for Taddington's Moravka, even when Budvar and the like are present and correct at GBBF.

But I believe CAMRA's No.1 focus should always be well-kept cask and I suspect it'll be best placed to do that as a broad church.

If CAMRA can't unite the future generation of beer enthusiasts (i.e. noisome bloggers and the like) who are likely to volunteer at said festivals, we could get to a much worse situation than currently - with an almost entirely dormant membership and insufficient numbers of people getting involved.

RedNev said...

As a CAMRA mag editor, I'm disappointed that the proposed audit of local and national publications wasn't accepted. I can't see any reason for this decision. I ban any dismissive comments about drinks that aren't real ale in our mag: the message has to be, "This is good - give a try" and not, "Why are you drinking that muck?"

In contrast, a branch not too far from my own describes non-real beers in their mag as zombeers. Apart from the fact that it's both juvenile and obscure, what are they hoping to achieve?

I couldn't see much wrong with the proposals, but don't be too disappointed because they won't go away. It's just that the NE consists of individuals who aren't campaigners and consequently lose their nerve very easily. They just need coaxing with a cattle prod.

John Clarke said...

I have to say that even if some pubco gave a push and its outlets sprouted a "craft keg" font on the bar - I don't think much would happen. To the great pubgoing public it would be just one keg offering amongst many. I don't think public perception would change much if at all. It's only the tiny number of "craft keggerati" who would read anything
more into this at all. It certainly wouldn't herald any sort of revolution.

I entirely agree that most people go the festivals because it's a fun thing to do. However that isn't the context I made that point it. It was in response to Martyn Cornell's suggestion that the customers of speciality bars used to drinking cask and craft keg side by side would turn up and wonder where the keg was. My point was that they do turn up but don't wonder where the caft keg is - they turn up knowing exactly what and what not to expect.

To be honest I think if most people turned up and only found a
limited number of taps and chilled lines, many would be turned off because that's not what they turn up expecting to see.

RedNev - agree 100%. I have entirely expunged such nonsense from the CAMRA mag I edit. I even mention the oddd craft keg beer in a positive light (Taddington Brewery and Moravka got a very positive write up) and the roof has so far failed to fall in.

John Clarke said...

And one more thing. I don't know if jesusjohn is involve din CAMRA where he is but over here in Manchester the local branches are all showing an increase in active involvement - at our beer festival in Stockport we have little trouble in getting about 150 staff, the vasr mjority of whom are our local members. In any organisation you will usually find that 90%-plus of members are quite happy to pay their subs and do nothing else. That is par for the course.

Tandleman said...

I agree that a lot of the hype around craft is froth and bubble - pun intended. It is precisely because it is always likely to remain a niche within a niche that we in CAMRA should not be remotely afraid to acknowledge its existence and having done so, move on with the campaign for cask real ale.

Good beer from whatever source should hold no fear for us. We do though need to move with the times and not pretend it is all rubbish. Just as we have to acknowledge not all real ale is good.

Lastly, I will be pushing for more emphasis in quality at the point of sale in the year to come. Cask beer stands or falls by its quality.

Cooking Lager said...

4. An audit of all CAMRA publications and websites, both nationally and at branch level are audited for negative rhetoric and this is removed

How Owellian. If you can't denigrate other beer styles what is the point of joining CAMRA?

Oh and is this craft beer?
http://www.thwaites.co.uk/thwaitesbeerco/beer_brands/craft_beers/

and what makes it "craft" compared to other beer by the same brewer.

jesusjohn said...

John Clarke said: 'I entirely agree that most people go the festivals because it's a fun thing to do. However that isn't the context I made that point it.'

I did address that wasn't the context you wrote that in. My point was your context doesn't matter to me - I'm more interested in the casual beer fest visitor who represents the majority of fest goers. A lot of these people join CAMRA.

John Clarke added:

'To be honest I think if most people turned up and only found a
limited number of taps and chilled lines, many would be turned off'

...which is so obviously not what I meant that I do wonder - at risk of breaking with the cheery beery consensus - whether John Clarke goes around all day wilfully misunderstanding other people's comments.

I mean in addition to the cask offer. As I keep saying, CAMRA's No.1 focus should always be well-kept cask.

Erlangernick said...

Cookie:

Oh and is this craft beer?
http://www.thwaites.co.uk/thwaitesbeerco/beer_brands/craft_beers/


"Our limited edition craft beers are individually created by our brewers and based on some of their favourite recipes, to bring you a repertoire of ales that suits every season and occasion."

IOW, "beer we like".

Coxy said...

CAMRA is associated with geeks by the general public , if you add the term Craft anywhere its going to add to the anorakdem . Craft to most men means those boring crappy fairs woman drag them to that have absoloutely nothing of interest.
please do not get to pc over slagging of other beers, are you going to ban me from the pub for telling my mostly Fosters swilling mates that they are drinking kangaroo piss?

Tandleman said...

Who are you addressing that to Coxy?

Cooking Lager said...

I agree with Coxy. Since knocking on the head my own daft blog and joining the beard club, the joy and pleasure I get from denigrating other beer styles is by far the best thing about it.

For only 20 quid I get to tell everyone they are necking chemical fizz and ought to drink murky muck that makes them wince, I get to pester pubs for discounts and I get some Spoons tokens.

Why strip me of what I consider a members benefit?

Tyson said...

Sadly, the NE, and some of the inveterate contributors to the letters page of Whats Doing seem to be stuck in an ideological timewarp.

It's the same approach that has left many old school Marxists sidelined as they're still fighting the cold war. Indeed, there is some overlap between both groups of dinosaurs.

Rob Nicholson said...

Quite why there are so many "That's a shame" posts on here and the motion still got rejected is perplexing. It's almost a split between the online world and reality?

>It's the refusal by Camra to accept that many people enjoy both cask ale and craft keg that will be its ruin

I tend to agree but maybe not it's ruin, but contributes to it becoming not really relevant and very much just a drinking club.

>I still don't see "craft keg" making the vital breakout from the specialist bars to the mainstream.

I'm not so sure on this one. Personally, I class them in the "Belgium beer" category when considering something other than real ale and these beers seem to be cropping up more and more.

Which brings one onto RAIB which I get the feeling is dying a death.

Rob Nicholson said...

But to add my voice to the above, disappointed and sad is my view as well.

Tandleman said...

My view is that it is a niggle that we can overcome without disturbing the main aim of the campaign and that it will stop some of the distracting carping that goes on.

Rob Nicholson said...

One could say the cartoon you use in this post is negative and should be removed ;-) Of course, as it's an inward snipe at ourselves, I think it's perfectly acceptable.

RedNev said...

We can all slag off drinks we don't like if we want to: our views as individuals about beer are our own business. There is no real ale political correctness developing here, which is just as well as I don't much like political correctness.

CAMRA, on the other hand, should be positive and campaign FOR real ale, and NOT against other drink choices. Such an attitude is entirely in keeping with the aims of the campaign's founders, who all said as much during the 40th anniversary year.

Curmudgeon said...

In practice, of course, a lot of this can be done on the ground irrespective of AGM motions, as John Clarke has explained. In the long run the policy may well just wither on the vine rather than being formally overturned.

Cooking Lager said...

"CAMRA, on the other hand, should be positive and campaign FOR real ale, and NOT against other drink choices"

But it isn't. It's a campaign against any beer sold for less than 40p a unit. The money you sub up, the surplus for the free work you do at beer festivals goes into a campaign to enact prohibition on the poor because you don't like what the poor drink.

Oh and there is nothing wrong with political correctness. Most of it is just politeness.

CAMRA is a campaign against other drink choices. To pretend it isn't is either a wilful lie or self delusion at what you're part of.

Tandleman said...

Cookie - Bollocks.

RedNev said...

Sorry, CL, but Tandleman is correct.

Cooking Lager said...

I take it you are in the self delusion camp then Tand & Red?

I mean it as no insult. I think you are a decent chap. My experiences of CAMRA beer festivals leads me to the opinion that CAMRA volunteers are decent people. I might like to laugh at the few eccentrics but that does not dimish my respect for a group of people that put their own time into preserving a British tradition.

But the reality of your campaign is that it is a campaign against none real ale alcohol choices. I admire your attempts to change it, but it is what it is.

Tandleman said...

So, using your logic, a group in favour of protecting cats is logically a group that is actively against all other creatures?

Your black and white way of putting things, while superficially attractive, is starting to lose its shine Cookie. It was enjoyable once, but try a bit of nuance now and again.

Erlangernick said...

I do like CL's point about political correctness mostly boiling down to politeness. I've held the same view for a long time. Especially about things *I* like people being polite about.

Cooking Lager said...

A group that wanted to protect cats by imposing a higher price on dogs would in my view be a campaign against dogs more than a campaign for cats, Tand.

I'm really sorry that I do not subscribe to your view that CAMRA, something you clearly care deeply for, is not a force for good in the world.

Tandleman said...

Cookie. I couldn't give a monkey's chuff whether you believe that "CAMRA is a force for good in the world." I don't know if I think it myself, but in the great scheme of things, it isn't one for evil.

You know I don't believe in CAMRA's minimum pricing policy, but you analogy is a fair one. I am still trying to get to the bottom of how we came by this policy. I don't know if it was discussed at the AGM or not.

Cooking Lager said...

I don't think you should care necessarily what I think. I think you ought probably care what the public think. It affects the success of any endevour CAMRA attempt. I don't know whether the public generally like CAMRA or not. I suspect most have never heard of it.

I appreciate yourself and other CAMRA bloggers don't support what appears to be the No1 aim of CAMRA and seek to defend CAMRA against criticism but that appears difficult when the campaign clearly isn’t what you all would like it to be. It’s not a campaign for “choice”, or any such thing. Whether that’s good or evil is putting it is rather binary terms but it isn’t good.

Maybe I’m not nuanced enough, if nuanced is seeing something not as it is.

Tandleman said...

We aren't talking about the public here. In fact I've forgotten what we are talking about.

And your bait about what you very well know isn't the No1 campaign is just that. Very few organisations are everything that members want them to be. Just like life isn't.

But you also know that.

Curmudgeon said...

I don't know if it was passed, but wasn't Motion 12 in effect expressing support for minimum pricing? It may be couched as opposition to below-cost selling, but if you are just plucking an arbitrary figure out of the air and saying it represents the cost of production it amounts to the same thing. There are plenty of alcoholic drinks currently being sold for well under 40p a unit that show a profit margin.

Cooking Lager said...

I'm not trying to get the last word, honest.

I admire the desire of yourself, Mudge & Red for CAMRA to be something it currently isn't. I further admire the efforts you go to to make it what you want it to be. I like the vision you have for it. I just don't accept it is as we speak the campaign "for choice" that you claim.

Of all the campaign objectives CAMRA has, minimum pricing is the only one the government are doing something about, and the only issue I see CAMRA types like Benner on telly for(he pops up a fair bit on ch4 news), so it really does appear the No1 issue. Benner bangs on about supermarkets in every issue of Spoons news too. Forgive me if it isn't the No1 objective, its just that it appears to be.

But if you guy think you are in a campaign for choice, whilst removing choice for the poor, unemployed and those of limited means, pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

Tandleman said...

You know I agree and you know what I am trying to do. Do a quick response and I won't reply. Last word to you.

Curmudgeon said...

In a sense, CAMRA can be said to represent a generalised warm, fuzzy feeling about British beer and pubs. However, once it comes to actually translating this into hard and fast policy specifics, all too often it falls flat on its face.

Pete Brown said...

Well done for all your hard work Tandy, your position represents everything that's positive and sensible about CAMRA.

I was just about to finally join until I read this post.

I'm furious your recommendations were rejected. Anyone who voted against the perfectly reasonable position you outlined is an idiot, a dinosaur, a discredit to CAMRA and an embarrassment to drinkers of good beer of whatever sort - be they CAMRA members or not.

Tandleman said...

Small steps Pete. I think we'll modernise thinking one of these days soon, but our focus must and will remain real ale and the pubs to drink it in. Once we ensure there is no worry on that score, I think we can persuade people.