CAMRA's Mid Life Crisis


Iran’s supreme leader enforced it, Egypt’s dictators attempted it and now – in his own way – CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine has also joined the ranks of figureheads taking pot shots at free speech by choosing to vilify anyone whose opinion doesn’t fall in step with his own or could threaten the course of the real ale cause. Blimey.

Speaking at the 2011 CAMRA AGM last month, Colin decided to unleash what – to him – must of sounded like a scathing and unapologetic attack on craft beer and a newly discovered force that’s more evil than kegged beer itself: the ‘bloggerati’.

Sadly for Colin, months of practicing in front of his mum’s bathroom mirror didn’t pay off as - for the rest of us -  his speech sounded like nothing more than the kind of pathetic whinging that’s usually symptomatic of a bad case of close-mindedness than a rousing call to arms.


You see, it’s not actually the ‘bloggerati’ bit that bothers us. Infact, the BrewDog blog has regularly called CAMRA out over what we believe to be a frankly archaic approach to beer that’s partly to blame for the UK's craft beer vacuum. It’s only fair that CAMRA have a place to voice their opinions too.

What we don't think deserves a place is the spouting of genuine madness such as Colin’s suggestion that beer bloggers are only interested in ‘new things’. Clearly the idea that the ‘news’ is made up of ‘new’ information is a concept that's passed Colin by.

Colin’s assumption that all beer bloggers are obsessed with kegged craft beer is also one of the many sweeping assumptions that pepper his AGM address; choosing to bypass any mention of the many writers who consistently champion non-mainstream, mass-produced beer, full stop; writers who regularly review, discuss and support cask ales and other ‘real ale’ products as part of engaging with the UK beer scene as a whole.

Like any cause worth fighting for, Colin’s CAMRA needs an enemy with an alternative ideology to rally against. Unfortunately the alternative ideology in question is craft beer and the enemy is beer bloggers, or anyone else who doesn’t feel the need to partake in a jolly good round of beard stroking and back slapping whilst reminiscing about CAMRA’s forty-something heritage.

In order to survive what increasingly seems to be something of a mid-life crisis, CAMRA need to use their experience and expertise to act as a forefather to the modern British beer scene whilst facilitating debate and engaging people across the generations.

Stunting and attacking discussions about beer just because increasing numbers of people are turning their attention to craft only serves to prevent more individuals from becoming involved, educated and passionate about good beer – keg, cask, craft, real or otherwise.

For now, however, Colin's approach to craft beer increasingly smacks of a figurehead who's frightened of the future, where dictatorial policies quickly become the standard knee-jerk reaction as a means of preserving the past, regardless of the implications for the future.

*there are already some excellent blog articles on this. Zythophile first blogged about it before Tandleman and Glyn  Rabid About Beer got involved, Pete Brown as sharp as ever on it, and Sid BoggleReluctant Scooper and Mark from Beer.Birra.Bier all had their say too. and most recently Mark @ Pencil and Spoon

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Barm 04.06.2011 @ 4:50pm
Brewers who listen to heavy metal are not really in a position to make fun of morris dancing.
David 31.05.2011 @ 7:45pm
Mark Dredge sums it up perfectly - 'An argument over a container is stupid'. CAMRA associate 'keg' as being 'crap'. But, that's back to the Watney Red Barrell days. And yes, 99% of keg beer is still 'crap', but it's the beer that is crap, not the container. A great brewery can make great 'keg' beer. CAMRA should be promoting good quality beer and embrace 'premium-quality keg'.
David 31.05.2011 @ 7:37pm
I can understand if CAMRA has a down on keg beers, because it was always rubbish in the past, and most of it is still rubbish. However, if the beer is made properly and tastes good I don't see what the issue is. OK - some 'real ale' breweries have tried kegging 'real ale' and made a hash of it, but it's due to their incompetence. The vast majority of 'proper' beer drinkers would prefer cask over keg, obviously, but if a kegged beer is really good, there is no issue. However, it only suits highly flavoured beers like Brewdog's. Most British real ale would be unsuitable for kegs.
Stewart 31.05.2011 @ 6:54pm
"ahhh, 'controversy'. Should sell a few more tins of Punk IPA I suppose"Actually I'll be buying it thanks to its taste, which eclipses all the bottles that tell us what Camra thinks of it on the outside - a sign that seems to mean "avoid at all costs".
Paul Hext 31.05.2011 @ 4:21pm
Don't expect CAMRA to accept the thin end of the wedge, and don't be so childish rubbishing SRAF as boring, you still have a part to play or do you wish to abandon the traditions that was preserved to allow you to prosper today? The photo is in no way racist as everyone knows that the Cornish are Celts, just like the Welsh and the Scots!England ends at the Tamar, but actually they are welcome to Plymouth as well! A Devonian ;-)
jalepeno 31.05.2011 @ 2:46pm
When did beer become so wanky. It's beer, let's leave acting like tits to the wine buffs and get the fucking pints in!
Quinno 31.05.2011 @ 2:20pm
ahhh, 'controversy'. Should sell a few more tins of Punk IPA I suppose.
Tandleman 31.05.2011 @ 11:27am
"Like any cause worth fighting for, Colin’s CAMRA needs an enemy with an alternative ideology to rally against."Pots, kettles?
Pat Hanson 31.05.2011 @ 11:11am
SRAF beer list - Alice Porter and Riptide have gone but Trashy Blonde is still listed. Woo hoo!
Pat Hanson 31.05.2011 @ 11:07am
Blimey, only just caught up with Colin's speech six weeks after the event? Pay attention you at the back!By the way I attended much more than 20 mins of the AGM and I'm not in the least conservative. Also saw Lucy in her TNP t-shirt which seemed to get mainly positive comment. Now I'm off to inspect the SRAF beer list to see if it's true that (short-sightedly) Brewdog have pulled out, as suggested in this blog.
James 31.05.2011 @ 10:48am
The aim of CAMRA should be to get as many people as possible appreciating good beer and as few as possibly simply drinking anything for an ethanol kick. Young adults are a good place to start, and the likes of Brewdog are surely much more accessible to them than a beer festival. Brewdog and others have/are changing the game in the UK; if CAMRA aren't careful they'll be facing a rival organisation.
Joseph P 31.05.2011 @ 10:19am
To be fair, I think the photo of the morris dancers is racist, and could underpin all of BrewDog's anti-CAMRA (anti-English???) spiel. There are plenty of Scottish pipers at Scottish CAMRA fests, but no ridiculing of them? BrewDog is becoming a joke.
Katie Potatie 31.05.2011 @ 9:41am
Is it not the 'Bloggerati' that bring what is traditionally seen as an 'old man's drink, to the younger generation? Just a thought Mr CAMRA.
Stephanos 31.05.2011 @ 8:28am
Stewart-cider and perry is simple, it was proposed at an AGM that the principles of producing "real" cider and perry were similar to those of beer even if the end products are nothing alike. Similarly that it was under threat. Conference voted to adopt campaigning for it and thats why CAMRA does. Glyn-there have been a lot of comments in blogs, or in agressive questioning at meetings where CAMRA is present that Colin decided he would show where he stood and where he thinks CAMRA as a whole stands. Unfortunately opinions of CAMRA the organisation and CAMRA members don't really align very much anymore.
Stewart 31.05.2011 @ 7:21am
" they're the Campaign For REAL ALE, not the Campaign For GOOD BEER"Then why do they campaign against what they think is bad beer, and campaign for perries, ciders and Sacred Cow foreign beers that aren't even real?
Glyn Roberts 31.05.2011 @ 7:10am
Stephanos - I do think coiins comments need to be seen as attempted defence against a perceived threat, rather than the "first blow" as some would have it. - Bit paranoid there pal? Or is everybody just out to get CAMRA?
Stuart 31.05.2011 @ 12:33am
I'm not saying CAMRA can't be accused of being bigoted in some instances, but Colin Valentine does make a point - they're the Campaign For REAL ALE, not the Campaign For GOOD BEER. Those who try to hijack the bandwagon shouldn't start whining when they get kicked off.Personally I think broadening CAMRA's focus would be a good idea, but that's something that needs to be done carefully - as far as "arbitrary distinctions go", there's no point campaigning for a fuzzily-defined cause if that ends up including Stella or Carling!
Dominic 30.05.2011 @ 11:51pm
I think CAMRA still has a part to play in this beer market i.e. the promotion of good beer and reducing tax on beer, Yet their executive is out of touch, as seen by the lack of quality keg ales at the Bieres san frontieres bar at the GBBF. I wish someone would kick them out and actually start listening to real CAMRA members
Chris 30.05.2011 @ 11:30pm
CAMRA as an organisation are lost in the wilderness. You speak to their members, many of whom love 'craft' beer and have no issue with kegged beer. They are interested in great beer and that's it.The top brass however are still fighting a fight that was won a long time ago. You could argue that real ale has hit critical mass, in fact all the evidence suggests just that. So CAMRA are stuck because they have a campaign for something that is now actually mainstream and in the ascendency. Thats like having a campaign to get more football being played in school playgrounds. Breweries should be experimenting with keg, and huge abv's, and low abv's and cask and everything else because brewers are creative buggers and the consumer is a curious bugger.It must be hard to fight for something for so long, only to win and find yourselves redundant. They could change the focus and just champion great beer by great British brewers, but they choose to attack the ones that are doing well.Odd, as these breweries only exist because of the work CAMRA did to promote cask beer.
Lucy 30.05.2011 @ 11:16pm
I went to the AGM for all of about 20 minutes. Never again... I happened to be wearing a Tactical Nuclear Penguin t-shirt and was greeted by a chorus of "boo, hiss!" rom a bunch of old blokes whilst I was walking along minding my own business, making my way to find some decent beer. Ghastly behaviour on so many levels!!(Incidentally, whilst waiting at the tram stop some other AGM attendees commented on my t-shirt, saying how "brave" I was to wear it, then admitted they were "fans" too, as if liking the odd 5am Saint is a crime worthy of a public flogging or something...)
Reluctant Scooper 30.05.2011 @ 11:11pm
Valentine is talking out the top of his head when it comes to craft beer. But so is everybody else. Yourselves included.Difficult to be anti-craft when it's purely conceptual. And, "pot shots at free speech"? Leave the soundbites to the bottle labels, James. You're cheapening an already bargain-basement argument.
Tom Cadden 30.05.2011 @ 11:08pm
CAMRA fests love brewdog beer, i know as iv sold massive amounts to them. CAMRA members love the beer but its dinacors at the top level wanting to make a name for them selves that fuck them.
Lemurkid 30.05.2011 @ 11:06pm
Yes, Colin Valentine said what he did because he was on the defensive. As said on another blog, he and CAMRA fear "losing the monopoly of discourse" over beer in the UK, and are a bit rattled by it.
PeteM 30.05.2011 @ 11:00pm
I'm confused... is this an explanation as to why you're not supplying beer to the Scottish Real Ale Festival anymore? Or is this totally unrelated? I'm really not interested in all this beer politics rubbish, just thought it would be nice to have the option of half a PIPA in June...
Stephanos 30.05.2011 @ 10:59pm
Something a lot of camra members agree on. It's frustrating that AGM are populated by the conservative elements if the organization. These are usually not the same as those who work the hardest to promote good beer. I think bloggers have a role to play in influencing people to change but I'm not sure they can reach those with biggest vested interest, and certainly not by petty squabbling. I'd like to see a cross functional UK beer group to discuss promoting good beer, where individuals leave their hang-ups at the door and work together to represent beer in a positive light.
Ed 30.05.2011 @ 10:53pm
Funnily enough I thought Brewdog were the ones always looking for an enemy to fight against: Portman group, CAMRA, SIBA, big brewers, regional brewers, etc, etc. The CAMRA bloke was over generalising but a lot of beer bloggers do whinge on.
James, BrewDog 30.05.2011 @ 10:47pm
I think CAMRA need to find their place and relevance again. They will not do so by trying to enforce arbitrary distinctions, but by embracing great beer.
Stephanos 30.05.2011 @ 10:44pm
Expecting to see more of the same as has (dis)graced some blogs in recent days I was pleasantly surprised that this took a slightly different angle. I'm glad that most camra members do embrace all good beer regardles ofdispense, which a lot of people week to neglect. the haulking beast which thr orgsnisation has now become makes it difficulttoget anything progressive through, which unfortunately leads to it becoming increasingly introverted. I do think coiins comments need to be seen as attempted defence against a perceived threat, rather than the "first blow" as some would have it.