Has the closing time finally been rung on The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)? Having effectively achieved its goal to promote cask ale as “real” ale, now more than 11,000 real ales are brewed in the UK, the 45-year-old organisation now has an identity crisis, and is looking to its members for a solution, if there is one.
Cynics will tell you Camra’s membership know all about identity crises – once the rebels of the 1970s, they are now mostly older dads and grandads – purists upholding Camra’s “cask only” creed as sacred. There is no doubt that the country needed a decent traditional ale at the time, with cheap fizzy lagers and insipid industrial keg bitters dominating pub bar tops. But now, thanks to current methods of brewing lagers, pale ales, porters and the like, “good” doesn’t necessarily mean “cask”. But try telling that to the hardcore Camra folk.
Camra is not an organisation known for embracing change but has admitted it might need to focus on the interest in other beers, such as the craft beer supplied in kegs or cans – the sort of drinks Camra swore to oust. After all, cans and kegs have traditionally been the vessels of choice for Red Stripe, Carling, and other indistinguishable, low-strength lagers.
Camra has received more than 12,000 responsesto its Revitalisation Project consultation. However its members vote, Camra deserves credit for weighing up the options in a quickly changing market. The organisation is in the unenviable position of potentially alienating their core following, to appeal to a larger audience, sacrificing some of its most guarded morals.
Camra has won the battle, so what’s next?’ Since its inception, Camra’s most concrete rule was to fight for good quality beer, so at least it can still do that. Perhaps it is time to call Time Gentleman Please.