Showing posts with label CAMRA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CAMRA. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CAMRA - A Fellow Traveller's View

I have never been a member of CAMRA, at least not the Campaign for Real Ale (the homebrew club I go to is called the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale). It really didn't make any sense to be a member when I lived in Prague, and it still doesn't now that I live in Virginia. Those facts though don't change the fact that whenever I go home to the UK I drink mostly real ale, actually that's understating it a bit, I actively hunt out real ale. I consider myself something of a CAMRA fellow traveller and am grateful that they took the step to protect, promote, and campaign for a wonderful expression of beer drinking.

Having said all of that, it is clear to me that the Revitalisation Project that CAMRA are now undertaking is kind of overdue. I remember running into some CAMRA members when I lived in Prague, Liverpool had spanked United 4-1 at Old Trafford, and we went to Pivovarsky D?m for some celebratory pints, and got talking with them about Marston's MD referring to certain sections of the CAMRA membership as 'gobby Hobbits'. These guys were, if memory serves, knowledgeable about beer in general, appreciative of a good lager, and good company over all.

That's kind of what I would like to see come out of the Revitalisation Project, a campaign that knows and promotes good beer in general, sure with a focus on real ale but without being snotty about it.

I would also like them to drop their quasi-nationalist double standard. If you go to the Great British Beer Festival the foreign bars serve beer from kegs rather than casks, seemingly the thinking being that this allegedly inferior product is perfectly okay for Johnny Foreigner but not for John Bull Esq. Good beer is good beer whether served from a cask, keg, bottle, or can, and British brewers shouldn't have to labour under the misapprehension that cask is the be all and end all of British beer.

As well as being an opportunity to broaden the scope, and appeal, of the Campaign, this project is also an opportunity to re-victual the idea cabinet so that once again CAMRA is a vital part of the beer scene in the UK in a way that is relevant to drinkers in the 21st Century. Without it, I fear the Campaign will become just a chapter in the next edition in the Oxford History of Beer, an important chapter yes, but still just history consigned to the page.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Random Thoughts

I followed Twitter yesterday with an unaccustomed intensity, waiting for the first person to tweet about the Barclay's London Dark Lager - the last I heard, it was unlikely to be on during the first day, and would likely make an appearance today.

When it was announced that the Champion Beer of Britain was Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde, I thought for a moment that the hashtag for the festival was about to go into meltdown. In amongst the congratulations to the brewers was a swathe of criticism, howling that a 3.7% mild ale could in no way be the best beer made in Britain. Very few of the comments about the chosen winner actually commented on the flavour profile of the beer, preferring to stand aghast that a beer of such a low abv could possibly be the best British cask ale at the Great British Beer Festival - it was almost as though Ratebeer had a collective hissy fit.

The problem with any form of competition is that it is, in reality, the subjective judgment of a panel of judges, who we can only hope have a depth of beer knowledge and a good palate. I am not entirely innocent when it comes to be shocked at some of the beers that win awards, but I try to remind myself that competitions can only judge what is in front of them.

Pondering all this over a dinner of bangers and mash, I was reminded of a passage in Bill Bryson's magnificent valedictory to Blighty, "Notes from a Small Island" about how Brits approach food:

"the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly".

Having never had anything from Mighty Oak, I am not in a position to say whether or not it was the best beer at the Great British Beer Festival. Given though that some of my favourite British brewers are at the festival, Fuller's, Everard's and the Durham Brewery for starters, I can only assume that Oscar Wilde is a damned fine beer, regardless of style.

I can understand people's frustration that the Great British Beer Festival doesn't have the likes of Lovibond's  and Meantime showcasing their superb beers to the public, but as I mentioned in a post a while back, the Great British Beer Festival is CAMRA's game and they can make the rules however they see fit.

However, it is clear that there is a market for a new national beer festival, one which embraces all of the beer made in Britain and Ireland, perhaps one that isn't tied to a given location every year? You could even call it the Festival of British and Irish Beer, one year in Birmingham, the next, Dublin, the third Glasgow and then on to Cardiff, travelling around the major cities of Britain and Ireland celebrating the national drink in all it's glory. Perhaps it could even take a leaf out of the Great American Beer Festival's book and not have any foreign beer whatsoever?

The point is, there is so much great beer being made in Britain and the near constant slanging match between the stalwarts of CAMRA and the acolytes of the new breed of brewers is not doing the industry any favours. Dividing the drinking community into "staid and boring" real ale drinkers and edgy young hipsters supping on craft beer in a bright shiny "bar" just leads to people drinking what they know and not furthering their knowledge of beer in general. Perhaps we all need to wise up and see each other not as enemies, but all on the same side in wanting better beer to be made available to the public.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CAMRA - doing exactly what they say on their tin

I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, though I was aware of its existence long before I started drinking artisanal beer, whether lager or ale. Indeed, I vaguely recall my initial love affair with Velkopopovicky Kozel having much to do with CAMRA having made positive noises about the beer, how the mighty have fallen.

Inevitably, learning more about traditionally made beer, and being British, albeit a Brit Abroad, CAMRA has become a point of reference. It is through the sterling work of CAMRA that I have learnt much about cask conditioning, stillage and even whether or not to use a sparkler (I am from north of the Watford gap, so they should give you an idea). It is also through learning about natural carbonation methods used in brewing that I discovered that there are still some breweries using the German "spunding" method of carbonation - which in terms of mouth feel and body is far closer to cask conditioning than force carbonation, and something I appreciate very much.

When I am drinking traditional British ales, I like to drink them cask conditioned, I think they taste better than their force carbonated peers. That is of course pure personal preference, it is not something I am adamant or fundamentalist about. Having said that, I generally believe that methods of dispense are secondary to the quality of flavour in the beer itself. I have had plenty of bad cask ale, and plenty of good kegged beer, just as I have had my fill of bad keg and great cask. In my experience, the brewery that does a good job in keg will do a good job in cask, simply because they do a good job all round. Also from experience, breweries that force carbonate the majority of their beer simply have no clue when it comes to cask.

I am fairly sure that I am in the majority in feeling this way about the whole keg vs cask thing, all I want is flavourful beer, regardless of how it is dispensed. However, and I think this is important, CAMRA have every right to say that at their festival they want the beer on show to conform to its opinion on the correct way to pour British ale. In the CAMRA way of thinking, great British beer is served from a cask, and you have to be very mean spirited not to be impressed with the level of attention and care that goes into organising a huge cask ale festival, especially when using kegs would no doubt be quicker, easier, and cheaper. If you believe that something is worth doing right, then the Great British Beer Festival is a prime example of dedication to a belief system.

Some of course claim that CAMRA needs to change with the times and accept kegged craft beer at its events, and while for some that may be a persuasive argument, it doesn't really wash for me. CAMRA has been successful by doing what it says on the tin, campaigning for real ale. The Great British Beer Festival, as a CAMRA event, is thus a reflection of their beliefs as to what constitutes great British beer, and that for CAMRA is cask conditioned ales.

BrewDog's latest CAMRA-baiting antics smacks of kids saying they want to join your game, but only if they can play by their own rules and then getting stroppy because the rules of the game have already been decided. The most ridiculous thing here is that BrewDog already have a range of cask ales, so why deliberately seek confrontation over something like method of dispense? I used to like BrewDog, but now they are as annoying as fundamentalist missionaries insisting that they alone have the gospel truth.

If, as we seem to hear on a fairly regular basis, there are bigger things to worry about than the method of dispense, why then are BrewDog being deliberately confrontational and contrary, if not for the oxygen of publicity? Ultimately the whole cask vs keg thing is a sideshow, what is important is that great beer is being brewed and made available to consumers. Thank goodness then for British brewers like Fullers, Lovibonds, Thornbridge and Meantime, whose beers are consistently good and representative of the best of British brewing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Brewing Some Thoughts

Having perhaps been a mite critical of All About Beer magazine this week, even though I do generally enjoy reading it, I feel I should balance that out by giving some praise to Brew Your Own magazine, which I also thoroughly enjoy - probably because it gives me loads of ideas about beers to brew and some technical brewing info to boot.

Take for example, this edition's featured beer style, dunkelweizen. I have enjoyed several dunkelweizens, usually at PK in Prague, but I am yet to brew one for myself, so a few recipes and a well written article describing the flavours and how it differs from a regular hefeweizen was well appreciated. Now all I need to do is work out my own recipe, which I have already decided to hop with the extra bag of Saaz I have in the fridge, and find a slot in my brewing schedule.

Also in the current BYO is an interview with James and Martin from BrewDog, which was interesting, but best of all some clone recipes for Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA and Rip Tide! So that's another couple of projects for slipping into the schedule, though I was kind of chuffed that my Machair Mor is somewhat similar already to Rip Tide, I use far more chocolate malt though and has a higher ABV. The recipe for Hardcore IPA looks like something I will try in the spring and leave to age for autumn.

The BrewDog article got me thinking about the difference between the US and UK brewing scenes, and how the experience of Prohibition is such a driving force here. Thankfully we never had Prohibition in the UK, our brewing industry has never been destroyed by fanatical religious folks on a crusade to make society better, though by "better" they usually mean, just like them. Post-Prohibition beer until the Craft Brew Revolution was simply awful from what I have heard from those older than me.

I am sure many of us have mixed feelings about CAMRA, but right now I am glad that they took a stand against the watering down of Britain's brewing traditions and laid the foundations for a growing independent brewing scene in the UK (I admit that is perhaps overstating their role). I wonder how many of the regional and independent brewers like and would have ended up as brands for InBev and the like without CAMRA re-igniting interest in cask ale?

I guess what I am trying to say is that Britain has centuries of brewing history and tradition that needs to be valued by beer lovers and praised by beer bloggers and writers, the likes of Everards and Fullers make beer that people, whether nerds or not, want to drink. It is great that BrewDog are opening people's horizons to American style IPAs, but we should never forget the great British beers that can be found up and down Great Britain, without CAMRA how many of them would still be around?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beerless Beer Festival

I stumbled upon this article during my daily trawl through the BBC website. At the recent Beer on the Wye festival, they ran out of beer!

Some might look at this as poor planning, or something to poke a bit of fun at - however, and I am sure most people reading this agree, I find myself greatly encouraged by all the beer being drunk because it means more and more people out there want real ale.

I say it often to my friends, that during an economic downturn people don't necessarily what more for their money, they want better for their it. Let the unthinking masses go to Tesco for their bumper packs of Swill, let's enjoy the fact that real ale, and by extension good beer in general is becoming more accepted and even expected by consumers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of Gobby Hobbits

I celebrated quite a bit on Saturday. Well, it isn't every weekend that Liverpool beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, especially not when they do it 4-1. The powers that be are convinced that playing big games at 12.45 GMT on a Saturday somehow negates the effects of drinking before the game, but ignore the effects of the game on drinking afterwards. As I say, we celebrated quite a bit.

Just round the corner from Zlata, is Pivovarsky d?m - so it was only natural to continue our celebrations there - well it was really my excuse to make sure that I got at least a little bit of decent beer before things got out of hand. Thankfully they still have their very nice stout on the one and only hand pump, and they also have a special M?rzen at the moment, which was rather nice as well.

At some point in the conversation, CAMRA came up - don't ask me why because I can't remember - and I told my friends what the MD of Marston's had said about certain sections of CAMRA (personally I think Knackered Old Cripplecock would be a grand name for a beer, but no doubt the Portman Group would object). At the mention of CAMRA, one of the guys on the next table looked over and we got chatting - he is a member of the West Middlesex branch, from the same part of the world as my dad, so we had a good chin wag, and being a good pub evangelist I marked a few places on his map.

I happened to mention that I was rather jealous of being able to wander into a pub and have a pint of London Pride whenever you feel like it, which led to a discussion about brands being so ubiquitous that they lose some of their appeal regardless of how good they are. The Czech Republic is a perfect example of this, especially the way we bash the big brewers such as Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen. Yes it is true that PU is not a patch on what it once was, and yes Staropramen is an abomination as it is made with corn syrup, but which would I rather drink - Staropramen or Foster's? Pilsner Urquell or Carling?

This then got me to thinking about how people equate smaller brewers with good beer, again back to the "gobby hobbits" that so irked the MD - big brewers do make good beer, take Budvar or for example, and small brewers do make bad beer, Pra?sky most na Val?? springs immediately to mind. So although I maintain that the likes of Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are not beers I will drink regularly, I am happy to admit, we are very lucky to have the standard set so much higher than many other markets.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...