Craft and Real Ale, and never the twain shall meet
Is it purely coincidence that the London Craft Beer Festival is held a couple of days before the city hosts CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival? Sceptics may see LCBF as a direct challenge to both CAMRA’s claim that their GBBF is the ‘Ultimate Beer Festival’ and CAMRA’s exacting requirements that exclude most Craft Beer brewers from being involved. Sceptics may certainly be partly right, at least.
CAMRA is in dire need of youth, and it needs to start attracting future generations of beer drinkers if it is to survive in its current level for the long-term. Its well-publicised mishandling of its member-brewery’s decision to use only KeyKeg—a much beloved format of Craft Brewers—demonstrates it is not yet ready to mature into a world-class beer champion, despite the results of its recent member-vote that verified there is a well-supported desire for CAMRA to be more inclusive and adapt to modern time, trends and drinking-habits.
There will be a crossover section of drinkers who attend both LCBF this weekend and GBBF next week. There will be a section of drinkers who will attend one, but not the other. The vast majority of people—the regular public—may decide to visit only one, especially when both beer festivals in the same city (east or west) are separated by only 2-days. In this respect, beer and breweries are the losers, since there is untapped (no pun intended) market—the target audience for both camps—who will lose the opportunity to drink new beers, experience different tastes, see new ideas and feel the very different approaches to beer handling, history and development.
The demographic distinction that separates visitors to LCBF and GBBF will be obvious to anybody visiting both. CAMRA is sometimes negatively viewed by youth as too authentic and traditional, whereas Craft Beer is sometimes negatively viewed by middle-age as too innovative and fast-moving. There is nothing wrong with either approach, since both are vital to the survival of beer. What is wrong, however, is the dysfunction and inability to cooperate and join forces in a mutual demonstration of solidarity against industrial beer monopolisation and myriad other challenges facing the beer industry.
Never has Kipling’s ‘The Ballad of East and West’ felt to apt. “Oh, East is East (Tobacco Dock, E1W), and West is West (Olympia, W14), and never the twain shall meet.”
If CAMRA wishes to survive and prosper beyond the next 10, 20 or 30-years it needs to extend an olive branch to Craft Beer; and if Craft Beer wishes to exploit CAMRA’s greatest assets—its political clout, its campaign success, its vast membership—the olive branch needs to be gladly and genuinely embraced.
If both sides of the same coin can harmonise within the next year, and we see a joint-effort for next year’s “Great British Craft Beer, Real Ale and Cider Festival”, that will certainly be a world-conquering Ultimate Beer Festival.