Tag Archives: real ale

CAMRA’s Revitalisation Consultation exercise: the view of a long-time member

CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) is currently indulging itself in a navel-gazing exercise that it has called its ‘Revitalisation Consultation’.  You can read all about it here if you’re interested. Meetings are being held all over the country with the aim of consulting members about what they think of the organisation, where it’s at, and what it should be doing.

I attended one of these meetings last night, at the White Star pub in Stoke-on-Trent. It’s a Titanic pub, and not one I had been to for nearly 4 years. It had certainly improved a lot since my last visit, and for the record, the Raspberry Wheat was sumptuous.  The meeting itself lasted 2 hours with a beer/comfort break. There was a good discussion, led by Michael Hardman, a founding father of CAMRA, assisted by CAMRA staff. It was a ‘good’ discussion in that lots of points were raised, but there was plenty of nonsense in the mix. The meeting used clickers to record peoples votes, and that worked well. Maybe I should reconsider using them in my teaching?

But, at the end of the day, is this consultation necessary? In my view CAMRA still needs to carry on much as it is. Yes, it should update its communication with members, improve use of social media etc. But as someone who joined in the late 70s (1977 or 1978), my view is that no, the battle for real ale has not been won. Just because it is so widely available in so many pubs doesn’t mean we can be complacent. And what about the ‘craft ale – craft keg’ debate? Well, I posted about that very topic last year; you can read my thoughts here. My conclusions still stand. CAMRA should not accept craft keg – it doesn’t matter how ‘interesting’ it is, or if it is made by a self-styled craft brewer. At the end of the day, keg is keg!

Of course, there was a lot more to the consultation than this. We discussed pubs, beer prices, and the detrimental effect of supermarkets. These all affect beer drinkers, I agree. But I firmly believe CAMRA should not change fundamentally.  We will see what happens in the coming months – the exercise has some time to go, and then any recommendations will be considered by the executive, and finally voted on at the AGM in April 2017. I will attend if I can, because I am concerned that long term members like myself should not be ignored in the quest for progress.  As with so many other things, we live in a time of change!

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Craft Beer, Craft Keg, and Real Ale – a discussion

There’s been a lot of discussion in beer drinking circles about Craft Beer and Craft Keg beers, and whether the latter count as Real Ales. Here are my views on this topic.

Real Ale is defined by CAMRA as ‘a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients which is left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation’. Such ales are referred to as being ‘cask conditioned’, and they can be served either directly from the barrel or via a hand pump (or beer engine). But no additional carbon dioxide is added, and any effervescence the ale might have comes from the fermentation process.

The term ‘Craft Beer’ is harder to define, but often refers to beer brewed by a smaller brewer, perhaps using specialised ingredients and made in smaller quantities. However the important point is that the term doesn’t say anything about the way the beer is produced. If it is cask conditioned, then it is as much real ale as a real ale from one of the national breweries. Examples of craft real ales were available at this year’s GBBF, for example.

So, what about ‘Craft Keg’? Well, keg beer is produced in a different way from cask conditioned beer, in that the fermentation process is completed in the brewery, followed by conditioning, chilling and filtering. Carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen is then added, as there is no natural effervescence because the fermentation process has been stopped. ‘Craft’ Keg refers to beer produced by Craft brewers (as defined above), but using the keg brewing process.  So, although it may have the interesting features of a ‘Craft’ product, as is the case with many craft keg beers brewed in the US, for example, it is still keg beer, and therefore not what CAMRA defines as real ale.

That’s not to say that Craft Keg has no place in the market. Real Ale requires appropriate storage and serving facilities, as well as a lot of attention to detail in serving it well. It also has a limited shelf life, requiring good turnround. Craft Keg is easier to handle in these respects, and where such conditions are not met, it certainly has a place.

To conclude, Real Ale and Craft Keg are very different products, but they are not mutually exclusive, and having both provides more choice, which is surely a good thing.