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The Fight for Real Ale – Milton Keynes CAMRA

The following article has been taken from Beer Moos which is a quarterly publication of the Milton Keynes and North Bucks Branch of CAMRA.

Having attended a most worthwhile CAMRA Revitalisation meeting in Milton Keynes it is my privilege as Editor of Beer Moos to inflict on you my own tuppence-ha’penny worth on the issues facing CAMRA at 40.

Prominent amongst which I think is complacency. Most CAMRA members do very little actively to support our Campaign, and many cask ale drinkers don’t bother to join us, because, looking at rising cask ale sales and rows of handpumps adorning lots of pubs, they think we have won the fight to save Real Ale and so CAMRA’s game is now over.

Nothing in my view could be further from the truth. The main reason cask beer in Britain was threatened in the first place, the “gravitational pull” of the market toward keg fizz, is as strong now as it was when CAMRA was formed in 1971.

The problem from the point of view of those market forces is that, unlike keg, Real Ale is alive and needs tender loving care. Each cask needs to be cellared at the right temperature, and racked for the right time, and poured through clean lines to give of its best. When it is drunk, only around half of the flavour we enjoy – or not! – is the work of the brewer. The other half is down to cellaring – how the beer is kept in the pub.

Then the ale has a limited lifetime – after a few days at most the wretched stuff goes over and turns into acetone and ultimately vinegar. Careful stock control is needed to ensure the ale is neither unsold for too long and wasted thus nor does it run out and leave the pub with no beer. The landlords/ladies of the pubs in the new GBG can rightly feel proud of their skill and judgement, and deserve our heartfelt thanks.

None of this is true of keg. It is dead, and simple and cheap to supply. You just have to plug it in, serve it up until it’s all gone, and pocket the proceeds (or let the pubco do it). So from the supplier’s point of view, keg is more profitable and less fiddly. If only they could get us consumers to shut up and swill it down!

That’s where CAMRA came in, and still does. If complacency prevailed, CAMRA declared that our work was done and shut up shop, I am certain that inexorably market forces, the Invisible Hand of Mr Adam Smith, would act to favour keg in place of cask and we would end up back where we came in in 1971. Only consumer pressure, mobilised by CAMRA, pushed that Hand back then and needs to go on doing so now. The price of good beer is eternal vigilance: the struggle continues!

Steve Brady
Editor of Beer Moos (Publication of CAMRA MK)


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8 comments on “The Fight for Real Ale – Milton Keynes CAMRA

  1. If this is what CAMRA represents (not a scooby about any type of beer by the looks of this thread) it’s no wonder revitalisation is required.

    If this is what it’s about we should all hold a wake soon! ?

  2. It’s idiotic thinking and writing like this, along with a rough version of this bring the actual CAMRA opinion anyway, that have stopped me and almost all of my beery friends joining or even supporting CAMRA. Clearly outdated and a badly run organisation too.

  3. I used this article from the MK CAMRA Beer Moos with the intention of inviting discussion and allowing various views to be expressed, rather than creating a hostile environment where people are ridiculed for their views. It’s unfortunate the subject took a different turn. The development of dispense systems (cask, keg and key-keg) highlights an important reality. In an earlier article I explored the subject of convenience becoming a dominant factor in lifestyles at the expense of quality. The primary purpose of keg is to maintain shelf-life, which no doubt makes the work of a publican more convenient and profitable. Key-kegs are a similar invention, with the exception that CO2 does not come into contact with the beer itself, ensuring that the product closely reflects what we know to be real ale. Some would say that key-kegs have the added advantage of being disposable, which means the beer can be shipped for one-way journeys with no container to return to the brewery. However, as an ecological brewery, we think it’s a relevant question to ask whether such a design is sustainable. We currently have abandoned plastic rubbish occupying an area 3 times the size of the UK in the North Pacific ocean. The beverage industry lobbies government against the introduction of recycling refund schemes, which does not help resolve the problem. It was considered sensible to introduce a 5p tax to reduce/eliminate the use of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and shops. The question remains, can key-kegs be viewed as a sustainable system in light of the catastrophic environmental footprint we are leaving behind? And is there a compromise in the quality of beer when it is dispensed from the standard (reusable) keg?

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