ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

CAMRA Revitalisation - much ado about nothing?

Last week, CAMRA finally revealed a set of recommendations resulting from their 'Revitalisation' consultation.

I say 'finally', not because there is even a remote sense of finality about this, but because this process has dragged on for absolutely fucking ages, as if swimming against a tide of treacle. I attended one of the very first consultation meetings (in April 2016, which really does seem a hell of a long time ago now) and once the series had concluded, I was invited as a beer writer to a sort of beer media briefing which went into more detail about what they'd learned.

That was about a year ago. They've had a long time to get their shit together following the consultation process, but finally the cat is out of the bag.

Wither CAMRA?

This is the Morning Advertiser's summary of the recommendations:

  • CAMRA festivals offering a wider range of quality beers, ciders and perries in all formats
  • CAMRA engaging with drinkers of all variants - with the hope of taking them on a 'journey of discovery' of why real ale, cider and perry in particularly special
  • CAMRA supporting members in their appeciation of beer, their ability to both recognise quality products and campaign effectively for them to be stocked in pubs and bars
  • CAMRA providing information about all kinds of beer, not just real ale, as well as opportunities for members to learn more about brewing and the different types and styles available to drinkers
  • CAMRA recognising a wider range of drinks and establishments in its local and national competitions

Underwhelming, perhaps, for those expecting something radical after such a long wait. Even for just five bullet points, there's some near-meaningless gufflesplook in there, but let's look at some of the issues:

Cask breathers to be officially acceptable - this was an easy win and will be an easy sell. In reality almost nobody cares about the use of 'aspirators' apart from the few who made a fuss 20 years ago. They extend the shelf-life of cask beer and thus, potentially, improve the overall quality of cask beer on sale. I can't believe anyone really still has a serious problem with these, and if the organisation is going to be more open towards non-cask beers, it surely can't take issue with beers which are still very much cask!

A Revitalisation consultation meeting - many months ago
Supporting a wider range of outlets - again, in practice there aren't many CAMRA members that reject modern taprooms, pop-up bars or anything else that isn't a 'traditional pub. If some individuals don't like drinking in these sorts of places, that's fine. There are all sorts of people with individual drinking preferences and it should have naught to do with CAMRA policy. If it wasn't specifically mentioned in the report, you'd be hard-pressed to realise that it was a policy issue in the first place!

Supporting a wider range of beers, ciders and perries - this is the biggest issue, but it still probably doesn't amount to much given the caveat that the organisation will still recognise 'real' as the pinnacle of the brewers art. A lot of CAMRA festivals already have non-cask beers available, in varying degrees of 'realness'. A few purist nutjobs complaining that fruit ciders shouldn't count doesn't stop the pubs that sell them winning CAMRA awards. Any 'change' has already happened!

Providing more 'information' and 'support' - once again, it's hard to see this as significant and to a large extent it already happens already. When a CAMRA branch campaigns to save a much-loved local they don't go out of their way to be exclusive of people who drink Fosters or Prosecco or English Breakfast Tea in there, are they? Nobody is banned from a beer festival because their usual tipple is Guinness. 'Can I just ask a question about the hops in this IPA?', 'Sorry mate, no can do, you're on our list as a known local Keggite'. Never happens. Common sense already prevails.


For all the hyperbole about massive change, there's really not a whole lot of meat on them there bones. It only appears even vaguely significant because of CAMRA's inherent conservatism as an organisation.

Who knew drinking in a brewery taproom wasn't approved?!?
Frankly, much of what is 'official' CAMRA policy is already widely flouted, and in any case, the recommendations, such as they are, need to be ratified by a membership vote and a 75% majority is required for them to pass.

Given that the type of CAMRA member that can actually be bothered to vote on these sorts of things tends to be more, shall we say, 'traditionally minded', there is every chance that this won't even pass, at least not this time.

(My guess is that a majority will vote in favour, but not 75%, and they'll have another go in a couple of years time, much like the Church of England did with votes on women Bishops until it got the 'right' result).

Yes, I'm predicting that even a really quite innocuous 'raft' of changes will not be passed, partly because of the activism of those opposed to any and all change for the sake of it, and partly because 75% is a very high threshold, but then everybody wants to be seen to have learned their lessons from a certain 2016 referendum.

Ultimately what is more telling is what wasn't recommended. During the consultation meetings, several contentious carrots were dangled, and widely rejected by the membership, so here's what isn't happening even if the recommendations are adopted, and a couple that could go either way:

CAMRA is not going to...

  • ...change the definition of 'real ale' to something broader than it currently is to encompass 'craft keg' or anything else
  • ...drop cider and perry to just focus on beer (which is something a vocal minority of members wanted)
  • ...change its name, its main campaigning objectives or its fundamental raison d'etre
  • ...do anything to rock the boat too much with the smaller breweries who produce good beer that is mostly or exclusively non-cask - they're still not going to properly and actively campaign for real ale.

Jury still out

  • There is a hint that the Champion Beer of Britain categories could be updated to better reflect the current variety of beer available - something I've suggested for some time. (Though it might mean simply adding a 'Champion British Craft Keg Beer' category, which would be divisive and antagonistic)
  • A lot of respondants in the consultation wanted the organisation to do more for beer quality - this is acknowledged in the report but there's little about how they'd go about doing this. 

Personally I don't think any of this signals radical change afoot. I remain a CAMRA life member and supporter and a staunch supporter of real ale generally.

Maybe I'm seeing this from a Southern/cosmopolitian/young perspective, and for older members in other parts of the country, things like rhubarb cider and a couple of key kegs at a beerfest are still considered truly prescient of the End of Days? But I suspect not.

There are of course elephants in the room that remain undisturbed, but maybe it's better that way?


  1. One of my friends, who could easily have afforded it, once said he refused to become a Life Member of CAMRA on the grounds that it made it much more difficult and pointless to resign if the organisation went in a direction he disapproved of.

    I wonder if any Life Member has ever actually resigned. Had I not been a Life Member I possibly would not have renewed around 2011 when CAMRA had a period of flirting with the anti-drink lobby.

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