Saturday, 7 November 2009

CAMRA and Brewdog

I see from my fellow beer bloggers that James Watt from Brewdog has put the boot into CAMRA again. He said: “I blame CAMRA for single-handedly holding back innovation in British brewing”. He has said similar before, when he charmingly added the following regarding CAMRA members: "We've got better things to do with our time than worry about whether 200 fat idiots are drinking our beer or not."

He also likes to slag off session beers “Pretty much all the small UK brewers make the same boring 4% ales with the same boring hops and then package them in a folksy, old-fashioned manner”.  But then as he lives in a run down shithole in Scotland that no doubt has no decent pubs it’s hardly surprising a night in the pub on cask ales isn’t his thing.

Now, as a dedicated beer nerd I know that James Watt is prone to sweeping statements that provoke debate but in the cold light of day don’t really add up. But having said that his latest pronouncement does give me an excuse to go on again about my particular bugbear with CAMRA: their line on bottled beer.

CAMRA basically define real ale as beer which has not had the yeast removed from it, so can still undergo secondary fermentation in the container it is dispensed from. This means cask beers in pubs and bottle conditioned beers. I’m quite happy with CAMRA’s promotion of cask beer. If I’m in a pub that’s what I want to drink. Cask is the best way of serving the modest in strength beers I normally drink when I’m out for an evening. You get the best flavour from the beer that way, and keg beers of similar strength seem at best bland in comparison.

When they extend the line on ‘must contain yeast’ to bottled beers thought I think it starts to break. Bottled beers, with or without yeast, have a higher level of carbonation than cask beer so the difference between real ale and keg is much less noticeable.

When CAMRA were formed there were only five bottle conditioned beers produced in Britain , so it was fairly minor issue. The premium bottled beers market has grown greatly since then and now there are hundreds of bottle conditioned beers. I’ve had some great bottle conditioned beers, but I’ve also had some great bottled beers that don’t have any yeast in. And I’ve had a lot of god awful bottle conditioned beers from microbreweries that may well have contained yeast but also contained huge amounts of bacteria.

Brewdog mostly produce bottled beers, and though they’re not all to my taste some are excellent. They are however filtered and CAMRA’s line on bottled beers is that unless they have yeast in the bottle they are not real ale so are pretty much ignored. If they’re made in Britain that is. If they’re made overseas CAMRA ignore this and say that as they have different brewing traditions it’s perfectly OK for beers to be devoid of yeast. So for example CAMRA have been prominent in defending the Czech beer Budweiser Budvar which is certainly filtered and in all probability pasteurised too.

You can start to see why Brewdog may feel hard done by by CAMRA at this point. They’re mostly ignored except when their beer is in cask, which to be honest doesn’t show it at its best. The American microbreweries who Brewdog draw their inspiration from (or blatantly copy depending on how you want to put it) have also been pretty much ignored by CAMRA.

CAMRA does seems slow to change, which is perhaps why to many younger beer nerds that don’t remember the dark days of keg they now seem part of the establishment to rail against.

I do think CAMRA need to reassess how they look at bottled beers, as the simplistic ‘does it contain yeast’ just doesn’t work as well as it does for draught beers, and as foreign brewers are exempt from this it doesn’t make sense anyway.

I’m also getting a bit tired of James Watt’s attention seeking but that probably won’t change in a hurry either.



  1. You know it is all in the title. Campaign for Real Ale. It's hard enough doing that without worrying about dead bottled stuff.

    I don't recall CAMRA slagging off James' beers either.

  2. AI said I think CAMRA do do a good job re: cask beer. But they have books, and awards, for bottled beers too and I don't think they do as good a job there. I suppose because CAMRA is the only game in town for beer lovers in Britain perhaps they get stretched a bit too thin.

  3. I sort of agree with you about bottled beer. I think CAMRA's stance is one reason why most of the bottled beers I grew up with have disappeared. Brown Ale, Light Ale, that sort of thing.