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.


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.


*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 Winner Takes It All…Then Gives It Away

18 01 2011

Yesterday I was lucky enough to win a little spot prize from those purveyors of mighty fine ales the Dark Star Brewing Co. via their Twitter feed.  All I had to do was reply to their tweet to receive a T-shirt so I quickly typed out a witty yet poetic response… ‘bo’.  Yep, my total lack of digital dexterity certainly shone through on that one.  However all was not lost as James messaged me to say he had taken pity on my inadequacies and was going to send me the agreed T-shirt…I’d won!

All James needed to know was my size and address and said wondrous garment would be heading its way up to the North East.  At this point I remembered a point from the evenings CAMRA branch meeting asking for beer related paraphernalia (clothing, glasses, books etc) to be donated to raise funds for this year’s chosen Newcastle Beer Festival charity the Peoples Kitchen and so I said any size would do as I would be donating it.  James was straight back saying that he would throw in a few more to help the cause so I would just like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to Dark Star for such a nice gesture.  Cheers guys!

PS …and at the risk of being a little bit cheeky if any other breweries out there would like to make a small donation to a very worthy cause please drop me a line and I’ll make sure it gets to the relevant people.  Thanks.

Coppa del Mondo Birra Lotteria

23 08 2010

Well I haven’t visited here for a while, or much this year for that matter.  For that you can blame/thank the current inequality in my work life balance and the fact that when I’m not tied to my desk at work the good lady wife actually wants to spend that time with me.  I have, however, been maintaining a limited presence on Twitter and it was through this medium that World Cup Beersweep (WCBS) came to my attention.

WCBS was a cunning ploy by the great minds behind beer swap, Mark and Andy, to get us all drinking something different, or not, over the summer.  The premise was a simple one, buy a beer from the team you were drawn with, blog about it before the final and, if your team won, you would be in line for a prize from the nice people at myBrewerytap, Adnams, Highland Brewery and Ales By Mail.  32 participants were sought to take part in the draw and this soon grew to 64, meaning two draws, with interest really high.  This I could not resist.  As you may have noticed 2 sentences ago I made mention of the fact that this should have been posted prior to the final and those of you on the ball will also note we are now approaching the arse end of August.  I’m claiming inspiration for my poor performance in this matter from the team with which I was drawn.

Pre draw I was torn between wanting an easy time of it (beer wise) with an England or Germany and the lure of the chase in trying to find something exotic from North Korea or Honduras.  To be honest I wasn’t really bothered about winning the thing, though it would have been nice, I really just wanted an excuse to try something different.  In the end I was paired with Italy, who I had going out in the group stages in my prediction league at work, and with a sudden jolt realised I knew next to nothing about the beers of one of our European neighbours.  OK, I’d tasted Peroni Red and Blue before, usually accompanied by a pizza, but there had to be more to Italian beer than those, surely?

Within minutes of tweeting the result of my draw a number of helpful chaps and chapettes started to fire exotic names off at me as if I should have known all along about the burgeoning Italian craft beer scene.  But, truth be told, I’m just a bairn when it comes to beer knowledge so I had to dutifully fire up Google and find out just what it was that had these people so excited.  I don’t know why I was surprised to find so many examples of Italian beer out there, but I was and it left me with another dilemma, just which of these beers that I knew nothing about should I buy and from where?

I tried the usual online suspects first, companies I’ve bought from in the past and had unfailingly good service from.  Whilst nearly all offered me something in the way of Italian beer I had, by now, decided that an education is not an education if you only read one book so what I needed was somewhere that could provide me with a veritable library of Italian beer.  My search eventually led me to where I was almost spoilt for choice and after much deliberation (not) I settled on the seven beers you see below.

I intended to base my selection on different beer styles but in the end just plumped for the bottles I liked the look of after deciding it was all guesswork anyway.  So what caught my eye then? Well in the end, a mere 3 days after placing my order, I was a proud owner of the following:

La Volpina Pale Ale Amarcord (500ml)

Tabachera Double Malt Beer Amarcord (500ml)

KETO Reporter Beer- Birra del Borgo (750ml)

Duchessa Beer – Birra del Borgo (750ml)

Re Ale Beer- Birra del Borgo (750ml)

Crocco Br`Hant Malt Beer (75cl)

Ninco Nanco Beer Br`Hant (75cl)

As you will note none of these came in an easy, knock it back in fifteen minutes, 33cl bottles.  Oh no, coming in at 50 and 75cl these were going to have to be treat with some respect.  My initial thought was to invite HH around and we could blast through them in a session making copious notes and taking plenty of photos.  In the end I have enjoyed each of the bottles individually; some whilst taking in the football others as I mindlessly surf/listen to music and some definitely more than others.  I have made notes on all of these but to go through them all would make this post really unwieldy and the links should tell you what you want to know and let’s face it the whole point of WCBS was to enjoy the journey as much as the beer.  Having said that there are a couple of points that I think bear mentioning, so here goes:

  • I disliked none of the beers, although the Reporter came close, which given the random nature with which they were chosen is something of a victory.
  • The Reporter was an experience.  The smell coming out of the newly opened bottle reminded all present of decaying faeces, which wasn’t the best of starts.  It smelt and tasted better after pouring but is perhaps the one I’d try again only if offered for gratis.
  • The La Volpina Pale Ale Amarcord was the closest in taste to a UK beer out of the 7.
  • I really liked the things they did with hops in the beers and coming from me that is praise indeed.
  • Italian Craft beer is far more entertaining and successful than their football team.

So there you go, my WCBS experience.  Despite the poor performance of the Italian team their craft brewers have salvaged the day for the nation.  All we need now is for these beauties to become more readily available but until then I can heartily recommend picking these up where you can.  You won’t be disappointed.