Ditch the beards and sandals and stop crying over spilt beer, Camra members urged

Real ale is now on tap at most pubs. Picture: Simon Hulme
Real ale is now on tap at most pubs. Picture: Simon Hulme
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IT was an idea brewed up in an age of fizzy beer, when men in plastic pubs longed for a decent pint with a froth that would linger on their beards.

But Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, has according to some, matured too long in the barrel and gone flat.

With a craft beer now on every bar and kegs becoming trendy again, the organisation is worried it has lost its raison d’être. So this weekend, it will ask its 16,000 members in Yorkshire to swallow a new formula.

“You have to evolve or you won’t go anywhere,” said Kevin Keaveny, its regional director.

“Yorkshire is very traditional – not just about beer, about everything. Sometimes it needs a boot up the backside to move forward.”

It was two years ago that the organisation decided it might have an image problem – too many men in sandals and beards, as a recommendation to its National Executive put it. So it has drawn up a “revitalisation” programme, on which its members will be asked to vote.

Saturday’s meeting at the The Corner in Huddersfield is the first of two in the county before the final ballot. The venue is a “taphouse” whose food menu includes a “palate cleanser” of peach, avocado and spinach spring rolls with a cashew dipping sauce, and whose bar is stocked with up to a dozen of its own speciality beers.

It is a long way from the hostelries that served Worthington E and Watneys Red Barrel when Camra was founded, in 1971.

“You were lucky to get a cheese sandwich in those days,” said Mr Keaveny, who, at 57, can remember when beer was pumped from giant tankers sent from the breweries to their tied pubs.

“They’d fill the pub up like it was a petrol station,” he said. “Any life in the beer was down to the carbon dioxide they put in to make it fizz a bit.”

But if Camra has succeeded in weaning the industry and the public off what Mr Keaveny calls “dead beers”, it believes it has a new fight on its hands over the future of pubs themselves.

“We have microbrewers and what people call craft beer now. The main thing is to actually keep the pubs open so we have somewhere to go and drink it,” he said.

The tradition of going out for a beer is being threatened not only by pub closures but also the cheapness of drinking at home. The Institute of Alcohol Studies reported yesterday that supermarket beer is around 188 per cent more affordable today than it was 30 years ago.

And the growth of microbrewing in the region has been in inverse proportion to traditional production, with the Tetley plant in Leeds gone and others given over to lagers and cans.

Tom Stainer, at Camra’s head office in St Albans, said the revitalisation programme, which would go ahead only with members’ approval, was aimed at widening the organisation’s agenda.

He said: “It may look like the battle has been won but it may have been just a skirmish, and if we stop paying attention something may come over the hill and wipe us out.

He added: “There is a certain stereotype of Camra members, which is not true but it’s very easy to make, and it’s made easier because of the attitudes of a very small minority of members who can be particularly dogmatic about what they’re doing.”