Excuse my intemperate language, but I’ve just been reading some total lying crap by the chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale about beer bloggers. Apparently we’re the “bloggerati” (eh?), and we’re “only interested in new things”, and for beer bloggers, Camra’s “40 years of achievement means nothing, as the best beer they have ever had is the next.”
What utter bilge. Colin Valentine’s presumably not a stupid person, but he’s evidently never heard of the Straw Man fallacy– or maybe he has, but he thinks his audience is too stupid to spot it. The Straw Man fallacy involves setting up a totally distorted and easily demolished version of your opponent’s proposition, demolishing the distorted version without tackling any of the points in the real proposition, and finishing with a smug grin and – if your audience has failed to see the deceit – a standing ovation.
What has rattled Colin’s cage so badly that he felt the need at the Camra AGM to attack with lies and distortions a group of people that includes not a few Camra members who have given, over decades, a great deal to the campaign and to the promotion of proper, tasty beer? Apparently it’s because some members of the “bloggerati” (a name chosen, presumably, to make us sound like a shadowy secret organisation up to some Dan Brown-ish plottery) have been “making calls for Camra to embrace craft beer”.
Now, real ale, Colin said, had “a clear definition”, which itself is not totally true, since Camra has been arguing for longer than many of its members have been alive about, eg, the cask breather and whether this involves the dreaded “extraneous carbon dioxide” that the four Founding Fathers decided was one of the biggest problems with too much British beer back in 1971.
However, Colin went on, according to the latest edition of What’s Brewing, “those calling for Camra to support craft ale struggle to define what it is.” And your point is, Colin? The difficulty of defining craft beer is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not it should be supported as a cause. Colin, though, knows what “craft beer” means – “I have a definition … it changes not a jot between the brewery and getting into the glass and is served using CO2 and/or nitrogen. It is keg beer. It may have hops in it, but it is keg.” There we are! “Craft beer “- it’s all a plot by those evil
Illuminati bloggerati to get Camra to support the return of Watney’s Red. (I’m confused – if the “bloggerati” are “only interested in new things”, why do they want to go back to keg, which is surely a bit too 1960s?)
Anyway, having set up the evil craft beer Illuminati as an even greater threat to the future of good British ale than high taxes, pub companies who “screw their tenants into the ground”, an “abolitionist” health lobby and “rapacious” supermarkets eager to steal pubs’ market share, Mr Valentine ended on a stirring declaration of defiance against the three or maybe four British beer bloggers who have ever written anything about how Camra might think, perhaps, of broadening its remit to cover more than cask ale: “We decide what we will campaign for, not the bloggerati, and while I have anything to do with it, we will remain the Campaign for Real Ale.”
Which doubtless delighted the tiny minority of Camra members who go along to the AGM. But it will disappoint the many people who feel Camra should admit that, marvellous though real ale it (and personally almost all my greatest beer moments have been with cask beer), other types of artisanal brewing are available, and ought to be supported as well. In the May edition of What’s Brewing, I wrote a piece on how events might have panned out had Camra never existed. While gathering interviews for the article I spoke to several brewers, and a couple had things to say about Camra as it now is that I had to leave out. Here’s what one of them said:
Like many highly effective campaign movements, Camra started as an opposition movement, and in order to do this, it staked out a clear position and then opposed the enemy … and the enemy were breweries. And today, the enemy are still breweries, even when they’re great. Today, brewers in the UK despise Camra – I haven’t heard a good word about them for years. They saved British beer and then quickly stifled it, as even the Danish and Italians have gone racing past.
It’s a cautionary tale. When a movement wins, that’s its most dangerous moment. It either then re-directs and chooses a new and relevant purpose, or, more often, it turns in on itself. Camra did the latter, as most do. Heretics are purged and a stifling rigidity sets in. So now Camra, who should be hailed as the saviours of British beer (and deservedly so in the early days) are generally referred to by the epithet “the Taliban” by the UK’s best brewers.
And here are the words of another:
‘Real ale’ is a great term for the campaign that Camra ran. It was simple, emotive and a great rallying call. [But it] has caused and continues to cause many issues. Cask conditioned beer is not the only great beer and what really matters is the production of great beer. I love cask beer, at its best it is sublime, but I also love well-crafted bottled and keg products. What we need to do going forward is be as passionate as Camra have been about all great beer. This is a difficult subject, not least of all because it confuses people (including many Camra members) and challenges some stereotypes, but Camra members need to be mature and open-minded enough to embrace ALL great beer.
There is absolutely no doubt that Camra helped create a climate, interest and demand for new small craft brewers. However, I feel that this is part of a much bigger movement, so that breweries like Freedom, and West, which do not produce cask beers, can still thrive as they are local, interesting and producing great products.
Those are both people with enormous passion for good beer, as great or greater than the passion for beer of any member of the “bloggerati”, or Colin Valentine. As a long-standing Camra member myself, I was sorry to see people with their extensive experience in the business backing something I suggested last year – that Camra, especially under the apparently blinkered leadership of people like Mr Valentine, is in serious danger of becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.