Monday, 22 January 2018

Pinnacles and Paternalism

So, the long-awaited report from the CAMRA Revitalisation Project has finally arrived and is already attracting some attention.

From a quick skim through - there's quite a lot in there - a lot of it seems to be sensible, pragmatic stuff. It did make me grind my teeth in places, though.

For instance, the proposals include the following:

  • CAMRA should promote the virtues of well-produced, well-kept, cask conditioned beer as the pinnacle of the brewer’s craft.
It also proposes that CAMRA should:
  • Permit the stocking of British beers that do not meet the definition of real ale at CAMRA beer festivals.
Hooray! However, while doing so, they should also:
  • Ensure the layout of festivals and literature associated with them reinforces CAMRA’s belief in the superiority of cask-conditioned ale.
  • Inform and educate members, other consumers and the trade about good beers of all types, while highlighting the comparative excellence of real ale.

This talk of "pinnacles" and "superiority" is, essentially, bollocks, and exemplifies the problem that a lot of people have with CAMRA. An individual drinker might reasonably prefer a perfectly kept pint of Harveys Sussex Best to the freshest American IPA or the richest and most complex Belgian abbey beer, but for an organisation to imply that it's an objective fact that breweries from Cantillon to Augustiner to Hill Farmstead are falling short of "the pinnacle of their craft" because they don't cask condition comes across as fundamentally parochial and bigoted. This essentially tells brewers - who may have taken considerable care to choose the most suitable dispense for a particular beer - that they don't know what they're doing and that CAMRA know better than them.

Real Ale is absolutely worth campaigning for - it's a wonderful, unique, special thing that could easily be wiped out by the economic imperative to simplify and homogenise. I fully support the idea that it should retain a special place at the heart of CAMRA's strategy, and I could probably even accept a proposal that it should remain CAMRA's single central concern. But I'm not going to pretend that it's inherently and objectively better than anything else.

Honestly, I hope that this is a deliberate compromise aimed at sweet-talking the more hardcore dinosaurs into accepting some real progress. I hope that in practice, the sensible concrete step that non-real British beer can be served CAMRA festivals speaks louder than the condescendingly paternalistic way that it's officially talked about. I still see CAMRA as a force for good in general, I'm still a member, and I'll probably vote to support these proposals. But still...


  1. I thought it was well worded myself. As much as I like beer in its various forms I've never found anything that can match cask beer at its best.

    1. That's a perfectly reasonable preference, but it's not an objective fact. If CAMRA want to act like it is then people who don't agree - including people like me who actually really like cask ale - are still going to think they're bigots.