I'm regarded by certain circles to be staunchly anti-CAMRA, which isn't nessecarily the case. I have been a CAMRA member for the past two years and I'm paid up until October, but I won't be renewing my membership. The main reason for this is a motion that was brought before CAMRA's AGM this year, suggesting that the campaign should lobby against kegged beer on the grounds that the extraneous CO2 is a danger to the public health. In fairness, it was thrown out with very little credibility given to it, but the fact that it could even get to the AGM is laughable. I can't remember which branch proposed the motion, but I wouldn't want to drink in their neck of the woods.
Cask versus keg is always going to be a touchy subject, but as long as the brewer believes that it is the best form of dispense for his beer, then that should be the end of it. There are certain beers I would love to see kegged, but if the brewer thinks that it is best in cask, I will continue to drink it if it is good.
A prime example of this would be Coniston Brewing Company's Thurstein Pilsner. I've had this beer on cask and it was very good, in the bottle it was great, but on keg (as sampled at The Queens at Biggar on Wednesday night) it was at its absolute best. If CAMRA would have their way, this beer would never have made it to keg and that, in my opinion, would have been a loss.
(Nb. Ian Bradley should get more recognition than he does for embracing keg, it's been a few years now since Bluebird won the Champion Beer of Britain award, but there's always something exciting going on at Coniston. For further reference see Infinity IPA.)
So it would seem that despite the good work CAMRA have done getting us to the stage we are at now, it would be difficult to progress that work without some change of remit. The main problem with the current objective of the campaign is that it is too inclusive. Real Ale doesn't nessecarily mean good beer. I would argue that most people who are looking to try something other than their standard pint of Carling would be swayed to try one beer over another if it had a CAMRA logo present. They therefore equate a CAMRA stamp with a guarantee of quality, which isn't true. All it means is that the beer has been conditioned inside the cask it is currently in.
The idea that a campaign should be started to identify and seek out good beer is one that has sparked the imagination of many drinkers. My own involvement in this has been via CBAG, the Cumbria Beer Appreciation Group. Together with Hardknott Dave, Jeff Pickthall and Neil Bowness, we devised a way to both promote the great range of beers from within our own county, plus introduce some excellent examples from the rest of the UK (and indeed the rest of the world) which weren't as widely available.
This culminated in us running a couple of beer-matched dinners, one at the Masons Arms back in March and a second at the Kirkstile Inn in May. Sadly, we haven't had chance over the summer to run any more events as yet, but we do have our sights set on an event in November, in conjunction with a top Lake District hotel. Sit tight for that one.
Another campaign has sprung up recently via twitter using the hashtag #CAMRGB. The Campaign for Really Good Beer was set up by Simon (@CrayolaSarandon) in response to Brewdog's withdrawal/banishment (delete as you prefer, I don't want any arguments!) from the Great British Beer Festival this year. A blog has been set up with numerous contributors posting reviews of beers and mini-interviews with brewers amongst other articles. From what he told me, it sounds as though Simon had come to the same conclusions as me regarding CAMRA, as evidenced further by his own campaign's rules:
- Good beer is something to be enjoyed.
- CAMRGB must maintain a lightheartedness and not become overly serious about itself.
- Everyone is welcome provided that a) they enjoy a good pint and b) are willing to have a bit of fun.
- Brewers are like modern day magicians who are to be celebrated and supported.
- Mmmm... beer.
The main point I want to get across is this: CAMRA have done great things for beer in the last 40 years, but as the game has changed so much in the past few years, they haven't kept up.