Roger Protz – beer writer and editor of the Good Beer Guide – isn’t short of an opinion or two, which he frequently displays in his monthly column in What’s Brewing?. When I read his latest column in the April edition of CAMRA’s newspaper I had to suppress more than a chuckle at his closing paragraph. The piece was about one of the more major thorns currently stuck in the side of the Campaign – the lumbering gas-powered monstrosity of keg beer.
We’ve steered clear of the subject here at the BeerCast until now – there are many more eloquent articles on the whole cask vs keg debate around (an entire Session devoted to it, for example). Personally I tend to go with the flow (slight pun intended) and think it’s all a matter of horses for courses – I love cask, but not at the expense of keg – or bottle, can, plastic cup, Nordic drinking horn etc etc.
But something about Roger’s parting shot compelled me to post on the matter. His article revolved around the fact that CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) in their 40th year of existence are now apparently ‘under fire’ for not embracing keg beer. Here’s a quote…
“Far from joining hands with CAMRA round the birthday cake, some craft brewers and beer writers have chosen this year of all years to attack the campaign for – and I almost have to suspend disbelief as I type these words – refusing to embrace keg beer.”
“At the risk of patronising them, many weren’t born or were too young to appreciate just how dire the beer scene was in the early 1970’s. The likes of Watney’s Red, Worthington E and Double Diamond were spreading like some dreadful bacillus across the country. Breweries were either closing or switching to keg production.”
“Today there are more than 700 breweries, four times as many as when the campaign was launched in 1971. Total beer volume may have declined, but choice and diversity have never been greater.”
Right – firstly I am a CAMRA member, enjoy reading the publications and going to the festivals – and as I was born in 1976 I have no recollection of Watney’s Red Barrel (always infamously mentioned as the nadir of British beer drinking). My first ‘real’ beer was cheap pints of Boddington’s in the only pub in Preston that would serve us – the Sherwood, just behind Fulwood ASDA (only time I was asked for ID – my 18th birthday).
I think we all agree that the current UK brewing industry is – Government interference notwithstanding – doing pretty well, considering the circumstances. Whether that’s all down to CAMRA or just that they were there at the beginning, I have no idea. But as more breweries arrive, the need for them to differentiate from each other increases. Coupled with the drinking public’s greater beer education, the demand for beer that isn’t just brown also increases – hence the rise in diversity.
“And yet, in spite of these facts, CAMRA is being criticised for refusing to embrace keg beer. It seems scarcely credible, yet the question of CAMRA and keg raised its over-carbonated head at the annual SIBA conference in February. Some SIBA members are either making keg beer or are considering doing so and wanted to know what the Campaign’s attitude would be. My reply – and it was a personal one – was that if some brewers want to make keg they are perfectly free to do so but, given the current success of cask beer, I thought they would do better to concentrate on real ale.”
Fair enough here – Roger was asked what looks potentially like a leading question at the SIBA conference, and batted it back with a classic forward defensive. But these cask ale brewers who are experimenting with keg – because that’s how breweries innovate, through experimentation – are apparently out of bounds for asking CAMRA what their attitude was to this?
“The result – not so much from SIBA members but from a few beer writers on their blogs – is that CAMRA is a restrictive organisation and should rethink its attitude to keg. They should remove the blinkers from their eyes. The GBBF is the only major festival I know that serves beers from other countries and many of these products are not necessarily real ale by our definition. But, belt and braces, CAMRA is fundamentally about cask beer, a style that would have disappeared 40 years ago but for our collective effort. And some of the noisome bloggers would have little to write about if CAMRA hadn’t raised the banner for good beer. Keep the faith…”
And that’s how the article ends. Eh? Just who are these noisome bloggers? Roger sounds a little like Henry II there – I doubt anyone will rid him of the troublesome scribblers anytime soon. I know a bit about beer. I can appreciate what CAMRA stood for then, and what they stand for now. I can also appreciate that this stance hasn’t changed over the intervening 40yrs. Good for them – cask ale is British and is fantastic.
But – people like to drink kegged beer. Sorry Roger, but it’s true. And we like to write about it. I know producers like BrewDog are anathema to CAMRA (and Roger has had his run in with the Fraserburgh outfit in the past ) – but they, and others like them, make some great beer – irrespective of the method of dispense. Take a look at our last few posts – BrewDog (keg), Kernel (bottle), Thornbridge (cask), WEST (keg), Stewart (cask). This is the modern British brewing scene – whether you think that bloggers are noisome, loathsome or awesome, we’ll still be writing about it.