UK’s Campaign for Real Ale Debates Future After Success of Craft Beer

By Mike Pomranz |

© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A hero isn’t just the right person; it’s also about being at the right place at the right time. The Campaign for Real Ale, known by the acronym CAMRA, has definitely been a hero for real ale (or cask ale) in the United Kingdom. Back in 1971, CAMRA was founded specifically to fight against the mass market takeover of Britain’s beer scene – advocating instead for continuing the UK tradition of serving up hand-pumped ale in pubs.

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In great part because of CAMRA’s efforts, the UK has maintained a culture of cask beer unique to anywhere else in the world – somewhat proven by the old American notion that the English like their beers warm and flat. But times have also changed. The global movement towards “craft beer” has caused people around the world to rethink brewing and beers, including in the UK where beer interested has also surged. The result: The UK’s beer scene is less cut and dry than it used to be. It’s no longer big-name draft lagers versus traditionally-made real ales. You can now find awesome draft ales and independently-made craft lagers and all sorts of beers in between. And suddenly, CAMRA is wondering if it’s still the hero the UK needs it to be.

To that end, the group recently asked of its nearly 180,000 members, “Is this the end of the Campaign for Real Ale?” The idea is not that CAMRA is going to disband, but that in this new time and place, the organization needs to reconsider its message. Members are being “asked whether CAMRA should move away from promoting and protecting traditional real ale and become more inclusive, or shed subsidiary issues which have become attached to the organization over the years - such as pubs heritage, cider and foreign beer - in order to narrow its focus exclusively on cask-conditioned beer.”

“This could mark a fundamental turning point for the Campaign for Real Ale,” said Michael Hardman, one of CAMRA’s founders who has returned to lead this discussion. “So fundamental, it may no longer continue as the Campaign for Real Ale and instead become a campaign for pubs, or a campaign for all drinkers.”

According to the Morning Advertiser, people are interested in chiming in with their two cents: CAMRA received 12,000 responses in the first week of this “Revitalisation Project” – though which way CAMRA members are leaning still seems to be unclear.

Call me old fashioned, but I still believe the UK’s dedication to real ales is what makes its beer scene one of the best in the world. Even if CAMRA does change its name and message, let’s hope someone else takes on the cause of keeping the heritage of cask ales alive and well. Maybe CAMRA could even send some of its disgruntled members over here: I’d love to see more cask beer served here in the States.

[h/t The Guardian]

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