Monday, 30 May 2011

CAMRA's Self-Harming


CAMRA vs Bloggers. A fight kicked off by a provoking jab from CAMRA’s chairman. But it’s a fight which shouldn’t be happening, especially not from CAMRA’s point of view.

We might not blog about bad beer too often, as Tandleman grumps (life’s too short to blog about bad beer, I think), but we’re quite happy to jump into battle and blog about things which annoy us in the beer world. And Colin Valentine has just mobilised a small army against him and CAMRA.

And why? What does he stand to gain from it? If anything, he’s got more to lose, especially with his bitter tone and the way he spits out the ugly term Bloggerati (even if it does compliment blogger power as one complete unit).

What CAMRA needs to do, and they really should do it quickly, is get beer bloggers on their side and work on some blogger relations. They are alienating the people who spend their time drinking and writing about beer – all bloggers promote beer and the more people who are interested in good beer, the bigger the potential audience for CAMRA. Bloggers berating them is only doing CAMRA more damage.

And guess what? All bloggers love cask beer. All of us. We all drink it, we all talk about it, we all blog about it. It’s churlish and childish to poke bloggers with sticks because we also talk about kegged beer and bottled beer, or that we use the term craft beer (which, by the way, can be real ale and doesn’t have to just contain a sack of C-hops per half pint and be poured from a keg...).

For me, the thing which connects beer bloggers is that we all love beer and we love all good beer. We don’t want CAMRA to change their focus on real ale (we do know that CAMRA stands for the Campaign for Real Ale – we aren’t idiots) but I think we would all agree that we want something which focuses on good beer above a form of beer. If that isn’t CAMRA then so be it. It’s not keg vs cask and it’s definitely not real ale vs craft beer, but it is forward-thinking vs backing-looking.

Real ale is incredibly important; really tasty, well-brewed beer is more important, however it’s dispensed. An argument over a container is stupid. It’s got to taste good and I couldn’t care less how it gets from brewery to glass as long as it tastes good when it gets there. To only be interested in one or two routes from brewery to glass is to have a closed mind on the huge potentials of what great beer can be.

CAMRA need to make some friends among the online writers and not push them further away.

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I’m late on this one and lots of people have already discussed it. Zythophile kicked it off, then Tandleman and Glyn from Rabid About Beer jumped in, Pete Brown has had his say, as has Sid Boggle, Reluctant Scooper and Mark from Beer.Birra.Bier.

And for the record, I am a CAMRA member. I have been for five years. I pay so that I can get BEER magazine (plus the occasional cheaper entry to beer festivals). 

Photo from here

28 comments:

  1. This is probably THE single most controversial thing you have ever written. And well said it was too mate.

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  2. I only disagree with one thing you've said, and that's that "all bloggers love cask beer".

    You can't talk for all of them any more than Colin can ;)

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  3. I love the way how anyone writes about CAMRA,it always has to be controversialy :)

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  4. Fine, not controversial...fighty.

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  5. I don't think the CAMRA chairman started the fight, as lets face many beer bloggers whinge on about CAMRA incessantly. The carefully selected excerpt of his speech that's gone online wasn't the best thing I've ever seen someone say, but there was more than a grain of truth in it.

    And as a beer blogger that loves cask beer above all else I happen to think that good beer and form of beer are inextricably linked.

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  6. Owen - If there are any bloggers who don't love a good pint of cask beer or real ale then I'll take that line right back!

    Ed - He may not have thrown a punch but he made the insult which kicked it off.

    As for good beer and form, I agree they are linked, but it's not just real ale which can be good. Go to Czech Republic and drink a lager, have a cool keg of IPA on the West Coast. Well brewed beer is far more important than anything else and to blindly support any beer which is real ale is to support some bad beers and to ignore some good (and, of course, bad) beer.

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  7. A snippet of a speech, a throwaway remark and now a tinternet full of invective.

    Valentine didn't kill kittens or slaughter first-born. I thought it was quite funny. I'm more shocked by the blogger's reaction than Valentine's attitude.

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  8. You are rather generalising about bloggers there.

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  9. I've drunk lager in the Czech republic, and I've had Sierra Nevada keg beer and they were drinkable enough but not as good as the real thing.

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  10. Simon - it's the tone which is the issue. Much like Protz's blog on BrewDog, it's the way it's said which is the problem. And throwaway or not, he still said it.

    Anon - Yes it's generalising but I don't think it's a hugely inaccurate account.

    Ed - Sierra Nevada on keg in California? Pale Ale is pretty boring on keg, I think - I much prefer the bottle. And what's 'the real thing'?!

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  11. Protz has a problem with Brewdog. In that respect, he seems to be unnervingly ahead of trend for once.

    As for Valentine's tone compared to that of bloggers that have virtually spat in his face...

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  12. so much fuss over this, and the poor wee bloggers are upset because Colin called them Bloggerati. Colin & CAMRA did not start this, there has been much invective in some blogs directed against CAMRA because they don't campaign for 'craft' beer. So what's new? CAMRA doesn't campaign for fresh coffee, Sourdough bread or Findus fish fingers. It campaigns for real ale, that's what CAMRA means, CAMpaign for Real Ale.
    It was bloggers who 'threw the first punch' and who are now crying foul and I'm rather surprised that some of those bloggers I occasionally read fail to recognise that.

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  13. Ed and Ian - "many beer bloggers whinge on about CAMRA incessantly" - "there has been much invective in some blogs directed against CAMRA because they don't campaign for 'craft' beer." - that's simply not true. Total bollocks, in fact. Utter paranoia on your part, I'm sorry. I'm guessing there have been probably been three thousand, at least, UK beer blog posts in the past year, and if you can find more than three that suggest, politely and in the interests of good beer, that Camra might like to give a nod sometimes to other forms of good beer than cask I'd be surprised.

    Valentine totally and completely misrepresented who beer bloggers are and what they do: it was a cheap and unnecessary attack, and if he's stupid enough to insult people who are fundamentally on his side, while Molson Coors are smart enough to butter them up, then he's a very poor strategician.

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  14. Martyn - the number of bloggers who have explicitly said that CAMRA should expand its focus to include (some) keg beer is small; quite possibly just you and Pete, quite possibly just once or twice each. That doesn't take into account the more general rumble of comments about how keg beers X and Y are the future of brewing, 'real ale' is an irrelevant category these days, CAMRA is in danger of getting left behind, etc, which I know I've seen often enough to get thoroughly bored with. As, clearly, has Colin Valentine, with the predictable result that (thinking he was among friends) he's had a pop back at the bloggers writing that stuff. I can understand you're not overjoyed by the lack of constructive engagement with your argument in particular - which was thoughtful & substantial, even if I didn't agree with it - but you can hardly claim to be surprised.

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  15. Ian - As far as I'm concerned Bloggerati is a good term, not a bad one, however he used it. I may not like the term (like I don't like Blogosphere), but it's still positive and shows a collective importance.

    It's not about craft beer vs real ale because they can be the same thing. It's about appreciating that there's a lot of good beer in the UK and not all of it is real ale. Yes, that's out of CAMRA's essential being but what about cider and perry? If CAMRA aren't interested in all good beer then we need someone else who is, I think. It's not just about CAMRA; it's about good beer. but my post wasn't about that. My post was about CAMRA's already shaky reputation amongst bloggers and them not doing anything to heal the wounds.

    Martyn - Thanks and well said! We are on the side of good beer and want to back CAMRA. This doesn't make us more inclined towards the work they do!

    Phil - I have never once read that real ale is an irrelevant category. Where was this said and by who? And who says keg is the future (apart from, perhaps, BrewDog)? There is the potential of them not moving fast enough to keep up with what more people are drinking but that's their prerogative. Like Martyn says, it seems like a paranoia. And having a pop back at bloggers isn't the way to deal with it - the better way is to engage from the top down and talk to bloggers, not mock them from afar.

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  16. I don't often comment on such discussions as I normally have little to add but I've a few points that I think are worth mentioning:

    * CAMRA - the are all about 'real ale' and they won't change to be all about 'craft beer'. The legendary Tandleman has said so and suggested that if we want want a 'great beer campaign' then we need to set one up. It might be a view we don't all agree with but I think they are sticking by their guns on this one.

    * Bloggerati - it's a word that's been around for nearly 10 years which is often used to describe a collection of similar-topic bloggers and if you look up it's definition then you will find that it's actually quite complimentary - 'people who write successful and popular blogs' or 'famous bloggers'.

    * Although we have a lovely tight-knit community of beer loving friends on blogs/facebook/twitter/etc. how much leverage do we really hold outside of our online world?

    I think the Bloggerati are at the start of a successful climb and we can achieve great things due to our combined passion for all things 'craft' - is it time to set up the Campaign for Great Beer and stop trying to get CAMRA to change?

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  17. One other point made by some of the pro CAMRA stance bloggers, is that craft keg is such a minority. Little can be found outside specialist emporia and what there is, is often imported or a keg version of a cask beer. So original, brewed only for the keg, indigenous craft keg, is a niche within a niche within a niche. Most people will never in fact come across it.

    Mark says "There is the potential of them not moving fast enough to keep up with what more people are drinking but that's their prerogative."

    Some young and trendy beer drinkers,geeks if you like, are the "more people." It isn't a great movement. There is no Prague Spring or Orange Revolution. Not even an Arab Awakening. I just see craft keg as another choice in the market and as I've said before, if it has a niche and some want to drink it,fine. But please don't put it and its supporters on a higher plain than that.

    As a kind of aside, I do agree too with those that suggest CAMRA should concentrate more on quality. It was one of the recommendations endorsed by the review committee on which I sat. Maybe though, someone should look at how craft keg can be served with a whole lot less force carbonation and then many more of us might have a higher opinion of it.

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  18. Tandleman, the answer is keykeg.

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  19. Martyn, you obviously don't read the same blogs I do! Though Whorst and Tim seem to be out of action at the moment, the Pub Curmudgeon must have whinged on about CAMRA way more than three times in the past year himself.

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  20. "the Pub Curmudgeon must have whinged on about CAMRA way more than three times in the past year himself."

    Probably, but more about their pusillanimous response to the anti-drink lobby than about their unwillingness to embrace craft keg, something on which I remain agnostic. And I am a Life Member.

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  21. I must admit I have fired a few shots at CAMRA in the past, but its been mostly tounge in cheek sterotype stuff. While I lived in the UK I was a CAMRA member. If they concentrated more about the industry as well as the beer and less of the other commie stuff they might be more relevant. Attacking social media for having a collective voice for an emerging market segment just proves that they still think that Real Ale is historical (and somehow special because of tradition alone) and not entirely relevant in the modern market.

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  22. Luke Corcoran1 June 2011 11:44

    For all those saying the RA in CAMRA stands for Real Ale...what about all the Cider CAMRA promotes? Which I totally approve of it doing, good cask ale and good cider go hand in hand.

    But so do good cask ale and good whisky, good cask ale and good food but also good cask ale and good keg beer!

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  23. Yeah, they need to start befriending the bloggers. CAMRA have gone from being anti-establishment in the age of lager, to THE establishment in the real ale boom.

    Luke - It's a damn fine point. Pro'er cider should be promoted alongside real ale as regional, quality-made beverages. Surely the word that best describes and links both categories is the dreaded c-word? (craft, ahem).

    Focusing on the quality is the key. If they want to stick to Real Ale, fine. But just because real ale is booming again doesn't mean CAMRA needs to pick fights to find something to moan about.

    They're great at moaning, maybe even the best! So they should be constructive with it! Campaign for quality real ale in all forms!

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  24. The problem with a lot of 'real cider' is that it tastes like absolute piss with very little quality control, no consistancy and poor sanitation. There are groups like the Cider Workshop and individuals like Andrew Lea who are pushing to address the issues, but a lot of what CAMRA calls cider is only 'real' because its traditional. Not because its a quality product.

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  25. Tandleman - The fact that keg is a minority (no one is saying it isn't) shouldn't matter - often it's the same beer from the same brewer just in a different container. I'm not saying CAMRA should champion for keg beer at the moment but it just feels like something is needed that's all encompassing (probably not CAMRA). As for force carbonation... I agree. That's something the brewery can control, right? (genuine question) If so, then work begins there, I guess.

    My beef in this post is that Valentine should get bloggers on his side and not speak secretly against them in a room of his own. With bloggers understanding CAMRA more and there being a relationship between the two then things will be a lot happier. (Probably.)

    Tim - I agree.

    Luke - The cider argument is odd and I don't particularly understand it myself. If CAMRA is so specifically about real ale then where does cider come in and who made the decision to allow it?!

    Chris - Good comments. They are THE establishment and authority on Good Beer in the UK. At least that's how it's developed. And it got there by saying that only real ale is good. Now there's a lot of beer which is also good and it isn't real ale.

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  26. Mark don’t even go there with cider, it’s a cul de sac full of zombies.

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  27. The fact that a large number of beer bloggers have jumped in en masse to condem CAMRA is I'm afraid rather typical of beer blogger groupthink.

    One suggestion that has been made before now by CAMRA types in cask v keg arguments (and was made by CV in his speech) is a seperate "campaign for real keg".
    It's actually not that bad an idea as there are a heck of a lot of misconceptions about key-keg beer, and it's absurd to think that an organisation like CAMRA is going to embrace that which it was created to oppose, so the advocates of key-keg might as well create their seperate organisation, rather then waiting for CAMRA to do an epic U-turn and start doing keg-keg advocates job for them.

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  28. TiB - a campaign for quality keg is an appalling idea, for reasons highlighted in my post on the subject.

    To those accusing the bloggerati if responding en masse as one block - you're wrong. In this post Mark is criticising CAMRA for alienating potential allies, not for dissing keg. In my post, my main point is that CAMRA is not addressing the real issues preventing greater success of real ale.

    I won't deny that there's lots of righteous indignation online, but what's really happening here is that Col's speech and attitude has quite neatly summed up everything that's wrong with 'Old' CAMRA - whatever you drink.

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