Sunday, 25 November 2018

Within You Without You

The small but intense world of traditional lambic is often good for microdrama, and the latest storm in a tasting glass is the news that Drie Fonteinen and Girardin are leaving HORAL, the association of traditional lambic producers. There's no official statement from either brewery that I'm aware of, but it's tempting to speculate that their reasons might be similar to the reason that Cantillon never joined in the first place - the belief that HORAL's position as the protectors of traditional lambic is undermined by its inclusion of breweries like Belle Vue and De Troch the bulk of whose output is exactly the sort of sweetened industrial lambic that many people would argue the traditional drink needs saving from.

Meanwhile in the UK, SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, has had some back and forth over the last few years over its membership criteria. A motion to apply a stricter upper limit on capacity was nearly passed last year, while this year a motion in the opposite direction to significantly increase the upper limit was rejected after vigorous campaigning from smaller breweries. There are some reasonable arguments on both sides - on the one hand, more involvement of larger independent brewers would have added clout to some of SIBA's operations, on the other hand, larger brewers with sizable estates of tied houses are very different businesses from the small breweries who make up most of SIBA's membership, and have interests that would often be at odds with them.

In the US, the Brewers Association has long been the butt of jokes for its habit of increasing the upper capacity limit for what it considers to be a craft brewery to match the capacity of Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Company. This year, it's further proposing to remove one of the three basic components of its definition of a craft brewery - essentially, that the majority of a craft brewery's output must actually be beer - in a move which it admits is prompted by, if not solely for the benefit of, Boston Beer Company, which is getting an increasing amount of its income from sales of non-beer products.

At its AGM this April, CAMRA members voted to change their articles of association. While still keeping the promotion of real ale as an objective, they added an updated one, "to play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type." A motion to also including acting "as the voice [...] of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers" to also campaign on behalf of all drinkers of "quality beer" achieved a clear majority, but failed to reach the 75% majority necessary for a constitutional change.

It feels like there's a common thread to all of these stories. As long as no two people or businesses are the same, any mutual interest group is going to involve a union of disparate elements. And the question of where you draw the line - how broad a base is too broad, and when do you decide that it's actually better to have at least some people outside the tent pissing in - is almost always vexed. There's seldom an easy answer to this and I doubt that people, either within or without the strange little world of beer, are going to stop arguing over it any time soon.

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