Time to dispense with the dispense?

I was in a country pub in the Midlands at the weekend (I’ll not name the pub as it’s not awful and merely typical of many in rural areas), it was a local CAMRA most improved winner in 2014 and is shortlisted for the CAMRA branch pub of the year. It had 3 beers on handpump including the inevitable Doom Bar. The Timothy Taylor’s Landlord wasn’t the worst I’ve tasted but it was well past its best.

The owner was complaining about the prices she has to pay for real ale, compared to the short-date prices paid by Wetherspoons (some would say this is a beer myth). She mentioned that there isn’t the volume to enable her to buy short-date beer and she’s struggling to get enough winter trade to keep three real ales on the bar. My drinking experience would seem to concur.

I’m of the view that the local CAMRA folk are pleased to see someone reviving a moribund pub and they like to see handpumps and so reward accordingly. I’m not a natural supporter of craft keg, my eyes will always tend to look out for a handpump rather than a something along the traditionally fizzy and tasteless section of the bar. However if a pub is struggling with volume and wants to offer a selection of beer in good condition then surely local craft keg should be a good option to replace a hand pump? Or is there a fear in some parts of the country that such an approach would upset the local CAMRA committee and lose the chance of a GBG listing?

As I’ve been around the country recently I’ve been in the habit of picking up the local CAMRA newsletters. The response to craft keg seems to range from the ‘we’ll let a guest writer say something positive’ to a more fundamentalist approach on the evils of keg personified by many of the strident letters to ‘What’s Brewing’.

The ‘Derby Drinker’ for Jan/Feb 2015 carries an article written by an anonymous local brewer arguing that “craft keg should be seen as an extension of cask beer rather than in direct competition…Anyone choosing to blindly ignore the amazing variety and enhanced beer experience that craft keg beer has to offer, risk alienating themselves from such an exciting progressive beer scene”. It’s a well-argued piece and I’m intrigued as to why the brewer didn’t want to use his or her own name.

In CAMRA ‘Pints of View’ for Hertfordshire (Dec/Jan) there was a generally positive review by Ian Boyd of Britain’s Beer Revolution (published by CAMRA) by Protz and Tierney-Jones. The review and the editor’s response illustrate the difficulties of CAMRA in coming to terms with the beer revolution in all its glory.

The reviewer reports that “since this is a CAMRA production, the choice of brewers highlighted has understandably more to do with real ale production than the overall taste explosion.” He goes on to mention, “a notable exclusion from the map of Scotland is Brewdog, arguably one of the most pioneering revolutionaries of them all”. Whilst the reviewer acknowledges the two pages covering Brewdog, he reflects that “this stilted recognition of Brewdog’s undoubted influences…surely has nothing to do with CAMRA’s past contretemps with the brewery?”. (I should say I’m no fan of Brewdog but I see where he’s coming from.)

The Pints of View editor, Steve Bury, responded with ..”a lot of very poor beer is being marketed as Craft Beer including Fosters Lager…” He went on, “Yes CAMRA has had disagreements with Brewdog who pride themselves on being confrontational and outspoken (me – wasn’t that CAMRA once upon a time), but the truth is they don’t produce real ale and therefore should not expect a large amount of coverage in a CAMRA publication.” That seems to suggest that Britain’s Beer Revolution is really a one-eyed view of the world. I’m strangely reminded of declining communist regimes and Private Eye’s trade union leader, Comrade Dave Spart.

I’m heading off to New Zealand in a couple of weeks and I admire the simplicity of their Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) whose “main aim is promoting a wider availability of better quality beer”. Is it time for CAMRA to have their own ‘Clause IV Moment’ and recognise better quality beer rather than just a means of dispense? I suspect many of their ‘rank & file’ members have already crossed to the dark side (or perhaps keg pale).

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