Dishonest nonsense and Camra’s Clause Four moment

Is the Campaign for Real Ale about to have its Clause Four moment? For younger readers, Clause Four was the part of the constitution of the Labour Party that contained the aim of achieving “the common ownership of the means of production”, and it was when Tony Blair, Labour’s new party leader, and his allies managed to get that dumped in the dustbin of discarded socialist rhetoric in 1995 that New Labour was born. Traditionalists saw the policy celebrated in Clause Four, the rejection of capitalism, as the core principle that the Labour Party was founded upon. The Blairites saw this as outdated rhetoric that was damaging the party’s election chances, and dumping it as “revitalising” the Labour Party. Camra, you may have noticed, has now launched its own self-styled “revitalisation project”, designed to get a consensus on where the campaign, at 45 years old, should be going next.

The question being asked is “how broad and inclusive should our campaigning be”, and the choices offered in the survey on Camra’s website, frankly, are totally dishonest. There are six, and they are that the campaign should represent

  • Just drinkers of real ale, or
  • Drinkers of real ale, cider and perry, or
  • All beer drinkers, or
  • All beer, cider and perry drinkers, or
  • All pub-goers or
  • All drinkers
Andrew Boorde real ale campaigner
The Tudor physician Andrew Boorde (c 1490-1549), one of the earliest campaigners for real ale, who complained that while ale was ‘a naturall drynke’ for an Englishman, beer ‘doth make a man fat’.

But there isn’t a commentator that doesn’t know that four out of six of those choices are irrelevant nonsense, and the only real question Camra is asking is, “Look, are we finally going to ditch Clause Four start supporting craft keg as well as cask ale or not?”

Now, I’m aware that the support for cider and perry is controversial among some sections of Camra activists, and there are even some who question Camra’s pub campaigns, but it’s dishonesty through omission to stick those issues in there as if they were really a meaningful part of the debate about Camra’s future, and a disservice to the overwhelming majority of Camra’s membership not to make it clearer what this is really all about. In the 16-page document mailed to all Camra members about the “Revitalisation Project”, reference is made to Camra’s equivalent of Clause Four, that definition of “real ale” adopted in 1973, two years after the campaign was founded by four men who knew nothing, at that time about the technicalities of beer, only that they didn’t like the big-brand keg variety, which definition insists that the only sort of beer worth drinking is “matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed” and is “served without the use of extaneous carbon dioxide”.

The document doesn’t, of course, point out that this definition is nonsense: the so-called “secondary fermentation” is merely a continuation of the original fermentation (you only get a true “secondary fermentation” if Bretanomyces or similar organisms kick in after Saccharomyces has finished). The subject of “craft keg” is mentioned in just one paragraph. But the, at a rough stab, 8,000 or so passionately active members of Camra know craft keg is the enormous elephant in the saloon bar that the debate is actually centred on. Many of the 170,000 other members who remain on the books more out of direct debit inertia than any enormous dedication to the cause of promoting cask ale may not grasp the true intent of this set of choices, which has clearly been presented in a way it is hoped will not antagonise the, at a rough stab, 4,000 or 5,000 passionately active members of Camra who would rather slash their throats with the shards of a broken Nonic pint glass than admit any merit at all in the craft keg movement, and who continue to fetishise a 43-year-old technically dubious idea of what good beer ought to be in the face of massive changes in the types of beer now available that go far beyond what Camra’s founding fathers, who knew only mild, bitter, stout and lager, would have thought possible.

If Camra remains purely a campaign for “real ale” as defined in the early 1970s, it will lose its relevance just the way its ineffectual predecessor the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood did (not that the SPBW ever had much relevance anyway). It never seems to come up in the debate about Camra’s future, but not only is the British beer scene today totally different from that of 45 years ago, so too are the beer drinkers. More than 80 per cent of pubgoers around when Camra started are now dead. To drink legally in a pub when Camra was founded, you had to have been born no later than 1953. That makes you 63 this year. Today’s latest cadre of pub goers was born in 1998, and are very probably the granddaughters and grandsons of Camra’s first members. Fewer than one in five pub drinkers today drank in pubs before Camra was around. More than half of today’s pub drinkers were not yet born when Camra held its first meetings. They know no other world except one where cask beer is widely available and exciting new styles of beer far removed from cask ale in flavour and delivery seem to arrive every month.

Camra was founded initially to respond to a very specific set of problems caused by the big brewers who dominated the British beer market becoming completely product-oriented at the expense of the customer, and threatening the availability of the sort of tasty beers a strong minority of customers still wanted to consume. At the time Camra was founded, it was necessary to defend a narrow definition of good beer that was in danger of disappearing. It is no longer the case that cask ale is in danger: but it is still true that beer in general, and British pub culture, need promoting and defending, against ill-willed health fascists, marketing moronicity and badly briefed politicians.

It is also a fact that the 52 per cent of pub goers who are under the age of 45 have been exposed most or all of their pub-going lives to new styles of beers, notable American “craft” beers, in bottle and keg, that never existed when Camra was founded and which undeniably delivering a terrific and hugely appreciated taste experience – and one that cask ale brewers need to accept as a legitimate challenge. It will do the greater campaign for beer no good if Camra tries to insist that the very best craft keg beers are still no worthier of notice than the mass-produced mass-market keg beers that arrived in the 1960s, because fans of craft keg beer know they are drinking a product made with care and they enjoy greatly what it delivers. It would be much better for Camra to be able to say to craft keg drinkers, who are a growing part of the beer drinking community, “yes what you drink is great, we appreciate it too – have you tried cask ale, when well-kept it’s even better” than for it to continue to say to craft keg drinkers, as it effectively does at the moment: “You don’t want to drink that, it’s no better than Watney’s Red Barrel,” something they know isn’t true, even if they weren’t born when Red Barrel disappeared.

A real ale brewer at work, pre-hop era (mid 14th century) © De Agostini/The British Library Board
A real ale brewer at work, pre-hop era (mid 14th century) © De Agostini/The British Library Board

What will happen in the Clause Four Revitalisation debate? The 8,000 will speak loudly, the 4,000 loudest of all, and of the 170,000 I expect more than 95 per cent of them to remain silent: if Camra gets more than 15,000 to 16,000 responses, online or in the post, to its survey, I’d be very surprised (though I see it’s already claiming “almost 10,000” responses online), and I’d also expect the 50 or so “revitalisation consultation events” being held around the country to be dominated by members of the 8,000. At the end of all that, the men and women behind the “Revitalisation Consultation” have been politically astute enough not to commit themselves to actually taking any notice at all of what the surveys or the meetings tell them about the way Camra’s membership wants to see the campaign go: all that will happen is “the development and presentation of a formal proposal for consideration by members at the Members’ Weekend in Eastbourne in 2017”. (A quick appreciative nod here to the clever title of the consultation – “Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale” was, of course, Camra’s original name until 1973 – and the choice of Michael Hardman, one of Camra’s four founders, to head the Revitalisation Project.)

At which point you can expect something less like the special Labour Party conference on the party’s constitution in London in April 1995 that saw Clause Four axed comparatively easily and more in line with the second congress of the Russian Social Democrat Labour Party in 1903, also in London, which saw a lasting split between Lenin and his hard-line Bolsheviks and the ultimately more conciliatory Mensheviks. Do I think that if the “Revitalisation Consultation” puts forward changes to Camra’s aims that are seen as embracing “craft keg”, there could be a split in the campaign, with the hard-line “anti-keggers” leaving to form “Real Camra”? Knowing some of those hard-liners, yes I do, and I think they could easily take two or three thousand activists with them.

On the other hand – and I speak as someone who will have been a member of Camra for 40 years next year – I doubt that more than a handful of the splitters will be under 60, and despite all that they have certainly contributed through their activism over the decades, Camra will probably be revitalised by their going, by becoming an organisation fit for a 21st century purpose, and not a 1970s one.

67 thoughts on “Dishonest nonsense and Camra’s Clause Four moment

  1. I’d be quite happy if CAMRA became a small social drinking club along the lines of the SPBW. And the “craft keg” thing is largely a London hipster trend that has no relevance to draught beer sales in the on-trade.

    1. Matthew, if you saw the amount of bottled “craft” beer being sold in the little local off-licence I now work in occasionally – and NOT to “London hipsters” – you’d be surprised.

      1. Bottled craft beers are not at all the same thing as draught craft keg in the pub. That’s like saying sales of Premium Bottled Ales in Tesco are a clear sign of the robust vitality of cask.

        And how do you define “craft keg” anyway? Is there any meaningful yardstick by which it can be distinguished from “non-craft keg”? If Taylors started producing a non-nitro keg version of Landlord, would that be craft keg? And, if not, why not?

      2. I have seen a number of my friends and acquaintances, all unfussy, unpretentious lager drinkers or ale drinkers, enthusiastically switch to Punk IPA (on bottle or keg wherever they can get it). The non-craft, non-camra, non-hipster majority are switching with their taste buds.

        As the focus of beer nerd idolatry moves on from fad to fad, joe public looks at this increased choice in his local pubs and has a go at some of them, and finds some favourites.

    2. Matthew – that’s complete nonsense born of a bljnkered attitude. According to Mintel, 23% of all beer drinkers now claim to drink craft beer. I travel the country all the time and see craft beer being drunk by a wide demographic wherever I go. True, it’s far more urban than rural, but it is across the UK. And you know what? The only people who talk about ‘craft keg’ any more rather than simply ‘craft beer’ are traditional CAMRA blowhards. The mainstream consumer is embracing craft beer and couldn’t give a shit how it’s kept and served so long as it tastes good. It’s your prerogative to disagree with 23% of the beer drinking population, but to dismiss every last one of them as a ‘London hipster’ (whatever that is) was silly five years ago and simply sounds sillier with each passing year.

      1. But how is “craft beer” defined for that 23%? I wouldn’t be surprised if it included “any cask beer” and anything vaguely exotic and foreign such as Estrella Damm. And I assume it also means “ever drink craft beer” rather than “mainly drink craft beer”.

        I’d bet the proportion of beer drinkers who ever drink any non-nitro, non-lager keg beer in pubs is far smaller.

      2. I may not travel round the country as much as you but I do drink in different types of pub in and around Manchester – wet-led, working-class city centre boozers, carvery chains, suburban dining places tied to family-owned regional breweries – and in none of them do I see the picture you paint of craft becoming a mainstream product: for all but a few drinkers in specialist bars, the choice is between keg ales, stouts and lagers from global brewers and cask beer.

        1. Exactly what Matthew says. Outside London, “craft keg” simply isn’t a thing in mainstream pubs, unless you include the odd Devil’s Backbone and Shipyard pumps in Spoons, which from observation are massively outsold by John Smith’s and lager.

        2. So quite a narrow range of outlets then, if you’re honest. Going into a carvery chain is like going back in time by 20 years. The bar reads Strongbow, Fosters, Guinness, Kronenbourg, Strongbow, Fosters, Guinness, Kronenbourg. repeat 5 times.

  2. As always Martyn, a well considered piece and the last paragraph says it all, in my words – “Do you want to be a campaign that has a place in history for its past achievements, or one that has a proud history and whose activities are still relevant today and which is very much a part of the future? Best regards, Brian.

  3. As always, a well written article. Just to clarify – irrelevant infers a much smaller organisation – one that may struggle to run the size and number of initiatives it does at the moment like GBG, WhatPub and the larger beer festivals. The latter being the biggest sleeve of income.

  4. For the reasons you so eloquently state, I don’t think any of this matters a jot any more. I’m only still a member because I keep forgetting to cancel my direct debit, and I don’t see CAMRA having any influence on anyone who matters or any impact on anything important. Sad that Michael, of whom I am a huge fan, should be the one to dig his own baby’s grave, though.

  5. Great article Martyn. All organisations have to move with the times and embrace change, this is probably that seminal moment for CAMRA. The debate reminds me of the big-Enders /little Enders war in Gullivers Travels. It’s all beer, made from hops barley yeast and water, the test should be is it made well, does it taste good and would I buy it again!

  6. Generally on the ball, although would disagree that the cider issue is an irrelevance.

    It may not be as significant as the craft keg issue but it’s certainly there in many members minds – I was asked about it a few times over the weekend. As an active member, I have significantly more affinity with craft keg than I do with cider – I’ll drink a couple of keg beers a week, compared to cider maybe once a year, if that.

    So if the organisation is to refocus then letting APPLE go off and be their own body is the easy starter decision. The relatively small number of members who regularly drink both can join both. Free from that distraction can then go on to debate “embracing keg”.

    The consultation survey is seriously flawed anyway – far too short to actually gauge real opinions. We await the meetings.

  7. Camra needs to be given a chance. They are dammed if they do consult and they would be doubly dammed for pursuing a narrow set of objectives without ever questioning what they are doing and what their members want them to do. Any organisation will have its activists and a great many armchair supporters. People make their decisions about what they have the time and motivation to pursue. I am very active in a local archaeology group and we have a few hundred supporters who pay their money and sometimes come to meetings. I would not expect more than the 12 people that form our committee to be hands-on. On the other hand I am happy to be one of the 170,000 members caught in the inertia of the direct debit and allow others to run the organisation. But I do care and I can quite believe that 10,000 have responded already. Perhaps the committee have found a way to go over the heads of the zealots and to find out what the less vocal of their members think. I applaud that approach. The results may upset the die-hards but it will give Camra a chance to maintain relevance in a changing world by having the ammunition to confront those who would take it up a blind alley.

    Hopefully a new direction will emerge that is relevant and all-inclusive and will build on the campaigning against predatory pub-cos, developers who see the land that pubs sit on as an enticing resource and ridiculous levels of duty on beer in general.

    By the way I am old enough to remember Camra being formed, Watneys Red Barrel and beer that almost never breached the 3.8% mark. Those battles have been fought and won however naive the first iteration of Camra was. I’ve moved on – let’s hope this is an attempt by Camra to move on. I’m in the optimistic camp!

  8. I think I might write something on this which I have been trying to avoid. But I would say here that if a zealot is someone that embraces the aims of the organisation of which he is a member, then I reckon there might be more zealots than Martyn thinks.

    The problem with the cosy scenario of appealing to the real CAMRA members, that is those like Peter above, is that they don’t do the campaigning. That wouldn’t change if definitions changed.

    We’ll see but the idea that there is about to be a cataclysmic change is fanciful I’d say.

  9. the 52 per cent of pub goers who are under the age of 45 have been exposed most or all of their pub-going lives to new styles of beers, notable American “craft” beers, in bottle and keg, that never existed when Camra was founded

    If I were 44 I’d have turned 18 in 1990. As I remember it, true pale’n’oppy beers were still a weird regional (Manchester/Sheffield) speciality back then, and those that were available weren’t nearly as full-on as what we’re used to now. I’d date the big turnaround to the early years of this millennium – which in turn would mean that it’s only the smaller %age of pub goers under the age of 35 who have been living in Craftland all this time.

    Another number I don’t agree with is the reference to 9,000 active members, of whom 4,000 are cask diehards. The active members of CAMRA I know are regular drinkers of (some) keg beer, because they know a good thing when they see it and (more importantly) they know that promoting the availability of cask beer doesn’t imply or entail never drinking anything else. The problem we may have is the periphery of relatively inactive – and not particularly well-informed – old-school CAMRA loyalists (10,000? 20,000?); the kind of people who write to What’s Brewing and complain every time anyone says anything nice about a keg beer. If I had my way those people would be told, loud and clear, that CAMRA is a campaign for real ale, but that it’s not a campaign against anything (except the absence of real ale).

    I’m not describing my ideal version of CAMRA here; I’m describing the status quo. So I’m puzzled by this:

    It will do the greater campaign for beer no good if Camra tries to insist that the very best craft keg beers are still no worthier of notice than the mass-produced mass-market keg beers that arrived in the 1960s

    It’s true, of course, but it’s not happening now and there’s no danger of it happening.

    Many of us are in a slightly contradictory position, in that what we support as CAMRA members doesn’t dictate what we prefer as beer drinkers; it coincides a lot of the time, but not all the time. But I think the best thing to do with that contradiction is to recognise that it’s a contradiction and live with it. If a folk singer goes to a folk club and sings a Beatles song, that doesn’t make it a folk song; even the most dedicated folkie must recognise that there are other good songs in the world. If a CAMRA member drinks keg beer, that doesn’t make it real ale; we all know that there are other good beers in the world. But the folk club doesn’t change its name to a ‘good music club’ – where else are you going to hear folk songs? – and CAMRA doesn’t need to turn into a campaign for ‘good beer’ – who else is going to campaign for real ale?

    1. “even the most dedicated folkie must recognise that there are other good songs in the world” – hah! Read up about Ewan McColl … and the reaction to Bob Dylan when he went electric.

      Nothing to prevent Camra continuing to put cask ale at the heart of its campaigning, while still embracing other forms of good beer.

    2. Dylan and folk… how long have you got?

      I guess the guy who called him Judas would say if asked that Ballad of a Thin Man wasn’t folk (quite rightly) and that it was rubbish – just as I’d say that 5 a.m. Saint on keg isn’t real ale and that it’s not as good as it was on cask. (It was superb on cask.) But find that heckler and sit him down in front of a recording of Good Vibrations or Yesterday or Grieg’s Piano Concerto – would he really say it was rubbish because it wasn’t folk? Put a bottle of (brewery-conditioned) Old Tom in front of me, or a (keg) Cloudwater IPA, and I’m not going to refuse it because it’s not RA.

      The official position of CAMRA is that real ale is good and, er, that’s it – CAMRA no more has a position on craft keg beer than it has a position on sherry, Stilton or shoes. (Although most CAMRA members do in fact use shoes, and some shoes are definitely better than others.) I’d welcome a clarification from on high that made it plain that CAMRA isn’t against any other kind of beer – it’s already plain enough to me, but those letters keep appearing in What’s Brewing… – but going any further would be disastrous, I think.

      It comes back to the question of definition, I’m afraid (no, wait! don’t run away!). CAMRA can’t be a campaign for ‘real ale and craft beer’, because there is no definition of craft beer: we’d never know whether the campaign had been successful or not. So if it’s to embrace craft beer, it needs to do one of two things. One is to turn into a campaign for beer in general – that is, a campaign for the interests of all beer drinkers and the promotion of good quality beer in all forms. But this would be a massive transformation of the campaign – what does ‘good’ beer mean if you’ve already said you’re not excluding any type of beer? (Say what you like about AB-InBev, they don’t set out to brew bad beer.) The other option would be to cease to be a campaign and turn into a club for the celebration of real ale and craft beer – if you’re not actually trying to change anything, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a definition or not. This is, perhaps, the missing option 7 on the ballot paper – that CAMRA shouldn’t ‘represent’ anyone (or campaign for anything), just carry on with the tokens and the beer festivals and throw open the gates to the craft guys. But that just sounds like giving up to me. Perhaps CAMRA’s lost a bit of its campaigning edge over the years, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

      1. As I said earlier, you couldn’t define “slow food”, but there is a thriving, organised slow food movement in Italy. You couldn’t define “jazz”, but that doesn’t stop people having jazz festivals, and jazz clubs, and jazz sections in (the few remaining) record stores.

        1. OK, the ‘slow food’ example is interesting; it’s made me pause for thought.

          But it is *slow* food, not ‘good food’. Whatever we take ‘slow’ to mean, it does stand for a particular approach to food, not just for quality, variety and all the other things we all generally favour – it’s something along the lines of ‘do it properly, recognise tradition, respect the environment and take a bit of time over it’.

          Is there a unifying principle which traditional brewers and craft brewers could get behind? I’m really not sure, particularly given that some of the former are (justifiably) so conservative and some of the latter are so hectically innovative – one new brewer known to me made an ‘imperial black gose’ for his second ever brew, acknowledging cheerfully that gose is traditionally pale and weak. Ironically, ‘real ale’ might be the closest we can get to a principle of craft & tradition that we can all agree on.

  10. Jesus, when will you guys get it, CAMRA are irrelevant today. Completely and utterly irrelevant. And, they will remain that way, regardless of whatever bullshit ‘revitalisation’ effort. Stop wasting so much time thinking/talking/writing about them and go to the pub or a local brewery and have a beer.

    1. If CAMRA are irrelevant, why do you keep commenting on them? Why not just ignore them and plough your own furrow?

      1. Oh, I’ve missed you guys. I haven’t commented in ages and I only wasted about 1 minute scanning Martyn’s long winded waste of bytes and making two swift replies. Furrow firmly ploughed, thanks gents.

  11. Define embracing. We already recognise them as beers of worth, so if you mean campaign for them, then the Campaign will die. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Or there will be a breakaway. Real ale and its conservation and promotion is what CAMRA is about and what most members want, so why not?

    It would be like campaigning for really nice food or whatever. Woolly and pointless. What Phil said above is the right of it:

    “Many of us are in a slightly contradictory position, in that what we support as CAMRA members doesn’t dictate what we prefer as beer drinkers; it coincides a lot of the time, but not all the time. But I think the best thing to do with that contradiction is to recognise that it’s a contradiction and live with it.”

  12. A well-written and well thought out article, Martyn, and there is little in it I would disagree with. I’m not quite old enough to remember CAMRA being formed, but I did join the organisation back in 1974; so have over four decade’s membership behind me.

    My own view is that the Campaign has lost its way, and become side-tracked by peripheral issues. I am old enough to remember branches being instructed to carry out price surveys, and then we had the “full-measures” campaign. This was followed by LocAle – a totally meaningless term; let alone campaign; especially as every pub within a 30 mile radius of Lewes qualifies if it stocks Harvey’s. Nothing wrong with Harvey’s of course, but it’s a “must stock” beer in this part of the world so, with the exception of Greene King houses, virtually every pub offers the beer; sometimes to the detriment of “truly local” beers from just down the road.

    CAMRA also allowed itself to be hijacked by the cider brigade; a group who should now do the decent thing and form their own, independent campaign organisation. The biggest problem though, has been the “diehards” within CAMRA. The same people vehemently opposed to devices such as “cask-breathers”, which could actually help keep cask beer in better condition. Their opposition is based on pure dogma, rather than sound scientific fact which, as a qualified scientist, annoys me immensely.

    I have attended GBG selection meetings where these individuals have argued for pubs to be excluded from the guide because they “might” use cask-breathers. One almost rabid purist continued to argue that he could tell, “Just by looking at a beer” that it had been kept using one of these devices, even though a fellow committee member had been taken into the cellar of the pub concerned, by the landlord, and confirmed there was not a cask-breather to be seen!

    I didn’t actually mean for this to turn into a rant, but issues like these explain why I have become disillusioned with the Campaign. Like Ted Brunning, it is only the inertia of forgetting to cancel my direct debit, which keeps me a member; that and the social side of course.

    I will be choosing the “represent all beer drinkers option”. As I said earlier, cider and perry drinkers need to form their own organisation. If this option does win the day, it still remains to be seen whether “all beer drinkers” will wish to join in with a “revitalised” campaign, especially one they have previously been excluded from.

  13. I completely agree that CAMRA should be open and honest about this, which, as you say, is whether or not they should embrace craft (I wish I knew what craft meant) keg debate. I am in the 40+ years membership category, and love good beer, whether it’s from a cask, keg, bottle or tin can. However, I do think that you, as are many others, are taking very lightly the continuing threat to cask conditioned beer.

    It’s precisely because of the growing popularity of other forms of beer that CAMRA still has an important job of work to do. Why? In a nutshell, because keg beers need very little in the way of cellar handling skills, and have little to no waste – they are in effect “plug and play” beers. Cask ales, on the other hand, need careful handling and treatment in the cellar. When a beer leaves the brewery, it may be the best beer in the world. But if it is then poorly handled in the cellar it can be the worst. How often have we had a flat, over-the-hill pint from a hand pump? Also, there is at least 2 litres of waste in every cask. It would not be difficult, therefore, to imagine efficiency seeking and cost saving pubcos, and hard pressed landlords, opting for this easier to handle and less “wasteful” product at the expense of the cask ale.

    So, can I suggest that you think again when you say that cask ale is no longer in danger? On the contrary, this could in my view be the thin end of the wedge where we see a gradual decline in the production and drinking of cask beers (for the reasons stated above) to the point where it is in danger of being marginalised in drinking and production terms.

    Let other organisations like SIBA, the trade body for the brewers, and the many beer bloggers and writers promote the virtues of good keg beer. But CAMRA must, in my view, stay firmly focussed on cask ales. So please, let’s move on from the unhelpful and irrelevant gripes about CAMRA’s historical roots and let’s discuss the modern and relevant issues about why CAMRA should continue to focus on cask conditioned ale – quality at the brewery and quality at the point of dispense to help preserve this Nation’s unique style of beer.

    1. >let’s discuss the modern and relevant issues about why CAMRA should continue to focus on cask conditioned ale

      I’ve asked this many times and not really had an answer – do you think this alone will engage a new generation (not necessarily younger)? Because if it doesn’t, it’s moot what policies CAMRA does or doesn’t have – it’ll not be a significant voice in, shall we say, 10 years.

      I believe the long term outcome is pretty clear: a) stay as we are or focus more tightly and it’s pretty much guaranteed CAMRA will become a much smaller organisation not able to carry out many of the activities it can do right now or b) adapt and possibly engage a newer generation but that is by no means certain. But this route may disfranchise the current generation.

      So one path is certain but is over a long time frame. The other path has a (small?) risk of success but the downside being that if it doesn’t get a new generation involved, it’ll accelerate CAMRA’s demise.

      Rock and hard place anyone?

      1. Is CAMRA membership falling? I had the impression it was rising and had been for some time. If membership’s rising or holding steady, then we don’t need to worry about appealing to new members – we evidently are doing. They may not necessarily be *young* members, but (as I think you’d agree) that’s not the end of the world. If we keep recruiting the same kind of people, age-wise, as existing members, the age balance of the organisation will tilt further, just because of the passage of time. But as long as we keep recruiting it’ll be a long, slow process – it’s not as if the entire membership of CAMRA is about to fall off a demographic cliff, recent recruits and all.

        What we do need to do, with some urgency, is turn more CAMRA members into activists – but I can’t see how changing the aims of the organisation those people joined is going to help us do that.

        1. CAMRA *active* membership is failing in many branches and nearly all branches are showing signs that the long term members are getting tired and want a rest. The proof is member’s holding multiple positions within the branch and vacant positions – and it’s getting visibly worse. This was documented in the branches report a few years ago by Chris Cryne. As a CAMRA member you should be able to get hold of a copy.

          This is *the* problem and the reason this project has been kick started. If that wasn’t the case (we had lots of people wanting to take over) then I doubt we’d be looking so closely at revitalisation. Just consider what that term means in the dictionary.

          So yes, we need to turn more CAMRA members into activists and all attempts so far at engaging the silent majority of inactive (at branch level) members has pretty much failed. Colin V said at the Manchester winter ales festival that if anyone had any solution to this that he’d love to hear because they’d (NE) run out of ideas.

          Hence the reason if looking broader and seeing if it’s our policies that are putting people off. I’m on the fence with this – it could equally be because there isn’t anything for said new generation to really get behind. That said, the anti-alcohol league maybe controversial enough to get people juices flowing. Nobody likes being told what to do.

        2. Glad we’re agreed on what the problem is! But I’m blowed if I can see why changing the aims of the organisation would help, given that the people we want to activate are already members – let alone doing it by this roundabout route of changing the people the campaign thinks it’s representing.

        3. Come on now, 90% of CAMRA members only join because it means they can skip the queue at the local beer festival. No-one outside of a tiny group of die-hards actually gives three fucks about “real ale” or even knows what it means.

          You could replace every beer at a CAMRA festival with a keg and no-one would notice, except to comment on how much better the beer was that year. Most people go to beer festivals despite the poor quality beer, not because of it.

  14. No Rob, CAMRA doesn’t need to go back to basics – whatever “basics” might be. It needs to reach out and embrace all beer lovers, whether they’re drinkers of traditional cask ale, or “modern” “craft – ale” enthusiasts.

    It doesn’t need to get involved with peripheral issues such as pricing, short measures, licensing and planning matters, supply chains, etc, and it certainly needs to ditch the cider side of the campaign altogether.

    1. Paul, I’m not sure planning is a peripheral issue.

      Property economics in the UK (especially London and the South East) mean that virtually all pubs would be converted to housing if there was no planning protection. This an area where CAMRA genuinely does have an impact that stretches beyond definitions of type of beer.

  15. I agree that the poll is badly done. The options are all wrong and so its the format. I disagree that the main question it should ask is about the inclusion of keg.

    I would have prefered something like this:

    What do you think CAMRA should campaign for? (tick as many as you agree with):
    1. Cask Beer
    2. Traditional Cider
    3. Brewers
    4. Pubs
    5. Keg Beer
    6. Other (please explain)

    Having said all that, I quite the idea mentioned in the comments about dropping the campaigning and becoming a drinkers club!

    Really though I think a good way to go would be to refocus on cask ale and everything related to it (i.e. pubs and brewers, tax and opposing the anti-drink lobby). Let cider be a sister campaign and leave keg to look after itself, but with no animosity.

    I may change my mind though, still ploughing through all the opinions.

    1. Weird, isn’t it. I can feel another blog post coming on – not so much “which way should CAMRA go?” as “what exactly are CAMRA trying to achieve by asking which way they should go in this particular way?”.

  16. I’m a bit on the outside (the other side of the world, in this case) so I might not be the best to speak on the subject, but from an outside’s perspective, it seems odd for CAMRA to suddenly introduce such ambiguity into the purpose of its existence.

    That isn’t to say that CAMRA should condescend to those who enjoy well-made keg beer. Nonsensical infighting helps no one and makes the organization seem tone deaf.

    But if CAMRA becomes a catchall “Campaign for Good Beer” then I feel like its uniqueness would dissolve and it would weaken its purpose of maintaining the existence of a product worth keeping around.

  17. Dear Mr Cornell….Again you are the Lighthouse of Clarity in the sea of Confusion (Vive Le Craft)!!!!.

    As Leon Trotsky would probably have said…….. “We must put an end once and for all to the CAMRAist babble about the sanctity of Real Ale as the only true beer…let us embrace Craft Beer as an equal”

    1. It is hard to argue against this logically esp. as CAMRA wasn’t actually set-up, as Hardman said, specifically to save real ale. That sort of came a bit later as a way to tackle the big five breweries closing down smaller breweries – which IMO is CAMRA’s greatest success. We somehow got very fixed on real ale down the line…

      1. It came later, but not much later. The definition of real ale we know & love today dates from the end of 1972 – about a year after the Campaign was founded – and the name change happened in March 1973.

        But arguing that CAMRA wasn’t set up to save ‘real ale’ is missing the point, I think. It was set up to preserve, promote and celebrate decent beer, considered as something that we’d had in this country for many years but were now in danger of losing, and that meant campaigning for cask beer – that was the form of decent beer that was most under threat. I think that radical (or populist) conservationist streak – the traditional working man’s drink, nothing special but good honest stuff, needing to be protected against modernity and big business – was and still is a big part of CAMRA’s appeal.

        And that’s why broadening out to ‘all good beer’ would be such a mistake. Is ‘craft beer’ traditional? On the contrary, you’ll no more get a ‘craft’ best bitter than you’ll get a recipe on Bake Off that isn’t ‘with a twist’. Is it under threat? Unless general confusion, bafflement and ignorance count, I don’t think so. Who would it be under threat from?

        1. I will still argue that the “illness” was the big breweries closing down smaller breweries and that the “symptom” was a loss of a quality product. Would CAMRA have got off the ground if these big breweries had been producing a high quality cask ale?? Very possibly because we’d still have lost choice. Bizarrely what we have here is another high quality product adding to choice and we seem to be against it? But this is moot…

          Let’s be clear about this, if one doesn’t vote for change then there is no reason for a new generation will get involved (because they are not at the moment) and therefore you are sending CAMRA down a path to being a much smaller and less relevant organisation. It may even collapse.

          To be honest, there is nothing really wrong with this decision because campaigns aren’t supposed to run forever. But you should be aware of the risk of inaction.

          Nobody who has suggested CAMRA stick to it’s current policies or even become more tightly focussed (get rid of cider for example) has given any explanation why that route would magically get the new generation involved.

          But equally, change does not guarantee success and there is merit in the argument that needless change will simply accelerate the demise of CAMRA.

          1. It’s an interesting ‘what if’ – what if the Big Six had gone down what you might call the Banks’ route, keeping cask beer going but centralising production and turning out a bland, uniform product. We’d still have had a CAMRA – with the R for ‘Revitalisation’ – but I think it would have been much smaller; saying that X is about to be lost forever is a much better rallying call than saying it’s not as good as it used to be.

            CAMRA isn’t, never has been and never should be a campaign *against* any kind of beer, unless that beer becomes a threat to real ale. That message needs to get out loud and clear.

            As for getting a new generation involved, we’re agreed that the problem is that CAMRA *members* aren’t involved in *volunteering* (including volunteering to serve on committees, etc). And I agree that this is a big problem, and threatens the longer-term viability of the campaign. What I can’t see is how broadening the focus of the campaign from ‘real ale drinkers’ to ‘all beer-drinkers’, ‘all pub-goers’ or ‘all drinkers’ would do anything to galvanise those people – who presumably joined CAMRA under the impression it was a campaign for real ale, and didn’t have a problem with that.

            I’ve got high hopes for the broader consultation – I do think CAMRA needs to sort out its position on a few things, vibing up the membership being one of them – but this questionnaire is an answer to the wrong question. CAMRA being a campaign for real ale isn’t repelling new members – far from it. Real ale isn’t the whole story of good beer – it never has been – but it is a key part of it (in this country), and it is (still) in need of preservation and promotion. And it dovetails naturally with other CAMRA concerns – pubs, prohibitionism, beer quality and variety. CAMRA does need a bit of fixing, but the ‘RA’ part isn’t what’s broken.

          2. >What I can’t see is how broadening the focus of the campaign from ‘real ale drinkers’ to ‘all beer-drinkers’, ‘all pub-goers’ or ‘all drinkers’ would do anything to galvanise those people

            Sadly Phil I agree with you as this is no means certain. Hence I’ve used the phrase damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  18. RE the definition. While it may be true that physiologically ‘secondary fermentation’ is just a continuation of primary fermentation, but the primary/secondary distinction can be legitimately drawn all the same because it involves different brewery processes. Different equipment. Different timings. Different temperatures. Also I don’t think anyone would argue that what happens in the later stages of fermentation (i.e. conditioning) is physiologically the same as the initial stages even if you can’t draw a clean line between the because it’s a continuous process (the levels of available yeast nutrients, ambient oxygen and alcohol, pH etc are all different). So that’s another reason it’s OK to speak of primary and secondary fermentation.

    1. “it may be true that physiologically ‘secondary fermentation’ is just a continuation of primary fermentation” – Yes, that is true. End of story.

      “Also I don’t think anyone would argue that what happens in the later stages of fermentation (i.e. conditioning) is physiologically the same as the initial stages.” – Anyone who knows anything about it would argue this. It’s exactly the same.

      “ambient oxygen” – once the yeast has completed the aerobic phase there is no oxygen.

      “it’s OK to speak of primary and secondary fermentation” – if the secondary fermentation is the result of eg wild yeast it is OK to speak about “secondary fermentation”

      1. Rod, I was thinking about different levels of yeast nutrients in wort and green beer e.g. wort has loads of maltose in it and green beer has hardly any. Green beer has alcohol in it and wort doesn’t. Green beer has more of the minor products of fermentation esters etc etc. Physically the liquids, wort and green beer, are different.

        1. It’s like eating your dinner – eating the first chip and eating the last chip are the same thing. It’s a process – not two different things.
          The maltose is fermented into alcohol until either there is no more, or the yeast stops working. One process.

          Secondary fermentation is when, normally, wild yeast starts to ferment the sugars that the brewers’ yeast has left in the green beer as sugars, turning them into alcohol.
          Secondary fermentation can also occur in bottle conditioned beer following the introduction of priming sugar and perhaps some further yeast.

          Very little cask beer is actually cask conditioned these days anyway – something CAMRA determinedly turns a blind eye to.

  19. Good piece, Martyn. I agree with almost all of it. I did think the ‘secondary fermentation’ thing was a bit weird though. What people typically mean by secondary fermentation is that it ferments in bottles after having fermented in brewing vessels, not that it involves separate microbes. You might think that’s a slightly inapt way of describing it (not that inapt names are unusual – ‘dry hops’ get just as wet in a fermenter as they do in the kettle, for example), but that’s what people mean.

    With regard to some of the comments, I really wish this point about definitions would curl up and die. The fact that words can’t be given crisp, non-circular definitions does not stop them from being perfectly respectable, usable words. As Wittgenstein famously pointed-out, there is no definition of the word ‘game’ which picks out all and only the games. By the reasoning some people use when they’re talking about craft beer, we should stop talking about games.

  20. Before I left England in 1979, I was a solid follower of CAMRA, using the Good Beer Guide as my travel plan whenever I sallied forth from West London. Then I came to Canada, and for 36 years never drank a pint of beer (except when I returned to visit the kids in England).

    My preference still is for cask beer (though as someone mentioned above, little of it is really cask conditioned any more). However, for the last two or three years, Vancouver has been a centre of the craft beer movement, with some dozen small breweries within a couple of miles of my apartment. I have sampled a good many of their offerings and now have three that I drink regularly, In great part that is because they are so reminiscent of the fine beers I grew up with in the 60s and 70s.

    All in all, given the opportunity, I would drink cask beers only. However, to pretend that the good craft beers are anything like the big brewers’ dregs is simply ridiculous. They are fine brews and need to be recognized as such.

  21. I rarely disagree with your blog Martyn, but I do on this point. Camra, I think, should remain firm in their support of ‘Real Ale’ so they call it. You need only ask yourself why they came to be in the first place.
    Cask could very well keep its foothold in the beer market, but think for a second if it didn’t. It’s only hope would be the focused efforts of a group of people dedicated to saving this (rather inconvenient) way of keeping beer.
    Does the Craft Keg really need saving anyway? If it goes the way of the American Craft Keg (in America) the rest of the industry will need saving from IT, especially ‘Real Ale’.

    Besides, Camra is a group that supports a very specific type of beer, just because they haven’t come down on one side or the other about a new trend in beer, doesn’t mean they’re ignorant to their members or eschewing the trend. Perhaps quite the opposite, “drink of course, what you like, just know that we’ll be here fighting for the cellared pint, when you decide to drink one”.

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