Things were simple when I joined the Campaign For Real Ale. In those days, the bad guys were the so-called Big Six who were flooding our pubs with keg beer.
The good guys were the small breweries, which numbered less than 200, each producing maybe three or four different ales.
Many of them were limited to a small area, but it was feasible for the committed drinker to travel the country and sample just about every brew that was commercially available.
When you visited a pub, the hand pump was the sign of good beer, with a few regional exceptions, where various forms of electric pumps held sway.
Those days are gone. There are now over 2,000 breweries in the country producing a bewildering array of ales. Many come from a different brewing tradition, where the distinction between real ale and keg beer is blurred.
Maybe they are selling American style beers laden with hops. Perhaps their range includes Belgian style beers such as Gueuze or Lambic. Maybe unfamiliar ingredients are included like fruit or herbs. Some beers may be matured in whisky casks.
I recently called into the Duke’s Head Hotel, seduced by the sight of hand pumps on the bar. While drinking a truly excellent drop of Oakham Citra, I got talking to James, the bar manager and he was clearly passionate about his cask ales, but equally keen on the wheat beer, lager, stout and other products.
Nearby is the Nip and Growler, a type of micropub that is becoming increasingly common. Due to the limited space, the beer is delivered in containers called keykegs. These are 10 litre packages with a laminated inner bag inside a pressurised container.
The beer inside could conform to the CAMRA definition of ‘real ale’, but the production methods might mean that it doesn’t. Personally, if I like it, I will drink it, but the difficulty comes with promoting it.
If we cannot be sure that the product conforms to CAMRA’s definitions we cannot list the pub in the Good Beer Guide or promote the beer.
CAMRA members from all over the country will convene for the annual meeting at the culmination of the ‘revitalisation project’ and the time has come to decide the future.
The resolutions are dressed up in bureaucratic speak, but essentially come down to whether we embrace ‘craft’ beer. Many of the old guard are vehemently against this, and are rumoured to be planning to vote against everything.
I have some sympathy, as the ideas which have been hardwired into their brains over many years are being challenged, and this is the demographic that have the time, interest and money to actively campaign, raising much of CAMRA’s income.
Many younger members feel that we must embrace the modern age and accept things as they now are. Perhaps they will not turn up for the debates, and vote by postal ballot.
Either way, it seems difficult to find a compromise, and we could be in for an interesting weekend with the outcome being an unrepairable schism.
Personally, I see the need to modernise, but am reluctant to embrace what I cannot define, be it ‘craft’ beer or ‘quality’ beer. We shall see.