Cambridge & District CAMRA
At the Branch AGM 2010 we plan to choose a fresh set of priorities
CAMRA's national priorities from 2003:
- Promote and improve the image, quality and variety of real ale.
- Promote the consumption of Real Ale In A Bottle.
- Promote real ale to groups currently under-represented in the real ale drinker profile.
- Promote pub use for everyone.
- Promote excellence in pubs.
- Help communities keep their local pubs thriving.
- Protect and cherish pub heritage.
- Prevent beer-drinking and pub-going consumers from being ripped off.
- Help consumers get information to assist them in choice.
- Help consumers get good service in pubs.
It's all about real, live, traditionally-made beer with interesting, varied and
complex tastes versus dead, mass-produced and largely tasteless fizzy yellow
liquid (kept cold to disguise the lack of pleasant flavours).
In early 1998 big brewers such as Bass started putting it about that real ale was in decline.
However the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association's
figures showed that keg and lager were in decline and that nitrokeg had peaked.
If real ale sales are down, it's entirely due to the big brewers' national blands
- they dominate the market in volume terms.
The national brewers are essentially abandoning real ale, leaving a wonderful opportunity
for independent brewers, provided they can get access to the handpumps
of the big pubcos.
These are as much under threat as real beer is from the likes of Nitrokeg.
Heavily marketed plastic ciders such as K6 (presumably an improvement
on K9P) abound, sometimes with fake handpumps such as Scrumpy Jack.
[No reflection on Restalrig's "K9P" cask-conditioned lager!]
CAMRA is campaigning for all landlords to have a real choice in selecting at least
one guest beer, not just what their bosses allow them from the corporate portfolio.
However as of 2003 the Government's 1989 regulations about guest beers (the Beer Orders)
have been abandoned, so pubcos can and often do exercise
tight control on the choices available to their managers and tenants.
Aside from the real v. messed-about beer debate, there is also the issue
of the quality of a real beer, which depends on details of production, distribution,
storage and dispense. Poor quality gives people a reason to choose instead the consistently
tasteless nitrokeg and "smooth" or "cream" products even though they're more expensive.
Fundamentally real beers should be allowed to develop naturally in the barrel and not
have their flavour destroyed by the application of gas.
There is one circumstance where it's a reasonable compromise that artificial gas
can be used, though it will no longer fit the definition of real ale.
In the case of a beer with low turnover, the cask breather system allows it
enough lifetime to avoid wastage.
This can allow quieter pubs to stock beers such as Milds they might otherwise be unable to sell.
There is no excuse for use in busy pubs or pubs trying to sell too many different beers.
All blind-tasting trials so far have shown that a properly-used cask breather has no effect on flavour.
However there's now a clever new spile - the Race spile, an update of the old Martin spile - which is essentially a
non-return valve: this allows beers to vent without allowing air (& yeast
infection, etc.) freely in, removing the need for a cask breather. The beer's own gas acts as a blanket.
Inappropriate methods of dispense are widespread
- typically designed by corporate types to cheat the consumer.
Fake handpumps try to con people that it's the real thing.
Foamy heads, often created artificially with sparklers, to the detriment
of flavour, are used to boost profits by serving less than a pint of liquid.
This is made easier in many pubs by using brim-measure glasses instead of over-size
ones - these have room for a head and a full pint of liquid.
CAMRA insists that pubs with fake handpumps (such as the standard Scrumpy Jack
one) be removed for a pub to be considered for a Good Beer Guide listing.
Methods of dispense from the barrel:
For instance, some Greene King pubs used to receive real ale from the
brewery but then use gas to serve it.
The Alexandra Arms (Gwydir Street, Cambridge) was one of these until November 1999,
when handpumps were installed.
We believe the Cherry Tree in Soham was the last keg-only GK pub in the branch area,
until it installed handpumps in early 2003.
- Gravity dispense
- The beer comes direct from a barrel, possibly through a tube, to the glass
- Hand-pump and beer engine
- The beer is drawn up by a piston, operated by pulling a handle
- Electric pump
- An electric pump is used to pull the beer up
- Top pressure
- The beer cask is pressurised, usually with carbon dioxide or a nitrogen
mixture, which forces the beer up when a valve at the bar is operated.
As of 2003 CAMRA and Trading Standards departments' surveys
show that most pubs serve short measure - less than the 5% margin of error allowed under the
industry's own guidelines for a "full pint".
CAMRA supports real ale in bottles and real ale off-licences.
Regional and family brewers are the biggest producers of high-quality real ale and are
the key to fighting for distintive, tasty beers.
The big challenge for small breweries is in finding outlets for their beers.
The Government's sliding scale of duty has helped many breweries develop,
often by buying pubs, thus guaranteeing an outlet for their production.
A related issue is the relentless closure of breweries by medium and large companies
in the name of "rationalisation" - almost invariably as development sites rather than
as the working breweries they could be.
CAMRA supports traditional pubs - a part of their communities -
and a diversity of styles - of consumer choice - from backstreet
boozer to "yoof" fun-pubs to family pubs.
Far too many perfectly good pubs are being redeveloped to lose all interest and
character, to fit in with flavour-of-the-month corporate images and marketing
theories. Often distinct drinking areas are swept away to produce a single bland
space. This may well be one of the biggest factors driving people away from pubs
to home drinking of supermarket brands - most people prefer smaller, cozy spaces.
The big chains tend to believe in giant beer barns and theme pubs.
They tend to buy only from the big brewers via discount agreements, undercutting
and excluding the smaller brewers - those producing more interesting beers.
Since the late 1990s the industry seems to have divided into these categories:
The EU Commission has been threatening to end the pub tie: loss of the tie would
end the guaranteed outlet for the small brewers as the nationals would
offer heavily-discounted deals.
In 2003 the UK Office of Fair Trading rejected a
request to look at the tie again.
- Big brewing-plus-pubs companies
- Big brewing companies, usually with big supply deals with pubcos
- Managed pub chains, mainly "themed"
- Tenanted "traditional" pub chains
- Small breweries (sometimes with a few pubs)
Another area of concern is the increase in fake Free Houses - tied to
a pub chain or brewer by a loan or distribution agreement.
Locally, Greene King is the worst offender: look at one of its Hungry Horse pubs and you may see
it badged as a Free House.
Rural pubs are under threat from pub companies who care nothing about the communities their pubs serve.
Far too many communities now have no pub - or shop.
Against this trend, some pubs are experimenting with being Post Offices and the like.
CAMRA and others are campaigning for planning controls against the loss of
community pubs and also for business rates relief where necessary.
The Government has been tinkering in a limited way with mandatory rate relief for
rural community pubs and regional/countryside development agencies sometimes help
out with grants, e.g. to combine a pub with a post office.
In our region Greene King is one of the worst offenders, selling off village
pubs as housing instead of letting someone else run them.
CAMRA favours deregulation: a landlord of a small, community pub should be able to choose the hours
that suit his trade, just as a small shopkeeper can, with the normal
Police public order & Environmental Health noise concerns respected.
British beer duty is far higher than in France, for instance, hence the massive
cross-channel trade (at least 1.3 million pints a day) which is doing so much
harm to south-east pubs. CAMRA campaigns for a more sensible level of duty, to
stop the cross-channel trade and revive pub trade.
Cambridge & District CAMRA