Sunday 3 April 2016

Defibrillating the Campaign

The Future? When has CAMRA ever been about The Future?

I, like presumably every other CAMRA member, received my "Revitalisation Pack" this week. I duly went online and filled in the form like they told me to. I wrote what you'd expect me to : Embrace the Evil Keg. Because it's the future, and the future will catch up with you whether you like it or not. One assumes CAMRA will take as much notice of my opinions as it always has.

Many people I know don't agree with my viewpoint, saying that while it's easy to define "Real Ale", it's harder to define " Craft Beer". I always say Craft Beer is like pornography, nobody can define it exactly, but they certainly know it when they see it. If CAMRA managed to figure out the definition of Real Ale in 1972, I'm sure they can come up with a definition of Craft Beer that satisfies the vast majority of people. Eventually.

It's arguable that Craft Beer actually needs to be "campaigned" for. It's on the up, and even reaching hitherto unpromising places such as Wolverhampton and Doncaster. It's notable that the only "Craft" beer organisation in the UK has been formed by brewers and distributors rather than actual drinkers. Craft is "the future", increasing in market share and thus not under threat.

Whereas Real Ale, despite a record number of breweries making it (if not actual volume produced), has always "needed " protection. It's assumed without CAMRA as a guardian, it would die out and without it, everyone would only have Red Barrel to drink within 18 months.

It could be said that CAMRA needs such a siege mentality to keep going. If there are no threats to the continuing availability of Real Ale, what reason would there be fore it to exist? And that's why Craft Beer will probably never be accepted by the active membership. It's increasingly available and also increasing in visibility, not to mention fashionability.  A CAMRA member just wants his favourite pint at his favourite place, forever.

The results of the Revitalisation Survey are a foregone conclusion. The status quo will be kept, and CAMRA will carry on in its journey to its fate as a middle-aged, middle-class drinking club. The battle has been won, but it will keep going through sheer inertia, propelled by it's active members wanting a social life, and it's paid staff's need of jobs.

Such it the way of humanity. Change never comes until it's far, far, too late.


  1. The fallacy that CAMRA are bumping up against is that "real ale" is easy to identify, define, or really pin down.

    Traditionalists conflate "cask ale" with "real ale". And often require air contact with the beer ("venting") as part of their personal definition.

    But the definition as understood by more technically inclined folk is that it gains carbonation from "secondary fermentation" within the vessel from which it is served.

    However this definition itself starts to fall apart with the spread of fairly simple brewing technology - the conditioning tank - allows the carbonation to happen in-tank before cold-filling cask with fairly bright beer. (Hell, and CAMRA trads shudder in their boots, this beer may have had to be force-carbed in tank to prop up the carb level a bit.)

    And now... this identical beer can be put into KeyKeg... equally it could be put in earlier and "conditioned" in KeyKeg. (Either way the only difference between it and the majority of cask is that it doesn't have CO2 "vented" off... and isn't going to be oxidised by contact with air.)

    But be it cask or KeyKeg whether it is container or brewery conditioned is difficult to identify from the PoV of the drinker. Even if "extraneous CO2" has had to be used in the conditioning tank.

    And on top of that only difference between KeyKeg and most microbrewery top-pressure keg is the top-pressure contact with the beer... akin to an aspirator for cask but set for a higher carbonation level (that originally the beer may well have been "naturally conditioned" to.)

    There's a much wider "grey area" to real ale than many folk account for... KeyKeg is merely making this more apparent.

  2. I assume the brewers and distributors organisation you refer to is "United Craft Brewers". This in fact is dead in the water (it never really put out to sea [continuing the maritime analogy there]).

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  3. In response to your final, pessimistic note, in fact if you look at human history the most important change tends to come in the most miraculous, unexpected way, overriding vested interests.

    In response to your views on CAMRA's consultation process, I agree. It's not terribly important, though.

  4. nowhere on the voting form does it mention craft beer.Its either drinkers of real ale or all beer drinkers.Easy choice.Cant see them changing though.

  5. CAMRA will renew and a new generation will step forth.

    You will step forward and lead a new generation of beards as the leader of Royston Vasey CAMRA

  6. It will be what Mark said with a little bit of huffing and puffing. I rather doubt too if many active CAMRA members are unaware that real ale has changed. Conditioning in tanks has been going on since God was a boy.

    Trust me. It is force carbonation that presents the real difficulty for most. It makes the beer too fizzy don't you know and it that sense at least it is still the old enemy. Carbonic bite. You heard it here - well not first.

    Onwards and upwards.

    1. But you can get the same carbonation levels naturally conditioning. You can explode bottles and plastic kegs naturally conditioning...

      And carbonic acid is always volatile? (I think...?) So you don't "fix" more of it by force-carbing?

      So the problem with force carbonation is that there isn't a way to detect it - aside from asking the brewer and hoping for an honest answer (or observing their kit I suppose).

      Many active CAMRA types I know don't actually care either way of course. This is another "noisy minority" sort of problem?

      I suppose long-run the amusing future could happen that all the really "good"/interesting brewers drop cask in favour of unfiltered, unpasteurised keg... whilst the big brewers continue on with cask but making it a much mucked-about product akin to FastCask(TM).... unlikely though, but a fun horror scenario to scare your grandfather with.