Industry welcomes CAMRA Revitalisation Project proposals

By James Beeson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Transition: cask may soon compete with British craft keg at festivals such as GBBF
Transition: cask may soon compete with British craft keg at festivals such as GBBF

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Industry figures have reacted positively to plans by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to broaden its reach and support the consumption of “quality beer” in all formats and venues.

The news, announced​ on Monday (22 January), follows two years of consultation between CAMRA and its members under the Revitalisation Project to decide which path the beer and cider campaign group should take to secure its future.

Among key proposed changes the organisation intends to make are: offering a wider range of beers, ciders and perries in all formats at festivals; to engage with drinkers of all types of beers; and to recognise a wider range of drinks and drinking establishments.

The proposals are thought to mean the organisation will embrace craft keg-packaged beer, and support a broader range of drinking establishments including taprooms.

James Yeoman, managing director of Hop Stuff brewery and a member of the revitalisation committee, said that embracing all types of beer was a “really positive statement” for the future of the organisation.  

“Although it is always challenging to move position, I think this presents CAMRA with the opportunity to widen both its reach and participation in the emerging craft beer market,” he said. “I personally think the implementation of these changes will be the make or break of this project.

“These changes will allow the whole organisation to be more dynamic than it has been for a long time. Cask beer remains a special craft in its own right, but producing consistent and high-quality cask is a challenge many smaller brewers struggle with. Hence, refocusing attention on quality and not dispense was one of the key areas I argued for while on the revitalisation committee.”

Alex Greig, owner of award-winning bar Fuggles Beer Café in Tunbridge Wells, echoed these sentiments, and said that embracing all formats of beer would help CAMRA remain relevant.

“Beer, regardless of its dispense, should be supported in general and certainly not dismissed outright because of a personal preference over temperature or carbonation level,” he said. “I’ve never known a CAMRA member complain about a cool, fizzy glass of German Helles before, but I have heard them moan about a wonderfully-made West Coast Pale Ale for being ‘too cold and fizzy’.

“It doesn’t make sense to me and I really feel that for the organisation to continue to remain relevant supporting beer, breweries and pubs it needs to embrace more aspects of the beer world.”

Cask remains king

Not everyone was pleased with the decision, however. Anthony Hughes, director of Lincoln Green Brewing Company in Nottinghamshire, warned that embracing keg could lead to a “muddying of the water” over the definition of real ale, and insisted that cask remained “the best way to enjoy a beer”.

“While the Campaign has clearly won the battle for cask-conditioned ‘real ale’, with more availability than ever before in our drinking history, the war may not yet be over,” he said. “Increased availability has brought serious competition amongst a continuing growth in the numbers of microbrewers.

“This competition may inevitably lead to one of two outcomes: brewers will move their production into keg, where there is less sensitivity to price, or will compromise on quality to brew to a price point for cask. Lots of beer moving into keg or being bland sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

“Cask-conditioned beer kept well in properly cellared conditions is, and always has been, the best way to enjoy a beer. Cask ale is the one thing that remains the unique selling point for pubs. Just because we have so much availability, let’s not take it for granted and run the risk of returning to where it all began in the 1970s.”

Although CAMRA has stated that it remains committed to the preservation of traditional British pubs, both Greig and Yeomans welcomed its decision to “encourage on-trade outlets of all kinds to serve quality beer, cider and perry”.

“The industry, particularly on the beer side, has gone through some huge changes in the last decade, particularly the last few years,” said Grieg. “The traditional pub is of course still a huge part of the scene, but you only have to look at the success of the micropub - newer outlets such as Friends of Ham, Fuggles Beer Café, Mother Kelly’s, Bison Beer - and the plethora of taprooms and bottle shops to see the environments, or ‘rooms’, people are choosing to drink in have changed.”

“By ignoring, or not including this, you’re missing a big and relevant part of the current scene here in the UK. This can only be a positive step forward in my eyes.”

Yeoman added that the adoption of taprooms “points towards a more dynamic CAMRA for the future”. 

Looking to the future

On the subject of what CAMRA ought to focus on in the future, industry figures were split. Hughes called for a greater focus on price, while Greig said inclusivity should be the organisation’s key focus in the immediate term.

“We are an industry that is increasingly becoming squeezed on price,” Hughes said. “Rising production costs, business rates, the national living wage, and auto-enrolled pension provision mean that margins for brewers are becoming ever tighter.

“Selling beer at low prices means someone has to pay – either the publican or the brewer.

"The consequences of margins being squeezed for the publican may lead to a lack of investment in pubs, poor training and service and, ultimately, closures.

"The consequences for the brewer may be bland beer or a shift into more profitable forms of packaging. What CAMRA needs to ask itself is, ‘What price is a fair pint?’”

On the topic of sexism, a debate that continues to rage throughout the beer industry, Greig said: “CAMRA needs to be more inclusive - let’s stamp out unnecessary sexism and attitudes toward women.

"I’m still amazed when people come into my pubs and talk to me over my female staff because I, apparently, will know more. It’s ridiculous and while it’s only a few people with these backward thoughts, the attitude just puts people off beer full stop and creates boundaries to people entering the beer world and certainly CAMRA itself.

“I think it’s time for them to really stand up on this issue and stamp it out across the board, particularly at beer festivals where I tend to see the worst of it.”

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