So that’s it then. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), could soon be throwing in the dishcloth. Having effectively achieved its goal to promote cask ale as “real” ale (more than 11,000 real ales are now brewed in the UK), the 45-year-old organisation has been enduring an identity crisis, and is looking to its members for a solution. If there is one.
Cynics will tell you Camra’s membership know all about identity crises – once the rebels of the 1970s, they’re now mostly older dads and grandads – purists upholding Camra’s “cask only” creed as sacred. There’s no doubt that the country stood in need of decent traditional ale at the time, with cheap fizzy lagers and insipid industrial keg bitters dominating pub bartops. But now, thanks to current methods of brewing lagers, pale ales, porters and the like, “good” doesn’t necessarily mean “cask”. But try telling hardcore Camra folk that.
It’s not an organisation that’s been known for embracing change, but Camra hasadmitted it might need to focus on the interest in other beers, such as the craft beer supplied in kegs or cans – the sort of drinks Camra swore to oust. After all, cans and kegs have traditionally been the vessels of choice for Red Stripe, Carling, and other indistinguishable, low-strength lagers.
Though the battlefields of beer are somewhat bloodless of late, BrewDog – the craft brewery behind Britain’s biggest-selling IPA – had a spat with Camra, culminating in Camra’s eviction of BrewDog from its annual Great British beer festival.
Quarrels like this highlight the lack of confidence brewers have had in Camra. Cloudwater co-founder Paul Jones describes the organisation as a “force for good, but yesterday’s force for good”, while Thornbridge’s head brewer, Rob Lovatt, suggests Camra focuses “too heavily on real ale and fails to recognise other forms of beer”, however much good work it has done “raising awareness for cask beer in general”.
Yet Camra’s communications chief, Tim Stainer, believes craft beer has been welcomed by Camra. “It’s sparked a renewed interest in beer and pubs,” he says. “And in many cases introduced new drinkers to cask beer.”
Differences aside, Stainer laments the difficulties in “pinning down a definition of craft beer”, and suggests “in many cases, real ale is craft beer and craft beer is real ale”. Not everyone is so tolerant with beer. My Camra-inclined fiftysomething dad saw craft beer types as faceless hipsters. I then introduced him to Beavertown’s Gamma Ray and Kernel IPA. He now drinks these with more excitement than any other ale.
Within the past week, Camra has received 12,000 responses to its Revitalisation Project consultation. However its members vote, Camra deserves credit for weighing up the options in a quickly changing market. The organisation is in the unenviable position of potentially alienating their core following to appeal to a larger audience, sacrificing some of its most guarded morals in the process.
Pete Brown, writing in his Morning Advertiser column, asks: ‘Camra have won their battle, so what’s next?’ Since Camra’s inception, its most concrete rule was to fight for good quality beer. At least it can still do that.
Fazit: Hipster saufen Craftbier.