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, March 28, 2018

Mostly on the side of the dinosaurs

It's sometimes easy to over-obsess about things, so this will be my last word on the seemingly unending CAMRA Revitalisation plans - at least until after next month's AGM when the train will either be diverted on to the fast lines or stopped in its tracks.

I've already cast my votes online and, after much consideration, I have mostly voted against the proposals for change. Which may surprise some people.

I've also mostly voted for representatives to the National Executive who will stand up for cask. I happen to agree with many of the 'reform' candidates and my tastes in beer are quite possibly closer to theirs. But I don't think it's the way forward for CAMRA and I've voted instead for people who have explicitly expressed a determination to put real ale first.

Keg beer - Drink? Campaign for? Both? Neither?
Oh Good Ale has a neat resolution-by-resolution analysis of the proposals and points out the entirely nonsensical situation that could arise if some of the proposals are passed, but the overarching proposal to delete much of the previous Articles of Association are not. Tandleman offers a very good follow-up analysis and I suspect, like me, is a little torn on the issue.

As I've argued before, I don't think the sum total of all these proposed changes amounts to anything particularly drastic or radical. What they are, however, is sufficiently vague that drastic, radical stuff could potentially happen further down the road.

And that's why I'm voting against them.

Keeping it real?

First and foremost, I believe CAMRA should be campaigning for real ale. Yes, real cider can be included. Yes, pubs should be a part of the campaign because that's where most real ale and cider is sold. But that's really it. We are not and should not pretend to be a generic, wishy-washy 'drinkers voice'.

Arguments that 'real ale has been saved' are rubbish. If real ale had really been saved, I wouldn't be  drinking beer from keg or can or bottle as frequently as I do. And as Mudgie regularly points out, more real ale was sold in the early 1970s at its supposed 'crisis point' when CAMRA came along to save it.

And yet, in some quarters you are considered a dinosaur simply for having the temerity to hold this point of view. (Or, indeed, bafflingly, for that tired old, fuddy-duddy backward-looking idea that CAMRA should possibly try to promote real ale in other countries!) Are we approaching a world where anybody who still has a preference for real ale is automatically dismissed as a ludicrously out-of-touch Brontosaurus?

I'd love to see the organisation be more modern and progressive - I'd like to see the principles of campaigning for real ale extended across the world. I'd like to see it extended to all beer styles, ancient and modern.

And next time I'm drinking a Blueberry Sour or Cacao Nib Imperial Stout on keg, because it's not available in cask form, I'd like to think that there might be an organisation campaigning for it to be so. If that makes me a dinosaur, then let me dominate the planet for millennia then make me inexplicably extinct!

There is a danger that modernisation for its own sake is seen as the only way forward - it's eerily reminiscent of all those churches that responded to losing members by introducing guitars and tambourines and overhead projectors in place of traditional music and Prayerbook liturgy. The few 'new' members you attract will almost always be outnumbered by older members who feel alienated and betrayed.

And they haven't died out yet!

The Sheridan exception

One area where the old guard definitely won't have my support is the hugely controversial 'Motion 8' - that CAMRA should campaign to reduce the duty relief from which microbreweries currently benefit, while extending the privilege to larger brewers. (This motion is unrelated to the Revitalisation proposals.)

Such a policy would likely kill off struggling new breweries while blatantly favouring the older Regionals, and is surely influenced entirely by conservative personal taste and nostalgia rather than a belief that this would genuinely be a positive outcome.

The proposer, Brian Sheridan, has previous in this area. I don't know him well, having only exchanged the very occasional word over several years, but his views are well known: He favours the same old beers from the same old breweries and has largely negative things to say about micros, beer styles that weren't commonplace in 1970s Britain, and, especially, beer tickers.

Rather amusingly, a London Drinker reader once got angry with me because of something Brian had written in the magazine largely dismissing microbreweries and one-off beers - I'd penned an unrelated article that just happened to span the 'page turn' and because my name ended up on the same page as Mr. Sheridan's words there was some scope for confusion, hence my copping the flak!

And if I'm a dinosaur for wanting CAMRA to stick to its core objectives, God only knows what prehistoric lifeform those who support Motion 8 belong to!!!


  1. Thanks for the mention. CAMRA has achieved many things, but saving real ale from imminent extinctin in the 1970s wasn't one of them.

    And good to see someone else using the "trendy vicar" argument.

  2. It does seem at least on the internet that no one bats an eyelid if you say you only drink keg and don't drink cask beer, but the other way round will get people ranting.

  3. So, as a postscript to this:

    I was surprised that most of the Special Resolutions achieved the 75% required to pass - although with hindsight, the entire process was presented as rubber-stamping policy, with counter-arguments almost entirely lacking in the literature provided to members.

    The core resolution that was rejected involved CAMRA becoming the voice of all drinkers and pub-goers, and this was the most contentious one. Again I'm surprised how close it was. Those cunts who stand at the bar drinking Stella and blocking your view of the handpumps when you want to see what beers are on, and then give you a threatening look when you attempt to peer around their imposing frames to find out. Should CAMRA really be their voice?!?

    Obviously Motion 8 was pretty much laughed out of the conference and rightly so.

    I've said from the beginning that, in practice, this whole 'Revitalisation' malarkey is unlikely to change very much and it still strikes me as an exercise in promoting/revitalising CAMRA HQ rather than beer itself.

    And beer matters more than bureaucracy.


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