Tuesday 9 June 2009

CAMRA's conceit

In most editions of the Good Beer Guide, you'll read something like, "if a pub landlord cares about the quality of the beer in the cellar, then everything else - the welcome, the food, the wine and ... the toilets - will fall into line. In keg-only pubs, on the other hand, you are likely to find micro-waved food, stale sandwiches, Blue Nun and Lambrusco, and toilets that answer to the name of bogs." (2003 GBG)

On what planet is the writer of this off-repeated tosh living on? I'm sure many people have been in pubs with great beer but no wine to speak of, a couple of stale clingfilm-wrapped sandwiches and ancient, unhygienic toilets. I also know I've been in keg pubs where everything was fine except the beer. One revered Liverpool pub has the wash basin in the short passage that leads to the gents, with the hand dryer over it; the dryer is inaccessible while the wash basin is in use. Using these means no one can get in or out of the gents, so if you value hygiene on a busy Friday night, you can cause quite a hold-up in both directions. On my last visit to the Lower Angel in Warrington, I enjoyed a great pint but found there was no water in the gents, which any case were well overdue for refurbishment. In general, I've often heard women complain about the state of the toilets in real ale pubs.

In a real ale pub in Uppermill, I waited for an hour for a lasagne, only to find it was still frozen inside when it arrived. Although the beer was nice, that food certainly didn't "fall into line." In Ormskirk last Friday, I went into a pub that sold real ale, had a horrible decor from an expensive but utterly tasteless refurbishment, and uncontrolled children running wild. I turned around and left.

So where does this nonsense come from? It could be that some drinkers can't see past the beer, but I think it goes further than that: it's really a form of PR trying to convince us all that real ale pubs are the best in every respect, and that keg pubs are always the poor relations. As a member, I do expect CAMRA to promote real ale, but talking up real ale pubs with such demonstrably false claims does the campaign no favours. Whether a pub is well-run or not has little to do with the type of beer it sells, and wishing won't alter that. Let's just stick to what we cask beer drinkers all know is true - that real ale is the best and most natural form of beer - and not let drinking it blind us to reality.


  1. How bizarre! Why would the author make such generalizations anyway when they are clearly not true? It's sloppy.

  2. I couldn't agree more. It's a mantra that has been trotted out for so many years now that it's just accepted without question ~ until now, of course!

  3. Perhaps it's time to dump your CAMRA membership and go independent???

  4. It's not really enough for me to resign my membership in disgust, and I might do more such items occasionally. I think I'll remain a critical insider with my eyes open.

  5. OK. Who are you and what have you done with RedNev?

    It is much more complex than the writer you quote (even way back over seven years ago when it was written - a more recent quote would have been more convincing) alleges and of course is sheer nonsense.

    I agree of course non cask pubs can be clean and well run and have many other positive attributes, but knowing your views on keg, I wouldn't really expect to find you there, so the point for you would be moot surely anyway? As for those that bought that guide and read it, I doubt if they saw it other than a clumsy generalisation to push a point.

    One aspect of the recession is most of the really bad pubs are being shaken out of the industry. Hopefully, keg or cask, they are the right ones to lose, if lose pubs we must. And of course having critical insiders is always important for any organisation. I doubt if any CAMRA member agrees with all aspects of the campaign. I reckon most of us just(much)prefer cask when it is kept well. Supporting the cask industry and cask pubs to enable or continue that is why we support CAMRA. The rest for most, me included,is peripheral to that broad personal aim.

    PS. I had two pints of Lees Smooth Dark in a very well run pub last night. Mind you they did cask too, but not mild and since I was driving, it was the weakest beer I could get.

  6. TM ~ I agree with most of what you've said, but I actually do end up in non-real ale pubs occasionally when I'm with others who want to go into one. My usual fallback drink in that situation is Guinness.

    As for the clumsy generalisation ~ it was not a one-off comment in the 2003 GBG and I've read it before and since it appeared in there. It's a lazy, meaningless platitude that just keeps on getting recycled, and it irritates me.

    As for my "critical insider" comment, I wasn't claiming any special status ~ it's almost impossible to belong to any organisation and there not be some things about it you disagree with, as I’m sure Gordon Brown would confirm.

    Finally, I've not been kidnapped. I just get a bee in my bonnet sometimes too.

  7. I could say quote source, but I haven't. (-: As I said, I agree with what you say about the general point behind your illustration.

  8. I've got a question: What do you think would've happened if CAMRA never existed? Do you really think they are the saviors of cask ale and pubs?
    They are nothing more than a consumer group that promotes beer festivals. I would imagine that things will be changing dramatically sometime very soon, with or without CAMRA. Here's an article from the LA Times yesterday.


  9. My opinion is that if CAMRA had not existed, we would have very little real ale in this country. CAMRA managed to reverse the march of the big name keg beers, such as Worthington E, Watneys Red and Whitbread Trophy, which at the time were very popular, as I recall only too well from my early drinking days in the 70s. All regional and local breweries also had their own keg beers to compete with the big names. In time, real ale would have been squeezed out.

    CAMRA doesn't just promote beer festivals, which are actually a form of campaigning, as they often introduce people to real ale who might otherwise have not had a chance to try it. My local branch produces a newsletter and has a website, both of which are intended to spread the word. It gives awards to deserving pubs, which is all good publicity for the pub concerned and for real ale in general. Entry in the Good Beer Guide and the GBG window sticker that pubs get both serve the same purpose. CAMRA branches have campaigned against the closure or unsympathetic alterations to a pub ~ my branch has done the latter twice, sadly unsuccessfully, but there have been some successful “save our pub” campaigns initiated or strongly supported by local CAMRA branches.

    The article you referred to does summarise the problems facing pubs because of excessive beer tax, greedy pub companies, and the recession reducing people's spare cash, although it didn't refer to cheap supermarket booze. CAMRA can't do a great deal about these on its own except for publicity and campaigning. Nationally, CAMRA is about to use its super-complainant power for the first time, following recommendations from the Commons Business and Enterprise Select Committee calling for a fairer tie.

    I don't think any CAMRA member thinks that the organisation is perfect, but it is the only mass beer and pub campaign there is with nearly 100,000 members, and it is doing more than just promoting beer festivals. My opinion is that the best work CAMRA does is not at HQ, but in the local branches.


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