Great British Beer Festival

CAMRA issues response to Marble GBBF ‘blacklisting’ claims

By James Beeson

- Last updated on GMT

Dispute: relations between Marble and CAMRA have deteriorated this year
Dispute: relations between Marble and CAMRA have deteriorated this year
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says it has found “no evidence” to back-up Manchester-based Marble brewery's claims its beers were blacklisted from The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) earlier this month. 

However, Marble director Jan Rogers responded by saying the brewery “still has concerns” and would continue to seek the “clarification that we still feel is lacking”.

In a letter to Rogers, seen by The Morning Advertiser​, CAMRA’s head of communications Tom Stainer said he was “satisfied that a fair process was used in choosing beers for GBBF” and the brewery’s complaint of sexism at The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF) earlier this year “would not have had any impact” on the selection process.

The letter comes after the Manchester brewery hit out at their exclusion from GBBF​, claiming it was suggested their beers were “not good enough” to appear at the festival.

The brewery issued an open letter to CAMRA on 8 August claiming the organisation had been “disingenuous” about the GBBF beer selection process. It also said CAMRA “no longer represents us, with regards to progressive beer production, clarity of purpose, and inclusivity of all groups in society”.

Assurances given

Marble-CAMRA dispute: what we know so far

February 2017:​ A dispute between Marble and its local branch of CAMRA breaks out at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. Marble accuses a CAMRA volunteer of being sexist towards members of its staff.

7 August:​ Marble announces it has not been asked to supply any beers for this years GBBF "for the first time in a very long time." The brewery says this suggests "our standard is not good enough" for the festival. 

8 August:​ Marble issues an open letter to CAMRA, saying it feels the organisation “no longer represent us".

9 August:​ CAMRA responds by saying the letter “raises numerous different issues” that the organisation would be investigating.

18 August:​ CAMRA issues response to Marble's accusations, saying it has found “no evidence” Marble was blacklisted from GBBF.

18 August:​ Marble responds by saying that the brewery still has concerns over the GBBF selection process

CAMRA issued a response on 9 August stating it would investigate​ the claims that CAMRA’s local Manchester branch had tried to prevent Marble’s beers from being picked for GBBF.

Stainer said the organisation had now completed a full investigation and “can find no evidence that anyone at either the local level in Greater Manchester, volunteering within the Brewery Liaison network, or at national level, made or received any indication that there was a reason Marble beers should not be ordered.

“I can assure you that you have not been ‘blacklisted’," he added.

Discrimination taken 'very seriously'

Responding to the accusation that Marble’s previous complaint of sexism may have played a part in their beers not being chosen for GBBF, Stainer said: “We take [such] reports very seriously and, if the perpetrator can be identified, take action through our disciplinary process which can result in an individual being banned from serving in an official capacity, working at any beer festival, suspension or even expulsion.

“We certainly would not discriminate against any organisation or individual for reporting discrimination to us.”

Stainer also added that the organisers of MBCF were now planning a debate on the issue of sexism within the industry for next year’s festival.

The letter concludes that CAMRA hopes to continue “the long, beneficial and supportive relationship” between its volunteers and the brewery.

Marble not convinced

In response, Rogers said: “CAMRA have maintained for many years that they promote the best of British beer, both at their festivals and in the wider beer scene. Considering this, how could we not feel that being overlooked for the beer festival was a direct comment on the quality of our beers?

“Your statement about the selection process is still not clear,” Rogers continued. “The initial lists for bottled beers are being curated at branch level, before being sent on to the regional and national selection participants who while ultimately making the final selection, are working from a branch level list, which may or may not be affected by personal opinions at branch level.”

“In a previous article in the MA​ you stated ‘We try to rotate the breweries we feature so that as many as possible get a turn at the festival over the years’ (07/08/17) and then, in your letter emailed to us on 18 August, you state this should not be ‘misinterpreted as a policy to automatically rotate between all breweries’. You can understand why we sought clarification that we still feel is lacking.”

CAMRA’s letter to Marble in full

Dear Jan.

Thanks for your open letter regarding the beer selection at the Great British Beer Festival.

I’ve spoken to as many people as possible involved in the beer ordering for the Great British Beer Festival, as well as those involved with the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF) and the local region. I have also consulted with Nik Antona, CAMRA’s national director with responsibility for all festivals, who has confirmed he is happy that this letter reflects the approach all festivals have been told to take in regards to beer ordering and dealing with reports of discrimination.

As you point out in your letter, the relationship with CAMRA, both on a national and local level, has been extremely good. Your pubs and the brewery have won numerous awards, featured in the Good Beer Guide for two decades, appeared at many CAMRA festivals including the MBCF and the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) for many years and enjoyed the support of CAMRA members both in your region and all over the country.

From my conversations with members it is clear that this support and appreciation of your pubs and brewery remains as strong as ever. Bearing in mind this relationship and support, many have expressed concern and disappointment about your reaction to not being invited to supply beer to GBBF this year.

Following investigation, I’d like to make these points:

1. Not being listed for any festival is not an indication your beer is not high-quality and breweries which are not picked in any particular year for GBBF are not told their “beer is not good enough”. I can find no evidence that anyone told you this and would urge you to share any evidence supporting this claim.

2. Festivals are restricted on how many beers and breweries they can feature and choosing a representative range of beers from equally high-quality producers, while maintaining a representative range of styles, is challenging. In the specific case of GBBF, the beer orderers also need to ensure they choose a range which gives a good representation of producers geographically. In regions particularly blessed with a large number of breweries, such as Greater Manchester (which I believe now has more than 80), the decision is particularly hard.

3. When choosing between numerous equally high-quality beers in a similar style from the same region, orderers may decide to opt for a brewery which has not recently been featured at a festival, rather than one which has been on the list for several years. In this way CAMRA can ensure it carries out its objective to support and encourage all producers of real ale. This should not be misinterpreted as a policy to automatically rotate between all breweries, regardless of quality, but as a final aid to the decision process when all other factors have been taken into account.

4. Selection for the Manchester Bottled Beer Bar at GBBF was carried out in a similar way and with similar space constraints. Local involvement was limited to providing a list of breweries which were known to produce bottle-conditioned beers as part of their regular range. This was produced in consultation with the beer orderer for the MBCF, the regional brewery liaison coordinator (BLC) (nationally appointed, rather than being a branch officer) and reference to CAMRA’s brewery information system (BIS). Production of non-bottle-conditioned beer alongside regular bottle-conditioned beer did not affect whether a brewery was listed or not. Breweries on that list were then emailed to double check ability to supply. The GBBF beer orderers then made the decision on which to pick from the list. You had advised our BLC via email in December 2016 that Marble no longer produced a bottle-conditioned beer as part of your regular range and, therefore, you would not have featured in the BIS listing, or the list supplied to the GBBF orderers.

5. While branches may make recommendations to the GBBF beer orderers, they are under no obligation to follow those recommendations when designing a range which is geographically and stylistically balanced (either in cask or bottles). I can find no evidence that anyone at either the local level in Greater Manchester, volunteering within the Brewery Liaison network, or at national level, made or received any indication that there was a reason Marble beers should not be ordered. I can assure you that you have not been “blacklisted”.

6. CAMRA encourages people to report any incident of discrimination of any kind, whether at our festivals, within our publications, or by our members carrying out our activities. CAMRA’s members voted to adopt a set of values and a volunteers’ charter many years ago, which includes a commitment to inclusion and diversity. Our volunteers’ charter should be displayed at all beer festivals, which invites people to let us know if they have been the victim of any discrimination as soon as possible, and ideally while the festival is still taking place (which makes identification and action easier). We take reports very seriously and, if the perpetrator can be identified, take action through our disciplinary process which can result in an individual being banned from serving in an official capacity, working at any beer festival, suspension or even expulsion. We certainly would not discriminate against any organisation or individual for reporting discrimination to us.

7. Regarding your specific complaint about sexist behaviour by a CAMRA volunteer at MBCF I’ve been advised that your complaint was taken seriously and was investigated. Due to the fact the incident was reported several days after it took place, and without enough information to allow identification of the member in question, it was impossible to take the matter further.

8. Following your report of the incident, MBCF organisers have reviewed their existing policies and provision of information to volunteers and members of the public to ensure our position on discrimination and complaint processes are clear and highly visible throughout the next event. In a letter to all festival volunteers following the event the MBCF organiser specifically highlighted the incident you had raised, made it clear this was inappropriate and reinforced the behaviour we expect of all volunteers in future.

9. It is my understanding that the organisers of the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, prior to you sending your open letter, invited you to write a page for the next festival’s programme, highlighting issues of sexism and/or be involved in a debate at the event if you wished. Regardless of your decision whether to be involved or not, the organisers plan a debate on the subject on trade day of the next Manchester Beer and Cider Festival to highlight and discuss issues of sexism in the industry.

In conclusion, following investigation of the allegations in your letter I am satisfied that a fair process was used in choosing beers for GBBF. I believe our original statement that the beers were chosen by our volunteer beer orderers at a national level, rather than volunteers at branch level, was accurate. I’d stress that local volunteers in branches across Greater Manchester, were not responsible for the selection of beers for the Great British Beer Festival. There is no evidence that Marble has been blacklisted, nor that you were told your beers “were not good enough’. Your complaint about an incident of sexism at the MBCF was welcomed, acted upon, and would not have had any impact on whether or not your beers were chosen for GBBF.

I’d hope that this lengthy response demonstrates how seriously we have taken your letter. I’d  repeat my opening words about the long, beneficial and supportive relationship between our volunteers and your brewery. While I can understand your disappointment at not being part of GBBF this year, I hope you can also understand the reasons for the decision - and hope you’ll choose to consider the last 20 years, rather than the events of this year, in your decision whether you continue that relationship or not.

Kind regards

Tom Stainer

Head of communications, CAMRA

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