Monday, 3 October 2011

CAMRA ... there for the well-heeled?

I've just read a headline in October's What’s Brewing (the CAMRA newspaper), "Booming real ale sales", and below it in the article, "cask only dipped by an estimated two per cent". Since when does a dip constitute a boom?

Also portrayed as good news in the article is the fact that 69% of real ale drinkers are now in social class ABC1. Is real ale expanding its customer base upwards or, in a declining market, is it losing its working class customers? I suspect a bit of both, but the loss of the working class market to whole swathes of inner city pubs that serve only smoothflow is not the good news that the WB article implies. 30 years ago my uncle ran a back street pub in Bootle, which sold real ale through electric hand pumps – not unusual then, but almost unheard of now. A mass market for real ale was wiped out without, apparently, a single tear from CAMRA, possibly because these pubs didn't meet the approved ABC1 demographic.

With above-inflation beer duty rises and pub company rip-offs, ale is increasingly an expensive niche product that ordinary people - not your wealthy professionals - are finding harder to afford. Feel-good articles should not blind us to the reality of the situation: beer sales are dropping and pubs closing.

If CAMRA is turning into the voice of the well-heeled drinker, as this article seems to suggest, I may begin to have doubts about being a member.


  1. Umm, real ale sales are not booming, they are just dropping more slowly than overall beer sales in pubs. That's a piece of spin worthy of Alastair Campbell at his best.

    And, like it or not, it seems to have become a fact of life nowadays that the working classes drink keg beer.

  2. Think about it. Who but a load of misguided but well meaning middle class wet liberals would bother to think "campaigning" for pongy beer was worthwhile?

    Regular working class folk have better things to do, and more pressing concerns.

  3. What they said Rednev. Like the Labour Party, CAMRA has gone upmarket. Very few horny handed sons of toil in either nowadays.

    The reasons are probably more complex than a quick response here, but the wipeout of the big brewers from cask took away many cask drinkers, most of whom probably had no idea it was cask they were drinking.

    Back to the old electric pumps. I regret it too, but life moves on.

  4. The problem with electric pump was that you often couldn't tell if the beer was real until you started drinking

  5. Yes, but if it mattered to you, it was generally possible to tell from the design of the font and knowledge of brewery policies whether the beer would be real or not. I can only recall one occasion - in a Border Breweries pub south of Oswestry - when I was genuinely surprised to receive keg/tank beer from a diaphragm dispenser.

    While the handpump is undoubtedly a powerful visual symbol of real ale, for many drinkers it has become a symbol of what to avoid.

  6. I'm not sure I remember a time before real ale was drunk in pubs by 'aspirational' working class / middle class people.

    The local boozers on the council housing estates of my early years (late '80's) were not somewhere I dared to go often, I needed to head to a leafier end of town just for a nice pint without hassle.

    The clientèle even in liverpool city centre has always seemed (certainly IMO the last 10 years) to have a little more money in their pockets, The Phil, Everyman, Rigby's, Lion, Ship 'n' Mitre, plenty of men in nice suits.

    I've always thought CAMRA was slightly exclusive - paid membership, paid entry to beer festivals, paid 'silk tie' merch...


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