ALE Autumn 2001 No. 304

Debates

What should CAMRA be campaigning for?

CAMRA mounted a vigorous campaign to support Wolverhampton & Dudley in its takeover battle with Pubmaster. What's at stake is the fate of W&D's four breweries.

In the red corner...

Paul Ainsworth (our esteemed Regional Director, here writing in a personal capacity) posed the question in What's Brewing (July 2001)

He went on to ask about the multitude of brewery closures during CAMRA's lifetime (since 1971):

His view is that in general there is overcapacity in the brewing industry and that closures are inevitable, so CAMRA's campaigning resources should be focussed where they can make a difference and not on lost causes.

One key point is that a poor choice of beer in a pub has nothing to do with brewery closures and everything to do with pub companies' restrictive purchasing policies.

As the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) shows every year, there are plenty of excellent beers available. All the pubcos have to do is to widen their range of suppliers. CAMRA welcomes SIBA's supply deal with the Unique Pub Company for around 350 real ales and a similar deal with Enterprise Inns. The Laurel pubco's decision to reduce the choice of beer is all too typical. One of CAMRA's main campaigns is for landlords to have real choice in ordering.

How practical is it to try to save a brewery? Other than for the smallest cases, there would seem to be only two ways: massive local community support or lots of money!

Very few breweries have ever been "saved" and when fine beers are lost, others appear to take their place.

An example of a worthwhile effort is to try to save the unique Burton Union cask system at W&D's Marston Brewery in Burton-Upon-Trent.

Other important campaigning areas include promoting cask ale, pubs, beer quality, prices, licensing reform & full-measure.

In summary, the beer choice problems are not of supply but of demand, it being distorted by the market forces of the big Pubcos.

In the blue corner...

Unsurprisingly Paul's plea triggered a flurry of correspondence in the next edition of What's Brewing (August 2001).

"Colonel" Roger Protz and others vigorously defended the need to campaign in all circumstances. Using the old debating device of refutation by exaggering the opposing argument to the extreme, Paul was apparently urging CAMRA to accept the "logic" of the market and to run down all campaigning!

Rather better points made included:

However a trade professional complimented Paul on his "grip on reality" and reckoned the focus must be on beer quality, so long as there's no...

Misrepresention

In a related debate, the GBBF committee chose not to order Greene King's Old Speckled Hen and Ruddles Bitter as they felt there was some misrepresention involved. The beers were not "banned", simply not ordered, like many thousands of beers from across the world. Other GK beers were welcome.

Greene King used its own stand at the GBBF to turn this into a publicity stunt about the beers being "banned", generating a lot of media coverage. That triggered a debate on the uk.food+drink.real-ale newsgroup, mostly misunderstanding the basis of the committee's objection.

The GBBF committee's view (and the general CAMRA view) was that GK is now selling Ruddles County using the connotations of its first incarnation, famously brewed by Ruddles in the 1970s-1980s in Oakham. Similarly Old Speckled Hen seems to be sold on its Abingdon origins with Morland. [It was created to celebrate 50 years of MG car production there and named after the first one produced, the "Old Speckled 'Un".] GK admits that it bought Morlands to gain control of its brands. Now on marketing material such as bottle labels the beers come from the "Rutland Brewing Co." and the "Morland Brewing Co." in Bury St Edmunds - hardly honest.

Courage Best was cited as a beer which has moved from brewery to brewery but which is "acceptable" to the GBBF. The difference is that it's not sold with a "geographic" connotation - only enthusiasts would know where it's from. A lesser point is that it hasn't changed owner. There is no misrepresention.

Another example is the pubs group Morrells of Oxford, whose publicity material says it offers "three classic ales with the real taste of Oxford" - difficult when the brewery closed in 1998. "Morrells have been part of Oxford life since 1728... classic Morrells beers are an essential part of real Oxford life". In reality they're brewed in Dorchester, alongside "Ushers" beers.

So this is about authenticity, not a pedantic point about geography.

Incidentally, the issue is not the quality of the relocated beers - that's another debate! Some have found the new (reduced-strength) Ruddles County and the new Old Speckled Hen to be as good or even better, whilst others reckon they're feeble imitations of classic brews.

So what do you think?


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