Since I've started reading the thoughts of other beer nerds online I've noticed there's a certain amount of disquiet about CAMRA:
This person has after much dithering decided not to joining CAMRA as they obsess about marginal issues and ignorantly only promote ale in the good beer guide. He jokingly says he'd like to see CAMEL - the Campaign for (cheap) Economic Lager.
This person has had run-ins with CAMRA members and wants to see a Campaign for Proper Keg Beer.
And this person thinks that CAMRA members are fat beardy wierdys who fart lots and are too cosy with Weatherspoons.
I'm sure I could go on.
But is this all justified? Do we need something new? I do have my own problems with CAMRA so I'd hesitate to say they're not guilty but so far I think the case is not proven.
Yes there are fat social misfits in CAMRA, probably at a higher proportion than in the general population (does anyone remember 'Team Tango'?) but I can't help but feel that someone who spends their free time writing a beer blog is on dangerous ground when they start mocking others. I'm happy to be out and proud as a beer nerd! And I've had more problems with people farting in pubs than at beer festivals (which are usually held in places with high ceilings). Bring back smoking that's what I say, you never noticed farts when pubs smelt of fags.
As to decent keg ales and lagers CAMRA does in fact actively promote them provided they come from outside the UK. OK, so that get out clause CAMRA give themselves is clearly bullshit but it does mean you usually see quality keg beers at CAMRA beer festivals at the foreign beer bar. At Greenwich beer and jazz festival as well as the foreign beer bar there was even a bar from Meantime brewery selling their 'proper' keg beers.
Now I have drunk some decent keg beer in my time, at Sam Smith's pubs and the Meantime brewery's pub amongst others but to be honest I still prefer decent cask beer to decent keg. Whilst I was at Heriot-Watt I even got a try a beer in both cask form and filtered and kegged form. The keg beer was good but the cask version was noticeably better.
CAMRA members can come across as being like Orwellian sheep chanting 'cask beer good, keg beer bad' but to be honest I still think this is a good starting point. The problem really arises when they don't take this as a starting point but, as Richard Boston said back in 1976 "show the fanaticism of religious dementia". He continued "It has been said of some of their members that they would drink castor oil if it came from a handpump, and would reject nectar if it had no more than looked at carbon dioxide". People who behave like that are obviously twats but surely they can only be small minority of CAMRA members.
One of my particular bugbears with CAMRA is the simplistic line on bottled beers that 'bottle conditioned = good and filtered = bad'. The higher carbonation you get in bottled beer makes the difference between 'real ale' and keg much less obvious. I'm sure most hardened beer nerds will have come across horribly infected bottle conditioned beers from micros and be fully aware that there some cracking stuff in bottles without yeast. But once again CAMRA do actually fudge this one a fair bit. In '300 beers to try before you die' there are loads of beers without yeast in that are highly praised, many of them from the UK.
As to CAMRA's links to Weatherspoons I'm not convinced there's anything more going on than the discount vouchers for members and the plug CAMRA gets in the Weatherspoons magazine. I suspect that CAMRA are simply sticking to their long held policy of promoting pubs almost exclusively on the quality of their beer. Awful pubs Weatherspoons may be, but they do generally have a wide range of cask beers on and they're usually kept well. As it is, I do disagree with rating a pub solely on the quality of its beer as drinking a decent pint in a shithole doesn't alter the fact that you're in a shithole, but the Good Beer Guide still has its uses. It does, after all, make clear when a pub is a Weatherspoons so they're easily avoidable. I should have twigged that Surrey University sports bar would also be as crap as it sounds despite the decent beer though.
So is something new needed to replace CAMRA? No, I don't think it's necessary.
Should CAMRA evolve into a Campaign for Good Beer? Yes, but I think that's happening anyway.
Should people get involved to help this happen? Well, you can if you like but even though I'm a member I can't see myself going to a CAMRA branch meeting. It would be full of beardy wierdys and smell of farts. No, I shall campaign for good beer by buying it, making it and drinking it. And of course mouthing off on the internet about it!