My name is Roy and I’m a CAMRA member. There, I’ve said it. I’m a rarity in Northern Ireland. I’m a member of an organisation the Campaign for Real Ale, run by volunteers, that promotes cask beer and the local boozer.
“Right, the local boozer I get, but what’s this cask beer stuff?”
Ah, again I refer you to the fact that I, and probably you reading this, live in Northern Ireland where cask isn’t widespread for many reasons. A full description of cask can be found on that 100% factual site Wikipedia here. If you’re from GB and are laughing at my inclusion of that link, titter ye not, cask beer here is as rare as Trump telling the truth.
I became a CAMRA member in 2011 when I was becoming more and more intrigued about better beer and quite simply there was no other beer group or organisation that I was aware of (apologies to Beoir) in my locality. I joined CAMRA and waited to see where my beer journey would go.
That journey quickly opened my eyes to the entrenched opinions across in England (and some in Northern Ireland too) regarding the cask vs craft keg debate. I sometimes drank cask where available, yes, but I also drank plenty of tasty craft keg beer. That is, beer where the yeast isn’t alive anymore and therefore isn’t classed as real ale by CAMRA. I learned that, like politics, Northern Ireland is a different beast compared to England, Scotland and Wales. The NI branch campaigns weren’t as much focused on cask vs craft keg, but actually getting local cask into pubs in the first place and fighting the likes of big guns Tennents and Diageo to offer a choice for pubgoers.
In 2016 CAMRA decided it had to nationally revitalise after over 40 years of existence. Many felt the organisation was out of date, irrelevant and out of touch with today’s drinkers and breweries. Proposals were made for the future direction of the organisation – and the one that caused most of a stir was the motion that CAMRA should now ‘speak for all pub-goers’. That means the dinosaurs would be campaigning for this new “craft” beer (quotation marks intentional).
Jesus wept, are you serious? Beer that isn’t real ale from a cask via hand pull but still tastes friggin’ great can come under the CAMRA campaign banner? Well, actually no.
This is when democracy isn’t democracy. Brexit has thrown the UK into all manner of uncertainty over the past couple of years after 52% voted to Leave. Fair enough, 52% is a democracy isn’t it? Majority rules and all that, tight but still a majority. Unless it’s a CAMRA vote.
At the CAMRA National AGM last weekend in Coventry, 72.6% voted that the organisation should indeed ‘speak for all pub-goers’ – that is, embrace this scary new “craft” beer (quotation marks intentional). What, embrace non-real ale? Yup, 72.6%. Joy abound! Ah but hold on a second, CAMRA rules say that a motion can only be passed when the vote reaches 75%. So the 27.4% that voted against, overrules the 72.6% in favour. Almost 3/1 in favour doesn’t get passed? Yup. Baaaah!
Yes I’m aware that most other progressive motions all passed, such as beer festivals should not be limited to selling just real ale (contradictory?) and while there was a welcome rejection to reducing small brewers duty relief, the one that sticks in my throat is the big one being rejected.
CAMRA has 186,000 members, 25,000 of whom voted, so why on earth didn’t the remaining 161,000 members vote and why are they in an organisation if they’re not willing to have a say on its future direction? Surely not simply for the £20 Wetherspoon vouchers? (don’t get me started on that) – reduced festival entry? Festival participation? Um, I’m struggling now.
It’s CAMRA after all, the Campaign for Real Ale. I understand that hardliners are asking why embrace craft keg as it’s a real ale organisation. I get that. But come on folks, it’s 2018. Your national cask vs keg battle from the 1970s is over and you won! Wake up and smell the Mosaic.
I love good cask beer. I love good craft keg beer. In general, I love good beer.
The blinkered “cask only and nothing else will do” attitude shown by many members is mind boggling. I’ve had plenty of excellent “craft” (quotation marks intentional) keg beer over the years but equally some awfully dire cask beer. CAMRA should be campaigning for good beer, regardless of its dispense method. The Northern Ireland branch has adopted a slogan over the past year, “Campaigning for great beer in great pubs” and I couldn’t agree more. There should be no snobbery around good beer, especially here in NI due to the ongoing fight that local small independent breweries are constantly enduring against big beers like Guinness, Harp, Carlsberg, Heineken, et al having a monopoly on the beer taps.
Nevertheless, the local and national CAMRA are inextricably linked. National has taken more of an interest in NI in the past couple of years over the tied pubs issue here and that’s to be hugely welcomed, but do I want to be associated with a national organisation that has so many dinosaur members continuing to entrench it in the last century? Dinosaurs eventually became extinct and right now I fear for the future of CAMRA.
So what do I do? Cancel membership and say good riddance immediately to the dinosaurs or stay aboard a possible sinking ship that’s campaigning for good beer in Northern Ireland? Decisions…
But hey, it’s only beer, right?