Friday, 22 August 2008

Grass-roots CAMRA views on

I urge you to browse and participate in

This Usenet newsgroup has been around since 1997 and I first stumbled across it soon after. Originally I thought "great, like-minded people having a well-informed on-going discussion on my favourite subject". I was wrong.

My early posts were usually straightforward exchanges of information such as responses to question like "can anyone recommend a good pub in central London?"

Time passed and I kept noticing things I found unsettling. Here are some examples: "the war against lager"; "conspiracy against real-ale"; and all sorts of ill-informed rants about "rip-offs", "greedy pubcos"; drinkers of mass-produced beers as "victims of advertising" or "shallow" and "easily led"; state subsidies and support for the nationalisation of breweries; disparaging comments about craft brewing in other countries (particularly the US) because it's not "Real-ale". I could go on.

Inevitably, as someone not shy of having strong opinions, I became embroiled in umpteen arguments. I realised that is a valuable resource charting the views of CAMRA grass-roots members.

I got tired of posting a couple of years ago but I still browse the newsgroup to check on what the latest "thinking" is in the world of grass-roots CAMRA membership.

Last week for instance I spotted this – "It's very sad. There seem to be people who rejoice in the fact that beer is becoming an up-market, high priced, trendy drink rather than
the working man's thirst quencher it used to be."

This is a very confused view. There are several points jostling for space here:

1. Use of the romantic image of "the working man" as Trojan Horse for a desire for cheap beer. This is a minefield the unwary have stumbled through many times on UKFDRA. A common trajectory for the debate is "real-ale is cheaper than Stella etc. because it isn't a rip-off". My view is that RA should bloody well be more expensive than Carling etc simply because it's a craft product with higher associated costs than the mass-market. Rolls-Royces cost more than Vauxhalls for that same reason. The only rip-off is the slim margins for their beers that RA brewers have to accept - an unfortunate position perpetuated by many in CAMRA. And, I ask you, just who is drinking all the Carling and Stella if it isn't the "working man"?

2. "beer is becoming an up-market, high priced, trendy drink" - Obviously the poster regards trendiness as an intrinsically bad thing. But is beer becoming a "trendy drink"? I don't know where to start on this complicated subject. The UK market is changing. Particularly in our city centres we see imported craft beers being consumed in "bars" rather than pubs, predominantly by more affluent twenty and thirty-somethings. They could be drinking our domestic craft beer "real-ale" but it doesn't have a huge appeal for them. Real-ale is still predominantly an interest of men over forty. Could it be that the poster falls in the latter category and feels little empathy with the members of the former? As for "up-market, high priced", isn't this a rather crude way of expressing what most RA brewers would like to see?