You have probably noticed the CAMRA logo at the top of the column and the chances are you know that it stands for ‘the Campaign for Real Ale.
However it has not always been so. In the early months of its existence, back in the early 70’s, it was known as the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, and now, around 45 years later some think that the Campaign itself needs revitalising. There are those who would argue that CAMRA has accomplished the task for which it was formed and should now disband. Others suggest that we should move with the times and find new battles to fight. To try to resolve these questions a series of meetings and consultations of members has been set up, under the chairmanship of founder Michael Hardman, known as the Revitalisation project. The next stage of the roadshow will come to the Forum in Norwich on 3rd of September to canvas opinion and discuss the issues with local members.
I can see four main points that need to be decided. The battle for real ale is pretty much won. There are more breweries than for decades, and it is rare that I go into a pub and can’t find a pint of cask bitter of some description. However to maintain this happy situation calls for eternal vigilance, and perhaps we need to be more forthright about poor beer. Pubs and breweries love winning awards and we are their best friends when we are presenting certificates, but perhaps we should be prepared to be a bit more unpopular and point out the poor quality beers around, which in my opinion are often the result of pubs trying to serve too many beers and not having the turnover. It’s partly our fault with our tickers mentality, always searching for something new, rather than being satisfied with great but familiar beer.
There are three other issues that I feel need to be resolved. Should we campaign to save pubs? As the number of breweries and beers increases, the number of pubs to drink them in declines. Is this a CAMRA issue, and should we be trying to obtain ACV listings, objecting to change of use proposals and supporting groups like the one that saved the Kings Arms in Shouldham?
Secondly, should our efforts be restricted to campaigning for cask conditioned beers? Perhaps we are set in the past and we should modernise and embrace craft keg beer whatever that is, alongside bottled beer and foreign beer brewed in different styles such as Belgian Lambic.
Third, what about cider? As a speaker recently said at the national CAMRA AGM, ‘You must remember, cider is not beer’, to which a number of the members listening expressed the opinion that he should not be there if that was the case. It is true that the range, quality and availability of cider has greatly improved in recent years and the cider section of the Campaign has done some sterling work to help this to happen, but the fact remains that it is not beer. Should we let the cider people go their own way and stick to promoting cask beer? If we accept cider, what about the increasing number of distilleries that have been established?
In the end we must decide who we speak for, the consumer, the publican, the brewers or perhaps local communities.
There are no easy answers and I am convinced that no clear consensus will be reached. As with many things, it may have been better to let things bumble along, but having started we must now deal with the consequences.