Campaign for Real Ale

CAMRA logo b on wGiven our shared cultural history it should come as no surprise that the United Kingdom and the Unites States share a lot in common. One of the many things that our cousins across the pond share is a love of beer. In fact having a pint at the local pub is far more firmly entrenched in the habits of the average Briton than having a beer while watching “the big game” is with Americans. Despite Americas obsession with being the best the United Kingdom has a higher percentage of proper sots than we do.

Much like America the United Kingdom saw a drastic decrease in their brewing and drinking cultures. The early part of the 20th century say a conglomeration of local breweries and the decrease in the number of the unique local pubs that were once the social centers of british communities. While pub brewing had long fallen out of style the local breweries were being bought out by larger regional breweries. The once local produced ales being brewed often hundreds of miles away and not within the same town. The conglomeration of breweries into regional or national players combined with taxes during WWI and WWII combined with economic hardship for the average british drinker forced the quality of beer down until the large national breweries were selling a far inferior lager or bitter than the breweries they swallowed in their conquests.

This of course mirrors events in America where Miller-Coors and AB InBev produce staggering quantities of tasteless yellow rice water they have the audacity to call American Light Lager. The decades of having to drink this swill due to few alternatives sparked the craft beer revolution in America as industrious and ingenious beer drinkers became brewers who discovered a country teeming with like minded drinkers looking for better brew.

In the United Kingdom four men were tired of tolerating the once great british drinking culture brought to its knees via taxes, conglomeration, and a generation of drinkers ignorant of how a real ale was supposed to taste. Graham Lees, Bill Mellor, Michael Hardman, and Jim Making created the Campaign for Real Ale or CAMRA for short. These four men began an organization to revive the greatest drinking culture in the world one british drinker at a time.

CAMRA is primarily an advocacy group to aid the return of high quality traditional ales in the United Kingdom. They have a few simple goals to strengthen and insure the revitalization of an industry that had fallen prey to homogenization of british beer and the death of the local pub via unfair taxation.

Their stated goals are to:
1. Protect and improve consumer rights.
2. Promote quality, choice, and value for money.
3. Support the public house as a focus of community life.
4. Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of [their] national heritage and culture.
5. Seek improvements in all licensed premises and throughout the brewing industry.

As you can see these aim compliment the American craft beer revolution in many ways but focus on the uniquely british style of brewing. One of CAMRA’s major successes is the return of cask beers in pubs all across the United Kingdom. To be a true aficionado of british beer you had best be buying a beer that comes from one of the many cask options at the local pub. CAMRA’s promotions have also seen the return of the local brewery, closer in spirit to pub brewing so that the available beers within those casks are from the region you are drinking it, not hundreds or thousands of miles away.

CAMRA’s advocacy goes beyond just promotion they also petition for changes in licensing and tax law. Their biggest victory to date is probably removing the requirement that the current beer tax in the UK is linked to inflation. In a time of economic strife having the price of your favorite pint of beer increase with inflation was putting a lot of local pubs out of business. They couldn’t maintain the customers as beer got increasingly expensive and they couldn’t eat the increased taxes out of profit. Thus the authentic, local pubs were dying at an unthinkable rate, several ever day. CAMRA reversed this law so pub owners can keep their pubs and predict the price for customers.

But CAMRA isn’t some invisible entity pushing for the return of quality, independent brewers in the United Kingdom they also promote real ales nationally and internationally. They publish the monthly newspaper What’s Brewing, the quarterly BEER magazine, and the annual Good Beer/Cider Guide. They also host numerous events including the world renown Great British Beer Festival where they name the Champion Beer of Britain among other titles.

While America isn’t alone in a fantastic craft beer advocacy group ours isn’t necessarily attempting to recapture a lost glory but support a modern movement that is gaining world renown.

The bottom line is that this organization that boasts over 100,000 members is fighting a noble and seemingly successful good fight in the United Kingdom. The benefits of being a card carrying member are many and the dues paid by members are put to good use.

While CAMRA certainly doesn’t need our support we are happy to support them regardless and I encourage anyone and everyone to help them fight their fight to reestablish the United Kingdom as one of the premier countries in the world to share a pint.