CAMRA, eh!

1 02 2012

After the experience of Andrew at his first CAMRA meeting, as outlined in his great blog Oh Beery Me, he asked me if I would post the following article.  It originally appeared in the inaugural issue of Hopaganda which we published to coincide with Newcastle Twissup.

It is nice to think that the article may, in some way, have encouraged Andrew to join CAMRA and take the leap into his first branch meeting.  I think it is also encouraging that we left our first branch meetings with the same thoughts, concerns and understanding that things need to change.

CAMRA, eh!

What is it good for?…

Absolutely nothing!

OK, so that’s your reaction provoked. Now before you all either set up a torch bearing lynch mob or carry me high through the streets praising me as some kind of prophet I feel you should know that I don’t think that’s true. But it might not be that wide of the mark.

Back in 1971 there were 4 chaps who decided it was too hard to get the sort of beer they liked easily. The majority of beer available was too fizzy, characterless and tasteless for them and they wanted to do something about it. Their response was to create the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. That I think you will all agree was a mightily fine thing to be campaigning for. I think the first problem arises with CAMRA when in 1973 they changed their name to the Campaign for Real Ale. Because it was easier to say.

All these chaps wanted was beer that was tasty, had something about it and wasn’t too fizzy. In order to define these characteristics they settled on what, in the early seventies, they thought was the only way to achieve this, cask beer. So now what you have is an organisation not looking to revitalise ale but one whose purpose is to promote cask beer at the exclusion of all others. No matter how tasty, character full or fizzy it is. Shame that.

Like some poor unsuspecting victim of the Master in Dr Who CAMRA now appears to be perpetually stuck in that early 1970’s timeline. They seem unable to accept that times have moved on and with that, technology. It is now possible to have a kegged beer that is unpasteurised, unfiltered, which undergoes secondary fermentation and requires no added CO2 for dispense. But that word keg is still like a red rag to a bull to CAMRA. Just Google “Colin Valentine You Tube” if you don’t believe me and watch the video clip posted by Alcofrolicchap. If you think poor Colin’s outburst may just be isolated it’s a shame you weren’t at the last branch AGM when he made an appearance, unedifying doesn’t even come close

Mr Valentine’s Luddite stand on the ‘Bloggerati’ and social media has to be one of the biggest turn offs to attracting young blood into CAMRA. By dismissing the mediums by which most young people now effectively use to plan, run and discuss their lives he displays startling naivety.
Sure there are some obnoxious, opinionated twats that use social media but CAMRA should be the last organisation seeking to use stereotypes in an argument. Used effectively social media can bring the world of great beer to a much wider audience. Used badly and it can leave you being seen as an irrelevance by the wider audience.

CAMRA may have a membership of 130,000 these days (me included) but how many of them are actually active and how many just want their free Wetherspoons vouchers thank-you-very-much? The recent flagship campaign to get members to contact their MP’s to “Help Protect Pubs!” has so far received support from less than 2.5% of its membership. A bloody poor show no matter how you paint it. Don’t get me wrong I think the volunteers at beer festivals etc are absolute stars. I certainly couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. But I don’t see much campaigning going on.

Just for fun attend one of the local branch meetings and count the number of people present who were possibly born after CAMRA’s formation (not me, just in case you were wondering). Don’t worry you shouldn’t need anything more than one hand and Primary School level maths. Like church goers we now appear to be part of an ever aging demographic. Given the size of the current membership there must surely be a large younger group of members out there. After all what student in their right mind wouldn’t see the logic of the free Wetherspoons vouchers? They just don’t seem to want to get involved in an organisation so resolutely clinging to the past and, frankly, do they need to?

Is there still a need for a national organisation campaigning for beer related matters? Putting aside my above concerns I think it should also be highlighted that the Campaign has been involved in lobbying for several changes which have undoubtedly helped the brewing industry and as a consequence drinkers. They include the reform of the licensing laws, the introduction of progressive beer duty and, err, getting the term Real Ale recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary. They have also failed in others like their attempt to break the Pub Tie and didn’t do much to try and halt the tax hike on >7.5% beers.

So there are, in my opinion, some good points about CAMRA and unfortunately quite a few bad points too. Me, I’m happy to remain largely quiet as far as CAMRA branch/national politics are concerned. I’ll chip away at the local social media possibilities and hopefully you may see a change for the good in that direction soon if it hasn’t happened by the time you read this. My membership provides me with free entry into beer festivals but I haven’t felt the need to volunteer at one yet. If I want to drink a nice keg beer then I’ll do so without any guilt. All in all I’m probably Mr Average CAMRA member. But what about those who are on the outside looking in?

If you feel CAMRA are now an anachronistic irrelevance and the beer world will get along as well or better without them then that’s fine. After all the brewing industry seems to be in good health and who need the Good Beer Guide when you can ask for guidance on Twitter? But don’t complain every time they do something you don’t agree with. After all you think they’re irrelevant, remember?

If you want to complain that they should be modernising and embracing new technologies then go ahead, but do so from the inside. Don’t stand outside making snide comments about the organisation, get in there and make a bloody difference. If you feel CAMRA should be tearing itself away from its 1970’s roots join up, say something and make your voice heard. It will take some doing but don’t be a lazy bastard and expect someone else to do it for you.

Andrew seems to have stirred up quite a reaction on Twitter and it’s great to see so many people wanting to be involved.  The thought encourages me to be more active, knowing I’m not alone.  However, I hope they understand that this is not about bringing CAMRA down but rather bringing it into the 21st Century.  It is something people should be in for the long haul and they should avoid trampling over what is good about CAMRA in a rush to get to the goal.





Golden Pints 2011

31 12 2011

 

 

 

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer: Tasted way too many good ones this year to make this an easy choice.  SWB Cohort, Magic Rock Curious NZ and Hardknott Vitesse Noir could all have justifiably snatched the crown but this year’s winner is Tyne Bank’s Southern Star.  It’s great to see a local brewery producing a beer of such outstanding quality.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Traquair Jacobite is still my all time favourite beer but the award this year goes to the flavour bomb that is Summer Wine Brewery’s Barista.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Odell IPA a great beer but lifted to award winner status by the company with whom I was drinking it.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Orval.  Consistently divine.

Best Overall Beer:  The aforementioned Traquair Jacobite.  Everyone should have a comfort beer that keeps them warm, safe and grounded, a best friend in a bottle.   This is mine.

Best Pumpclip or Label:  Last year’s winner, The Yorkshire Dales Brewing Company, quite rightly holds on to their crown.  Honourable mentions must go to Magic Rock and Kernel.

Best UK Brewery:  Summer Wine Brewery.  Top beer, produced by top blokes.  What more could you ask for?

Best Overseas Brewery:  Orval.  See above.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Enjoyed drinking in many fine establishments this year, in particular the Newcastle Arms, the Bacchus and Mr Foleys.  However, this year the Free Trade Inn stands head and shoulders above all others.  A view to die for, matched only by its consistently excellent beer selection and ambience.

Beer Festival of the Year:  Stretching the category a little here, the award goes to Twissup Newcastle.  A true festival of beer worship, delivering top rated pubs, beer and company.

Supermarket:  Waitrose for keeping me supplied with the sadly “soon to be no more” Durham Benedictus.  Otherwise, Meh!

Independent Retailer: Joint winners in the form of Copper’s 8 ‘til 8 and Rehill’s.  However, both should apparently be punished for adding to @CiderTart_G’s stress levels as we attempt to “find somewhere to put all the damned stuff.”

Online Beer Retailer:  Not bought as much online this year due to the excellence of those establishments listed in the category above.  We do have a winner though.  I received great, prompt service from Beer Ritz when used recently and will definitely be using them again.

Best Beer Book/Magazine:  Hopagandamag, fun to contribute to, fun to read.  Looking forward to some no holds barred issues next year.

Best Beer Blog/Website: For the obvious, no nonsense joy he exudes when he writes about beer, the people who drink it and the places in which it is drunk, the winner is the Reluctant Scooper.

Best Beer Twitterer:  Not an individual but a community.  The award goes to all the beery twitterers of the North East.  Sharing the love.

Best Online Brewery Presence:  Summer Wine Brewery.  Like their beer, never dull.

Food and Beer Pairing:  A piping hot Gregg’s Seasonal Pasty, chunks of gorgeous cheese and a 1/3 of Vitesse Noir.  All devoured in glorious sunshine outside the Free Trade Inn during Twissup.  Thanks to @SamtheTree and @DrinkMatch for the food and @HardknottDave for the beer.

In 2012 I’d Most Like To: Enjoy myself…not bothered how that is achieved.

Open Category:  Thanks to all the people I have met, chatted to and got pissed with this year.  Without you beer is pointless.

KC





Sausage & Ale At The Brandling Villa – Festival Update

3 03 2011

Just a quick update on the Brandling Villa Sausage and Ale Festival.  Via the ever reliable Eric we learn that the following beers are those which are likely to be first up on the festivals temporary bar.

Anchor – Liberty Ale 5.9%

Bacchus – Kriek 5.8%

Blindmans – Golden Spring 4.0%

Brew Dog – Hardcore IPA 9.0%

Castle Rock – Preservation Ale 4.4%

Dark Star – American Pale Ale 4.7%

Great Divide – Wild Raspberry 5.6%

Leeds – New Moon 4.3%

Ouseburn – Bangerade 6.0%

Phoenix – Massacre 4.5%

Poachers – Shy Talk 3.7%

Roosters – Orange Blossom Cream Ale 3.9%

Schlenkerla – Rauchbier

Summer Wine – Barista Espresso Stout 4.8%

Thornbridge – Wild Swan 3.6%

Trentside – Hickman Gold 3.9%

These will be in addition to a further 6 handpulls on the main bar…contents as yet unknown.  The beer list originally provided looks to have been tweeked a little bit but remains largely the same and if I get any further info about additions/omissions I’ll post them as an update here.

I will be over there this afternoon/evening with Cider Tart Gamma so if you see us pop over and say Hi.  I’m looking forward in particular to trying the Great Divide and Roosters just so that I can get 2 of my 5 a day in…that works doesn’t it?  I’m also looking forward to trying as many of the sausages as possible too and have a large bag handy to take a large haul of them back home.

KC





Hoppiness, Hoppiness…

24 02 2011

“This might be all there is?” It’s 7:15pm on the 16th February 2011 in the Bacchus Newcastle, and we are looking around to see who is here for the unveiling of the latest creation by Yorkshire Dales Brewery. There are only eight people we recognize, but we shouldn’t have worried. A steady trickle, then a flood of Newcastle beer aficionados appear congregating in the snug.

Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co has been in existence since 2005 and brew out of Askrigg, North Yorkshire. They have developed a reputation over the last few years for producing quality beer of many varying contemporary styles. They are one of the most prolific breweries I know, Rob Wiltshire, head brewer, reckons they have brewed 193 beers in five years. Many have appeared at the Bacchus in the last two, first of all a steady stream of good beers, then an excellent eight course beer/food match event and finally a dedicated handpull in the bar has seen the brewery established at this venue. This relationship has also brought some excellent collaboration beers with Andy (the Bacchus manger) assisting: Stout Of This World, a sweet vanilla stout and the robust barley wine – Dead Mans Hill. A number of their brews have also appeared in other local hostelries most notably the Newcastle Arms.

This ‘Meet the Brewer’ event was to celebrate the unveiling of Cautley Spout, the first of eight ‘two hop’ beers, which will be a theme for the next year. As Rob explains on the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co Site (http://www.yorkshiredalesbrewery.com/)

“In the addition to all the special beers I plan to brew this year will be something a little different. I feel single hop beers are very one dimensional. So to create a series this year of something exciting I will brew 8 brand new ales of varying beer styles, bringing together complimentary hops from around the world”

Cautley Spout, is a 3.7% golden ale using Amarillo and Cascade hops. Initial smell is sharp citrus, and initial taste confirms this with an instant bitterness balancing through the sip and ending with a pleasant sweetness. The first impression was quite good (considering I prefer the dark side) and I could imagine this being a refreshing change on a warm afternoon.

Rob also talked briefly of the second ale ‘Sedbergh Silver’ due out in early March, a heady mix of Chinook and Sorachi. This interested many in the crowd, but I fear may be a little too hoppy for me.

As we munched on the food match of Onion Bhaji’s and (Rocket Fuel) Piri Piri Prawn filo Wraps, Rob answered many questions from the brewing process to the design of his iconic pump clips. As always his answers were informative and he came across as someone deeply passionate about his art.

An excellent evening and I look curiously forward to trying the rest of the two hop ales.

HH

Linked here is the pdf detailing the beers planned in this series (kindly sent to us by Eric)





Local Beer Fest News – Brandling Villa Sausage & Ale Fest 2011

7 02 2011

The first week in March (3rd to 5th) sees the triumphal return of the Brandling Villa Sausage & Ale Festival.  Last year’s event was a tremendous success despite a few teething problems and Dave has learned from that and has planned an even more adventurous event for this year.

The pub is outside of Newcastle city centre but easily accessible via the Metro system.  Take a tram to South Gosforth and you will find it a couple of hundred yards down the bank.  The BV is an imposing, double fronted stone building and has plenty of room inside to fit everything and everybody in.  Dave has done a great job with the place since he took over about 18 months ago which will surely be rewarded with an entry in the next Good Beer Guide.

Anyway on to the festival and the beer and sausage lists, these are yet to be 100% confirmed but here is what we have so far and I’ll post updates if things change enough to warrant one.  The following lists are a bit long but worth reading through to pick out all the goodies to put on your festival hit-list.

DRAUGHT

8 Sail – Victorian Porter 5.0%

Adnams – American IPA 4.8%

Adnams – Belgian Abbey Ale 5.0%

Anchor – Liberty Ale (USA Import) 5.9%

Bacchus – Framboise (Belgium Import) 5.0%

Bays – Topsail 4.0%

Blindmans – Golden Spring 4.0%

Brew Dog – Edge 3.2%

Brew Dog – Hardcore IPA 9.0%

Castle Rock – Preservation Fine Ale 4.4%

Dark Star – American Pale Ale 4.7%

Flying Dog – Doggie Style (USA Import) 5.0% (may turn out to be Old Scratch)

Kwak (Belgium Import) 8.4%

Leeds – New Moon 4.3%

Ouseburn Valley – Bangerade 6.0%

Phoenix – Massacre 4.5%

Poachers – Shy T

Roosters – Orange Blossom Cream Ale 3.9%

Saltaire – Cascadian Black 4.8%

Springhead – Sweetlips 4.6%

Summer Wine Brewery -Barista Espresso Stout 4.8%

Thornbridge – Jaipur IPA 5.9%

Thornbridge – Kipling 5.2%

Trentside – Hickman Gold 3.9%

BOTTLES

Brooklyn – Chocolate Stout

Mort Subite – Gueze

Schlenkerla – Rauchbier

Quintine – Hercule

Goose Island – India Pale Ale

Bohemia – Regent

Flying Dog – Gonzo Imperial Porter

SUASAGES

Bison & Blueberry

Merquez

Black Rabbit & Brooklyn Chocolate Stout

Pheasant & Pear

Northumbrian Beef & McConnell’s Irish Stout

Roast Duck, Spring Onion & Wasabi

Pork, Bean & Jalapeno

Wild Boar, Honey & Thyme

Wood Pigeon & Damson Jam

Venison & KWAK

Award Winning Cumberland Sausage

Craster Kipper & Dill

Full English Breakfast

Butternut Squash, Sage & Gorgonzola

Duck, Orange & Apricot

Pork & Thornbridge Jaipur India Pale Ale

Liver, Bacon & Ouseburn Porter

Allendale Beacon Fire Banger (HOT)

Pork & Ginger

Haggis, Neeps & Whisky

Northumbrian Lamb & Mint

Ostrich & Rosemary

Crocodile & Sage

Beef & Newcastle Brown Ale

Pork & Black Olive

Lamb Bhuna

Pork & Apple

Pork, Dijon & Roosters Orange Cream Blossom

Spinach & Cheddar Cheese

Mushroom & Tarragon

Kangaroo

Duck Pork & Stilton

If you are still here after wading through all that, congratulations.  There will also be a selection of Ciders on throughout the Fest to keep the Tarts happy and in all Dave reckons that there will be 38 brews on at any given time.  Musical entertainment will be provided by the Lyndon Anderson Band, ZepFreeCream and the Mojo Hand band…if they can find any room to set up.

There are certainly some great beers to try here and if Dave can get things to anywhere near the standard of last year’s event you will be in for a treat if you make it along.

KC





Local Beer Fest News – Newcastle Arms

5 02 2011

After winning the glory of being both mine and HH’s Pub/Bar of the Year the Top Arms is not resting on its laurels and next week see’s the first of this year’s Festivals.  Running from the 10th until the 13th of February, Neil and the gang have 41 cracking beers lined up with at least a dozen of them on at any one time.

For those of you who have never been to the Top Arms before it is a real pub.  By that I mean that it’s a little rough and ready around the edges and doesn’t do food or have any music playing.  What you get is just a great friendly atmosphere and some very well kept beers to keep you entertained.  Situated up near St James Park and Newcastle’s China Town it is easy enough to walk to for anyone who can make it into Newcastle itself.

Anyway, back to the festival.  Having seen the beer list* I think we are in for a treat this time:

AllGates – Green Bullet 4.1%

AllGates – Kiwi Best Bitter 4.2%

Backyard – Heriot 4.4%

Big Lamp – Golden Star 4.0%

Big Lamp – Winter Pale 5.0%

Bird Brain – Little Brown Jobbie 3.9%

Bird Brain – Little Wren 3.5%

Boggart Hole Clough – Bitter Blue 5.0%

Dark Star – American Pale Ale 4.7%

Dark Star – M&M (Mark & Mellisa) Special Porter 6.5%

Delaval – Delaval Hall Pale 4.2%

Delaval – Souter Lighthouse 3.8%

Durham – Apollo 4.0%

Elland – Red & Ruined 4.6%

Fyne – Avalanche 4.5%

Fyne – Sublime Stout 6.8%

Happy Valley – Black Magic 4.2%

Happy Valley – Sworn Secret 3.8%

Mallinsons – Binary Star 4.7%

Mallinsons – Hidden Malt 5.2%

Mallinsons – Lynx 4.3%

Mallinsons – Temple of Fame 4.4%

Marble – Ginger 4.5%

Marble – Three Point 9 3.9%

Pictish – Alchemist 4.3%

RedWillow – Smokeless 5.7%

RedWillow – Wreckless 4.8%

Rudgate – Truckies Special 3.8%

Rudgate – Willamette 4.2%

Summer Wine Brewery – Barista Espresso Stout 4.8%

Summer Wine Brewery – Boreas American Pale 5.0%

Summer Wine Brewery – Diablo IPA 6.0%

Summer Wine Brewery – Red Eye Rye Wheat Ale 4.8%

Tempest – Spiced Porter 5.9%

Thornbridge – Chiron 5.0%

Thornbridge – Colorado Red 5.9%

Thornbridge – Galaxia 5.9%

Thornbridge – Jaipur 5.9%

Thornbridge – Maniola 4.8%

Yorkshire Dales – St Josephs Wood 3.9%

Yorkshire Dales – Ulla Bridge 4.4%

I’m particularly looking forward to trying the Dark Star M&M after having heard so much about it on Twitter and beers from Summer Wine Brewery, Thornbridge and Fyne are also always worth trying.  Not having come across RedWillow Brewery or Tempest Brewing Co before I look forward to tasting their brews but to be honest I think everything on the list is going to be worth a try.

Again HH and I will be in a couple of times during proceedings with a Cider Tart or two in tow so say hello if you see us.

KC

*The beer list has come courtesy of Eric Larkham’s excellent North East beer mailing list.  Contact me if you would like to get in touch with him to be added.





The Session – The Best Thing I Had Ever Tasted

4 02 2011

OK so I’ve never taken part in this before (and not sure if you need an invite or anything) but here is my two penneth for beer blogging Friday’s The Session. The topic given for this week’s posts – Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

My first ever recollection of tasting beer was from a can. Both my parents were tee total but they would occasionally buy some beer in for my grandfather which would often sit half empty in the fridge after his visit. Now as someone who couldn’t resist a good rummage around his parents’ bedroom at Christmas for clues about what presents I might be getting this was far too much of an open invitation. The tingling bitterness on my tongue and the bready comforting aroma sold me there and then. I loved beer. Unfortunately being around 10 years old meant I had to wait a while before I could really explore this love. The beer in question was McEwans Export and I knew that canned beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

In my early teens I would try some more exotic beers from cans, Colt 45 was a particular favourite, and obviously very classy. It helped that the parents of one of my school pals owned the local off licence so we were able to try a multitude of these tempting brews. However, living just outside of Newcastle there was only one king of beers. Dog. Newcastle Brown Ale was seen as the drink to turn up to a party with if you were being serious about your drinking and if you saw someone with it you knew what they were either very brave or very stupid. To prove its obvious superiority it didn’t come out of a cheap can, oh no, this was proper stuff and came in a bottle and because of that bottled beer became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

The now long gone Engine Inn provided me with my first ever taste of draught beer at the tender age of 16 and was again McEwans in the shape of keg Scotch. This was the real, grown up world I was in now, shoulder to shoulder with fitters and welders from the Yards who would laugh knowingly at us as we tried to act about 5 years older. The keg Scotch was like the can of Export on steroids, bursting with flavour and it came in a wrist aching pint glass…a whole pint! As you can imagine keg beer suddenly became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

However in the early 80’s the only thing to be seen drinking was the much paler lager which was apparently some complex, arcane continental brew which made it much cooler to be seen with. The great thing was that it wasn’t just cooler in a John Travolta kind of way, it actually came chilled and girls liked it, winner. The dispenser taps for lager were also cool. Gone were the simple lit boxes of the Scotch and in came garishly lit chrome masterpieces to tempt you with their wares, each seemingly more complex and overdesigned than the next. Served chilled from a keg it became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

At some point in the mid 80’s I ventured down to Tynemouth to partake in what would be my first ever Indian meal. We arrived early knowing there were (and still are) several pubs worth popping in to and we never passed up the opportunity for a beer or two. Entering the Cumberland Arms (I think) I noticed that they had McEwans Scotch on and in a fit of nostalgia I strode to the bar and promptly asked for a pint. “Keg or cask?” came the reply. What?!?!? I gave my mates a blank look which was duly returned and had to ask the barman what on earth he was talking about, whereupon he rather patiently, and maybe a little patronisingly, explained the difference to me. “Cask it is then” I said after picking up from the tone of voice that this was the right answer to give. When my pint arrived it looked no different than I could remember from the keg version but the taste, now that was different. Even as a lager boy I could tell this was special, it was smooth, creamy, nutty and refreshing. Cask beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

So there you go, 25 years ago after trying all the dispensing methods I came across I knew cask beer was by far in a way the best of the lot. Fact. Except life doesn’t work like that, does it? Despite my new found irrefutable knowledge I still drank, well, pretty much anything to be honest as long as it was relatively cheap, had the desired effect and regardless of dispensing method. I even largely gave up beer for quite a while during what I refer to as the Whisky Years. Over the past decade or so I have taken much more of an interest in beer but, thankfully, have never felt indoctrinated by the cask or nowt argument peddled by CAMRA etc. I’m led in my drinking choices by two things, taste and the company I’m in. If it tastes good to me I’ll drink it regardless of how it is served because I drink for pleasure not to prove a point and, if the neo-prohibitionists allow, I’ll enjoy the 30p bottle of no-brand lager at my mates barbie this year knowing it was the best thing I had ever tasted and that I would never look back.

KC