CAMRA Embraces Keg

CAMRA’s definition of real ale: Real ale is beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water and yeast) matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. [Link]

CAMRA National Executive backed the wrong horse big-style in 1989 when it supported the Tories’ ill-fated Beer Orders, belatedly revoked in 2003, by which time irrevocable damage had been done to our brewing industry and thousands of pubs were closed as a direct consequence.

The wretched and ill-conceived Beer Orders gave rise to the hated Pub Companies and forced some superb large breweries to shut, courtesy of them having to reduce their estates to 2,000 outlets. So, a huge mistake by CAMRA in this instance and thousands of workers paid with their jobs.

I argued in a letter to CAMRA’s monthly members’ newspaper prior to this event that if the legislation got the green light it would probably lead to far less experienced companies running pubs and sadly I was proved correct.

I also pointed out that the proposed draconian legal measures were unfair, as big brewers such as Bass and Whitbread had built up their large estates of pubs legally and had paid full market value for these properties over many years, so what was proposed amounted to retrospective legislation, which in hindsight they could have challenged in Court.

CAMRA’s National Executive now appear, from what I read in printed communication to members, to want the organisation to embrace modern keg beers, now masquerading as ‘craft ales’. History is in danger of repeating itself. I suspect vested financial interests may be behind this move and fear that CAMRA could be lurching headlong into another faux pas, which could lose the organisation both credibility and many members.

Not that may years ago, CAMRA rightly condemned McMullens Brewery of Hertford for selling real ale in their pubs using a ‘cask breather’, which technically puts a gentle blanket of carbon dioxide over the beer so that it keeps longer. Now the elected hierarchy want to abuse their position by attempting to persuade the membership to endorse keg beers under gas pressure and this would be a catastrophic U-turn, as these are not real ales and are clearly outside CAMRA’s raison d’etre.

McMullen’s pubs were rightly excluded from entry in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide as carbon dioxide gas is so highly soluble in water/beer that even blanket pressure renders beer fizzy and ruins a real ale.

I joined CAMRA in the early seventies, the motivation being because of the increasing dominance of gassy keg beers and I feared for the existence of traditional British cask-conditioned beer.

Sadly, the real ales in existence at the time of CAMRA’s creation, usually with high yeast/hop/malt content, full flavour and brewed with pure well water (called ‘Liquor’ in the trade), that we fought so hard to protect, are largely dead and buried, replaced in the main by sediment-free thinner pale offerings, frequently produced using fluoridated mains water and often sold in outlets where staff and management have no interest in real ale.

The Campaign for Real Ale should be pushing for high quality British real ales and not get side-tracked by getting into bed with the powerful keg/craft beer industry.

Keg/Craft beers under gas pressure are for lazy landlords, not proper publicans.

Our top quality real ales, such as those brewed by Fullers of Chiswick, Hawkshead of Staveley and Black Sheep of Masham are the envy of the world.

It was no accident that the enduring cartoon strip by Bill Tidy in CAMRA’s monthly newspaper is called Kegbuster, as in ‘craft’ guise this remains the big threat to real ale to this day.

I for one would like to see more real ales brewed by the complex and unsurpassed Burton Union System, which was invented by Bass & Co, as those of us who were weaned on Union Bass and Union Marston’s Pedigree know that these ales were in a class of their own, with no modern equivalents.

Hugh Price, Tynemouth Lodge Hotel

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