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Why CAMRA must embrace good beer

Added: Sunday, January 28th 2018

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Three rousing cheers for Ash Corbett-Collins. If you didn’t read his column in September’s What’s Brewing, please do so without delay. It’s certain to be the most sensible piece you will find in a CAMRA publication this year.

Ash is the chairman of the Campaign’s Young Members group. He’s in touch with the new generation of beer drinkers. He knows what they like and he says most of them wouldn’t dream of joining CAMRA as they don’t feel it speaks for them or even welcomes them.

There are not only new kids on the block but also new types of beer in the neighbourhood. Dismiss “craft keg” if you will, but it appeals to a lot of younger drinkers. They want beer brimming with aroma and flavour and they’re not too fussed if it comes from a handpump or a keg tap.

Please don’t show your age by gibbering about Red Barrel or Double Diamond. They were consigned to the dustbin of bibulous history many moons ago. Today’s keg beers are of a quite different stripe.

I went to three Revitalisation meetings last year. The first two had sensible and convivial discussions. The third and final one in the road show, held in St Albans, reminded me forcibly – because I was around at the time – of a far-left group about to split into warring factions.

When I told the meeting I had visited the Beavertown Brewery in North London and found their beers delicious and memorable, I thought I would be lucky to leave alive, for Beavertown doesn’t produce any cask beer.

But let’s consider how it produces and serves it beers. They are not filtered, fined or pasteurised and they’re served by light gas pressure, nothing like the fizzed-up abominations of yesteryear.

But the attitude of most of the members at the St Albans meeting was “over my dead body – it’s cask or nothing for me.”

Make no mistake, when I go to a pub I will always go to the bank of handpumps first. But times have changed. If nothing appeals to me, I may look at alternative offerings.

Beer is also ruinously expensive. In two London pubs last month, one listed in the Good Beer Guide, two cask beers I bought were flat, too warm and close to vinegar. Who can blame drinkers if they choose a beer served with a bit of life and flavour when they have to fork out close to £5?

I edit the Good Beer Guide. Sensibly, the founders of CAMRA didn’t call it the Good Real Ale Guide. The new edition, the 24th I have edited in two spells, will be my last. I’m not retiring – perish the thought, I have books and journalism to keep me busy.

But as the Campaign draws near to making key decisions about its future as a result of the Revitalisation programme, I think it vital that our flagship publication should be fronted by a younger person than an old crusty like me.

By its very name and nature, the guide will continue to campaign for good beer. So let’s take a lead from the title of the book. The threats to good beer come not from the likes of Beavertown or Cloudwater but from factory beers brewed by global giants concerned with profits, not quality.

The Americans call AB InBev, Coors, Carlsberg and Heineken “Big Beer”. And as Big Beer gobbles up independents such as Camden Town and Meantime and moves menacingly into the artisan sector, we should concentrate most of our fire on them.

At the same time, we should not ignore the increasing grip of the big national brewers. All too often they produce parodies of good cask beer that are devoid of taste and character. Had a Doom Bar recently?

So good luck to Ash Corbett-Collins and his fellow young members and heed well their words. Either we reach out to young beer lovers and embrace all good beer or we face a long, slow slide into irrelevance.

*First published in What’s Brewing, October 2017.