Goings On Across the Pond

If you’re not a regular reader of some of the best British beer blogs – and you SHOULD be, for the information and entertainment value of writers like Pete Brown, Mark “Young” Dredge and Martyn Cornell – you might not be aware of the controversy brewing in the UK. Over, of all things, the notion of “craft beer.”

CAMRA, that champion of cask-conditioned, so-called “Real” ale – I’ve always despised that term and its implication that non-cask-conditioned ale (and all lager) is somehow not “real” – has taken craft beer to task as, wait for it, something that is bad! Yes, you read that right, what we in North America (and Italy and Denmark and Japan and Brazil and most other beer markets around the globe) take as something wonderful and worthy of promotion, CAMRA apparently views as a dire threat to its convictions, prosperity and, indeed, very existence.

The source of the above contention is better explained by Martyn and Pete than I could possible do here, so why not pay one or both of those gents a visit and read up on it? I’ll wait here.

There, got it? CAMRA, which everyone should know arose in response to the rise of execrable keg beers like Watney’s Red Barrel is, forty years on, still toeing the party line, even in face of such wonderful developments as the globalization of craft beer and the emergence of a new breed of breweries in the UK, some of which, yes, produce characterful and tasty keg or filtered bottled beer in place of or in addition to cask versions of same.

As someone who visits the United Kingdom frequently – I’m on my way back in a couple of months, in fact – I am as big a fan as anyone of well-kept cask-conditioned ale. It’s pretty much all I drink when I’m over there. But come on, CAMRA, it’s no longer the be-all and end-all! There is a lot of good bottled and kegged beer available in London and beyond today, much of it far better than some of the crap cask ale I’ve been served during my visits. No one is suggesting you change the organization’s name or completely rewrite your mandate, but sticking to method of dispense as the sole defining factor of your existence is myopic at best and sheer lunacy at worst.

Two trips ago in London, Jay Brooks and I went on a tear of tasting during which every single cask-conditioned brew we tasted for about ten or more in a row was badly affected by diacetyl. I’m talking serious butter bombs! After which a glass of clean, good quality, keg-dispensed pilsner would have gone down a treat. And CAMRA, that occurred at your flagship event, the Great British Beer Festival!

Bottom line, for this CAMRA member: It’s what is in my glass that counts, not how it got there.

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