Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Happy birthday CAMRA

Forty years ago today the Campaign for Real Ale was founded. At the time it seemed a hopeless cause. Big brewers claimed that keg (or "container beer" as it was called then) was the future and, just in case drinkers weren't convinced, ripped the hand pumps and tall fonts out of their pubs. Some areas of the country, like mine, are still suffering the effects of this historic vandalism.

Forty years on and the trend towards bland, ersatz beer has been reversed. Not before time, real ale is finally becoming hip. Despite the efforts of the ad men, a new generation is discovering the joy of proper beer; something they wouldn't be able to do if the CAMRA bashers had succeeded.

The likes of Fullers and Caledonian, to name but two old-established breweries, would have closed years ago. There wouldn't be over 700 hundred breweries, most of them established since CAMRA was founded. There wouldn't be the seedling micropub movement that is just beginning to take root.

CAMRA has survived because it was willing to be unpopular. Members were willing to put in years of volunteer labour. Willing to put up with ridicule and sometimes abuse from the mass media. Though denounced as luddites and beardy-weirdies, the grim determination of these stubborn old buggers inspired a beer revolution.

So get down the pub tonight and raise a glass of real ale. It's thanks to CAMRA that you have the choice.


  1. Funny, Ireland has long been held up as an example of what would have happened to British beer if CAMRA hadn't existed. The fact that most of our breweries now produce cask beer on a permanent basis makes that observation a little less impressive.

    Britain today would not be wall-to-wall Watney's without CAMRA.

  2. I'm not an uncritical advocate of CAMRA, but come on. Firstly, the idea that it's had no influence on the revival of Irish cask beer is an unlikely one. Secondly, the cask scene in Ireland is nowhere near as advanced or ubiquitous as it is in the UK: most breweries might produce a cask ale (though Guinness don't), but the market share of those breweries is miniscule, and try actually finding their produce in an everyday pub (it wasn't that long ago that there was only cask stout being produced on the island of Ireland, and not that long before that that there was none). It's a better situation than it was ten years ago, but still far behind Scotland, never mind England.

    "Britain today would not be wall-to-wall Watney's without CAMRA". Why not? 80's Scotland was wall-to-wall McEwans (parts of it still are), and despite improvements, Ireland's still wall-to-wall Guinness, despite the occasional presence of a few casks, mostly (in my experience) unimpressive, and available mostly in tourist centres.

  3. Hello Anonymous.

    There is, as far as I know, no active CAMRA branch in the Republic of Ireland. The brewers who produce cask are not doing it to sell to visiting CAMRA members from the UK -- they are doing it at least in part due to demand from conscientious Irish beer drinkers.

    What makes you think CAMRA has had an influence here?

    Secondly, I'm not saying that CAMRA had no influence on the beer scene in the UK, just that Barm is overstating the case. As you say: in some parts of Scotland drinkers don't have the choice he mentions in the last sentence, and I'd add it's the same in most of Northern Ireland and quite possibly in bits of England too, and this is despite the presence of active CAMRA branches.

    Thirdly, Guinness is as pervasive in British pubs as Irish ones.

  4. Come on, chaps - it's a birthday, so no bickering!

  5. Fuck me, some bloggers don't pass up any opportunity to have a go at CAMRA.

    I won't be making the pub tonight but I will be drinking a bottle conditioned beer just to get into the spirit of things. Happy Birthday CAMRA!