Thursday, 10 February 2011

CAMRA - The Campaign for Real Alienation

Yesterday we received an email from a proud CAMRA member, here it is...

I have just seen your website & feel obliged to comment. In the current state of decline how can you possibly believe that importing American hops is going to assist this country. The finest hops in the world come from Kent & always will. Surely if you wish to add improvement to your own ales, would it not be a little more diplomatic to be a little quieter about America & more praiseworthy of local grown? Why not save yourself more financially & grow or by from local sources? 1st the Germans now the Americans - how do they know how to brew ale anyway - were they around in the stone age? Come on lads - be British & Campaign For Real Ale (not America Beer).
Regards Kevin (Camra member)   

Now I'm a pretty placid guy but this REALLY annoyed me & left me almost speechless, so I decided to collect my thoughts & respond to every point Kevin has made.

Kevin's Utopia is certainly not mine.

  • 'In the current state of decline how can you possibly believe that importing American hops is going to assist this country.'  Firstly, Kevin what exactly do you mean by current state of decline?  Cask ale is the only growth sector in the market, surely you would know that as a CAMRA member? Regarding American hops that are imported, as a brewer & a business man I source the best ingredients available to me to improve my product, there are no similar English alternatives to the vast array of US hops.
  • 'The finest hops in the world come from Kent & always will.' In your opinion Kevin & your quite entitled to it, I know thousands who would disagree.
  • 'Surely if you wish to add improvement to your own ales, would it not be a little more diplomatic to be a little quieter about America & more praiseworthy of local grown?' There is no room for diplomacy in a commercial environment Kevin, your product dictates whether you live or die & I assure you if all of our beers contained homegrown hops we couldn't compete in this highly competitive industry. Also, why would I want to be quieter about America? They are brewing stunning beers & growing the worlds best hops, I have a habit of talking about things that excite me & I won't stop that for you.
  • 'Why not save yourself more financially & grow or by from local sources?' Possibly your most uneducated comment, as my fellow brewers & brewsters will tell you, US hops are currently roughly half the price of English hops, & don't get me started on quality! So it would actually cost us more as a business to use more English hops.
  • '1st the Germans now the Americans - how do they know how to brew ale anyway' - were they around in the stone age?' Talk about a xenophobic insult, no the Americans weren't around in the Stone Age but you are clearly stuck there Kevin. A bigoted, introverted & highly insulting comment. I'd say they know an awful lot about brewing beer, I just hope there are no Americans or Germans reading this blog for your sake.
 Now this brings me onto the organisation of which Kevin is a member, CAMRA.

Last week Pete Brown made a post regarding a comment made by Micheal Harding, one of the original founding members of CAMRA, here's Michael's quote:

“I must point out that we’re not fighting against anything, we’re fighting for something,” he says, as measured as a well-poured pint. “There may be some members who give a different impression and I apologise to the general drinking public for the fact that we’ve recruited those people.”
I think Kevin is one of 'those' people to whom he is referring.  I fear however there are rather more CAMRA members like this than they would have you believe. It is a tired arguement to keep labelling these people as a minority as these spats are becoming more & more frequent.
I personally know members of CAMRA who are ready for wholesale change of the organisation & are in fact calling for it, however, I feel as long as the 'Kevin' element exists CAMRA will be unable to move forward.

The beer world is changing, fast! If CAMRA does nothing they will be maginalised over time & seal their own demise with the attitudes played out above. The alternative is to move on with our dynamic, eclectic, exciting, fast paced industry & become a useful force instead of hankering after their past glories, the term 'Real Ale' no longer encompasses what we as brewers are doing. We are progressive not regressive, we are innovative not traditionalists, we package beer in new ways, we dispense in new formats. Stop trying to reign in our activities, if you persist then we are better off without you!
In your current format you are not standing still you are going backwards, it seems you are becoming impotent &  irrelevant. You claim to have lobbying power yet you efforts to prevent extra pressures on the industry always fail, huge beer tax hikes in recent years & closing pubs, you celebrated a break in duty for beers sub 2.8% but you failed to prevent tax hikes on stronger more popular beers.
At branch level I feel you rule by fear, I know licensees who are afraid of addressing their concerns to CAMRA branches as they fear their business will suffer as a result, you have become a toothless self-interest group riddled with politics & resistance to change.
My message to you CAMRA, if you won't modernise, fine! But stop your members meddling in the affairs of those who are modernising & attempting to take craft beer to the next level!

The new wave of exciting craft brewers, new breed licensees & outlets WILL move this industry on, with or without you!

And finally to you Kevin,
I won't apologise for brewing cutting edge beer.
I won't apologise for using the best ingredients available to me. 
I won't apologise for brewing beer you don't like.
I won't apologise for endorsing great beer regardless of where in the world it is brewed!
And finally, I certainly won't apologise for not subscribing to your xenophobic & bigoted views nor your precious pre-historic organisation!


myBrewerytap said...

I'll never understand opinions such as this with regards to innovation and diversity within beer. My guess is his opinions are borne out of ignorance rather than any actual experience or well thought out beliefs.
His favourite real ale will be no doubt be something light and hoppy made with US hops which he believes to be Britsh anyway...

rabidbarfly said...

Simply one of the best posts I have read in a long time.
Keep it up.

Simon Cooke said...

Good post. I gave up on CAMRA for different reasons a few years back - didn't know your beer but am now on the lookout for it. Keep on brewing!

ZakAvery said...

Outstanding post.

But two things - are you sure it's not Cooking Lager on a wind-up?

And although there is the argument that an organisation is nothing more than its members, are you sure that CAMRA (rather than Kevin) is the right target here?

Summer Wine Brewery said...

Zak - I can assure you Kevin is real, I have his full name & he's an active CAMRA member in the South. Regards the target of the post I have felt these things about CAMRA for sometime. Kevin just lit the touch paper. There's an old saying a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.

dredpenguin said...

There are some morons in this world. You have put together a calm and well reasoned response.

I have no problem with the concept on CAMRA but they need to wake up to the current beer trends or Thierry influence will wane.

As to Kevin and his like, let them drink the standard brown beer they love, leaves more of the good stuff for the rest of us.

dredpenguin said...

Damn Phones...Can seem to edit my comment for typos.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Standing ovation!

CarsmileSteve said...

So sad to read that these views still exist. I'm not a member, but was at Battersea Beer Festival last night where I had a lovely lovely chat to two old school CAMRA members who were extolling the virtues of Meantime on keg!!!

Summer Wine Brewery said...

CarsmileSteve - There are a lot of more progressive CAMRA members like the ones you mention, but their good work is always undone by those who resist change like Kevin.

Summer Wine Brewery said...

I'd just like to make it clear that my comments ref CAMRA are not extrapolated from Kevin's behaviour alone. I was a member for 6 years myself until I refused to renew last year & I have had dealings with CAMRA at all levels, both local & national. My grievances are based on wide range of experiences gained from both inside & outside the organisation.

ChrisM said...

James, you make some very good points. Sadly it's this negative attitude from some members that gives CAMRA its reputation - it's not all bad.

If it makes you feel any better, we (Tyneside and Northumberland branch) had a social event last night in Newcastle and found two of your beers - Barista and Gambit - side by side on the bar at Tilley's, and they were fabulous, and everyone who tried them thought so. Keep calm and carry on (brewing bloody good beer!), as they say.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark, said...

Here's some applause, now I'm off to Foley's to find one of your lovely, Yorkshire-made pints of real ale. Hear hear.

Dubbel said...

Marvellous blogging. Once a proud under 25 member, I allowed my membership to elapse 4 years ago and haven't looked back since for the very reasons you have exposed above. I witnessed the unsavoury behaviour of senior members at local branch level and found my own core values pulling further away from camra's staid 20th Century rhetoric.

Cooking Lager said...

Wasn't me Zak, but what a cracking idea for the lout jihad! Top idea. Disguise as ale jihadists, and get them thrown out of the Reichstag!

Brother Logic said...

Fair enough but this sounds like you should be sending this to Kevin rather than poking fun of him in a public space to me. Why not invite him to the brewery to show him why your beer is better because of the decisions you made?

Steve Pickthall said...

People like Kevin may well be a minority in CAMRA but they are always extremely loudmouthed and unfortunately they not only keep CAMRA wedded to battles long since rendered irrelevant but they tar the wider brand of good beer too.

Because of the Jihadist fervour with which they pursue anything that doesn't fall into their narrow category of beer-worth-drinking I've always referred to them as Ale Qaeda.

Sat In A Pub said...

Firstly, let me preface things by saying I don’t agree with Kevin whatsoever. Ok, having got that out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Oh dear, someone has got out of bed the wrong way, haven’t they? Sorry to rain on the love fest, but something simply doesn’t add up. Would you have been bothered as much by this email if Kevin hadn’t revealed his CAMRA credentials? Would you have made a blog post of it? I doubt it.

I’m afraid that, as an outsider, this reads to me that Kevin’s email merely provided a convenient excuse to stoke your anti-CAMRA fire. You’re obviously nursing a personal grudge for whatever reason. It’s not uncommon and ex members are often the most bitter.

You claim not to be extrapolating just from Kevin. Ok, but hold on. You were a member of CAMRA for 6 years. Why? If the problem is so endemic, what kept you in there? The lay of the land must have been clear from early on. You may give it some time so see if things might change, but 6 years. Come on.

“At branch level you rule by fear.”
A bold, if not downright inflmmatory, statement. Let’s have facts and less rhetoric, please. Care to name names? If indeed there are licensees quivering in fear, then they are balanced out by the licensees who actively bar CAMRA from their pubs.

“Stop trying to reign in our activities, if you persist then we are better off without you!”

Who exactly is trying to rein you in? And how? Your whole argument is full of contradictions. On one hand, you dismiss CAMRA as irrelevant and prehistoric. Fair enough. But then you seem anally obsessed by that very same organisation.

CAMRA isn’t about reining anyone in. Including its members. Kevin is entitled to his personal opinion. As we all are. But that’s all it is. A personal opinion. What’s really interesting is why you want to make so much more of it.

Cooking Lager said...

Are they in the minority though? We are always told that, but is it true? I suspect most CAMRA members are not active members and there is no way of knowing what they think. As a campaign the main campaigning issue is a campaign against lager via the price of a can, and little to do with being for anything. On that score you have to assume Kevin is more common than CAMRA would like to accept.

Summer Wine Brewery said...

Tyson - I have made my opinions perfectly clear & you yours, thank you for participating. Have a
nice day! :)

pdtnc said...

Good post :)
When will you be producing T-shirts & Mouse mats with Kevin's Utopia?

Anonymous said...

Hit the nail on the head, right there.

Leigh said...

A shocking email/opinion, but I'm glad you've published all the comments to ensure a balanced argument. It's just a shame that these views still exist, though. Really sad.

Brew_monkey said...

I wonder, twas it not for the latitudal growing habits of hops would this CAMRA member be so vocal if British hops tasted of fabulous citrus explosions rather than grassy mint twigs. I was berated by a women at last years Sheffield beer fest, her father was a retired hop grower and she asked me why i prefered to use US above UK hops. When i replied because i can't get the same exciting flavours as the English ones are fairly bland she went off on one! I reminded her that she asked my opinion. With reference to CAMRA, well they are all volunteers and as such do their best, but the organisation needs to develop. Maybe they don't want to or maybe they can't due to engrained ideologies at high level. Shame really because they have provided the country with so much yet in my opinion have little left to offer. The average CAMRA member joins simply to get into beer festivals cheaper or for free. I know i did and i know others that did to. Hell, you get more JDW vouchers than the membership now costs! The membership keeps growing as they cleverly join people at their most suggestable, at festivals after a few pints. I'd love to see them keep up with the times rather than morphing into a keg is also good society. They are CAMRA and the message is a good one, but it needs modernising to suit the new members before they continue to be regarded as fuddy and indeed duddy. As for Kevin's email and publishing it, well, if you aren't up for a debate you shouldn't start it in the first place. Well done for posting your thoughts James, but also long live CAMRA and fingers crossed they get a facelift.

Anonymous said...

Tyson - Kevin self-identified as a Camra member. This was obviously meant to add some sort of force to his rant. It seems to me fair enough to assume that Kevin, at least, thinks he speaks for other Camra members, and thinks he isn't just making a personal point. He also self-identifies as a no-nothing fool, since (a) British brewers have been using American hops since the 19th century, (b) British brewers have been using hops grown in Britain with at least partial American (and German) ancestry since at least the 1920s, (c) Kent is not, and has never been, the sole source of British hops, or even good British hops (d) East Kent Goldings, about the only "terroir" hop grown in England, are not and have never been the sole hop used in the best cask ales and, of course, as others have said, (e) if you want certain flavours/aromas in your beer, you need to buy hops from abroad. I've been a Camra member for 34 years, and Kevin is the sort of arrogant little Wayne Kerr that makes me want to throw my membership card in the bin.

Martyn Cornell

(James - it's very annoying that you've Blogger set up so that I can't sign in under my real name …)

Unknown said...

Kevin is clearly an uniformed silly fool. Unfortunately there are plenty of them about. Unfortunately many of them rant on under the name of CAMRA.

Martyn, although I haven't tried lately, I find that unless you restrict Blogger in this way you get spam and idiot anonymous comments that detract from blogging.

John Clarke said...


This email you received is so insanely wrong on so many levels - are you really sure it's not some sort of wind-up? You say that Kevin is an active CAMRA member in the south - were you able to verify this or is it just what he told you?

In any event - please let us know just who he is, where he's from and what his level of activity is. I'm really intrigued by this - I know that we in CAMRA have some right loonies among our number but this seems almost beyond parody.

Billy Cheer said...

John! asking James to pass on the private details of somebody who posted a private email to a business email address is not the best advice.

James! why didn't you just respond to this guy by email, he didn't slag you off on your blog but you slag him.

John what's it gotta do with CAMRA? the Guy said he's a CAMRA member but his opinions are personal. He thinks British brewers should use British hops. Maybe he come across as a twat but it's his opinion and none of CAMRA's business.

Gavin said...

"At branch level you rule by fear"

I presume you are not talking about the branch local to your brewery. Certainly not the most intimidating group of people I have ever come across.

John Clarke said...


Ordinarily I would agree with you. However given what has followed I would argue that it is CAMRA's business - it's certainly been used as a stick with whch to beat CAMRA in general. I am also interested to know how James is certain that Kevin is who he purports to be - namely an active CAMRA member from the south. I'm guessing that he's never come across this nutcase before so...did he just take Kevin's word for it or did he verify his role some other way?

However I'm not expecting much joy here - having gone off on one big style James now seems rather reluctant to provide more info or indeed back up some of the rather wild allegations he threw around (ruling by fear, reining in brewers and so on). Tyson has already tried on that front and he was simply stonewalled.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it funny how, when faced with criticism of the organisation or some of it's more swivel-eyed members, CAMRA activists respond by declaring such criticism invalid unless it can be backed up with names, dates and the like. Such accuracy seems to go out of the window, however, when they spout uninformed (and often plain wrong) guff about brewing, ingredients, dispense, bottling, canning and provenance.

John Clarke said...

Sorry scissorkicks but that's just bollocks. No-one, least of all me, is saying that the criticism of Kevin's remarks is invalid. Indeed I think that you will see that I have already described them as "insanely wrong on so many levels" - which indeed they are. I'm just interested to know who this guy is and indeed if he is who he says he is and how James was able to establish that ('cos what he said was so bonkers I still harbour suspicions of some sort if wind-up).

James then goes on to level a few accusations at CAMRA in general and I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to ask for some examples - again because he is describing something I don't recognise over here in Manchester. He has clearly chosen instead to move on and close this down - which he is perfectly entitled to do but I do think it weakens his case a bit.

And while I can't speak for anyone else I try and avoid the uninformed guff myself (and will happily hold my hand up if I do drop a clanger).

Billy Cheer said...

It's these beer bloggers you wanna watch out for, all angry and opinionated, they're bloody scary man, like hell fire preachers stocked up on the flames of anti-CAMRA pscychosis. "They're shackling us in sandals I tell you"

"I want to make every single average bland cardboard beer drinker think twice about what they pour down their neck."

Thought control ey! even the CAMRA Nazis haven't thought of that one.

Kevin thought about it and he thought it might taste nice with loads and loads of fuggles in it and Union Jack stuck on the top. I suppose given time he'll learn to think correctly, like you.

Unknown said...

I recently joined CAMRA. It's perhaps a romantic notion, but part of the reason for joining was to support them for their achievements - without them I may have spent my life drinking terrible beer. With this in mind, I'm not sure Michael Harding was referrng to CAMRA's history when he said they weren't fighting against anything - they started-up to fight against bad beer! And, like all critics who want to be taken seriously, they also presented a solution by championing real ale.

Times have moved on and, thankfully, Britain is now blessed with a strong micro/craft brewing sector and awash with fantastic beer. Maybe this is what Michael meant - the time has come to stop fighting everything that doesn't fit the original "real ale" solution. The "innovation" of the major brewers that CAMRA set up to fight
was to the detriment of the consumer. But that fight is won - we have a growing industry that is offering the consumer a range of high-quality, innovative products. Couldn't be happier myself!

Unfortunately, Kevin and his ilk are still brandishing their pitchforks on an old battleground. Newer recruits like myself are more interested in marching further down the campaign trail, to support the producers of the great beers we're drinking today and to ensure the continuation of this resurgence.

Maybe it's time for those veterans who can't keep up to retire to the bar and share their war-stories among themselves?