CAMRA revitalisation: two steps forward, one step back


Kaeru Beer have been members of the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) for many, many years, and we recently voted in support of a series of measures designed to update CAMRA’s Articles of Association, a series of measures that will update the organisation to be more relevant in an ever-changing world of beer.

The beer landscape of 2018 and beyond is vastly different from that of 1971, when the organisation was formed with a clear mandate on its aims and objectives.  These aims and objectives have been met successfully, so CAMRA needs to update if it wishes to remain important in a world where brewpubs, microbreweries, craft and artisanal beers are seemingly (and thankfully) an unstoppable force.

Despite our Real Cider and Real Perry-worshipping allegiance to CAMRA, we feel the organisation has been dated, somewhat draconian and living on borrowed time for more than a few years.  An example we find laughable is that breweries who are members of CAMRA — i.e. comply with the ‘rules’ — may attend Craft Beer Festivals, yet the reverse is highly unlikely: craft and artisanal beer breweries outside of CAMRA may not, in most cases, attend CAMRA Beer Festivals.

There is also another twist to this story: bottled craft and artisanal beer from overseas has been making inroads into CAMRA Beer Festivals for several years.  This situation must certainly miff craft and artisanal beers breweries in the UK, and it is no wonder, therefore, that many of today’s discerning beer drinkers are choosing craft and artisanal beer over Real Ale.  That situation must certainly miff CAMRA.

CAMRA needs to change.  CAMRA must change.

Thankfully, the votes were counted at the Annual General Meeting of CAMRA on 21 April, and its members overwhelming voted to change.

Many changes have been approved, but there are two key steps that will define the future of CAMRA.  Firstly, CAMRA Beer Festivals may now include beers that are technically not Real Ale, meaning the floodgates are opening for CAMRA to be more accommodating of UK breweries producing craft and artisanal beer.

Secondly, and more importantly, CAMRA will revoke its controversial opinions that oxygen improves the flavour and quality of cask beer, and the use of any gas is abhorrent.  We all know, however, that oxygen and its contaminants are the enemies of beer.  CAMRA’s approach has been hurting its members’ small pubs and bars for many years, since their cask beers have deteriorated at a faster rate than non-CAMRA approved pubs who use cask breathers, or “aspirators”, to replace beer drawn from the cask with sterile gas instead of air.

Once CAMRA has revoked its objection to “cask breathers”, it shall be at the discretion of a pub or bar’s cellarwoman / cellarman whether air or sterile gas is used to improve the flavour and quality of a beer or keep it fresher for longer.

However, there is always a fly in the ointment.  In the case of CAMRA’s proposed changes, the fly is a lack of approval for CAMRA to “act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers.”  This change to the Articles of Association would have allowed CAMRA to shake-off its outdated image as something only for the parents and grandparents of today’s young drinkers, this would have allowed CAMRA to be the champion consumer group for all types of beer, ciders and perries, not just Real Ale.

And so, CAMRA will open its Beer Festival doors and welcome craft and artisanal breweries, and it shall recognise the voices that say oxygen is not great for beer, but it doesn’t want anything but Real Ale to join the party.  For us, CAMRA needed to welcome the next generation(s) of beer drinkers with open arms, widen the scope so not to alienate the young drinkers who prefer more carbonation in their beers; as it is, CAMRA is still destined to survive so long as the aging-demographic of Real Ale drinkers exist to support it.

That is a moot point that will determine the longevity of CAMRA.