It's a tad early, but...
Who am I to argue?
Top economics'n'biz brainboxes, having performed a detailed analysis, have announced that the way for the UK economy to revitalise itself is for us all to emulate beer-swilling real ale drinkers. “The fact is that the business world can learn an enormous amount from our beer buffs," insists Professor Peter Swann of the …
Much as I love CAMRA, I've never managed to get my head around their membership benefits. For £20 a year, you join the company that strive to protect decent beer, ale and perries across Britain and you get in return... £20 worth of JD Wetherspoons vouchers. Frankly I wouldn't p1ss in their drinks, let alone consume them.
I agree with CAMRA's aims and I do like my ale (and no I'm not a leather elbow patch, beardy wierdy). But I keep hearing them persistently saying that they want to appeal to younger drinkers rather than look like the stereotype and be seen as an old duffers drinking club.
So I'd love to attend their beer festivals around London (Reading, imminent GBBF and so on) but they hold them during the week when most of us "younger types" are gainfully employed.
If they ran from Thursday to Sunday then you could take a Friday off, make a weekend of it, and there'd still be plenty of everything left. But things like Reading run from a Wednesday so by Friday/Sat there isn't so much left (especially of the best ones). GBBF starts on a Tuesday.
I just don't have a that much time off work to take 4 days for a beer festival (YMMV). I'm not saying hold them at weekends only, but how about Thursday to Sunday/Monday so that those of us with jobs have a decent change of going along too and getting more than just the stuff everyone else didn't want.
Pint - obviously - Skinners Cornish Knocker, or Sharp's Doombar please! Or possibly a St Austell Black Prince...
The JDW pubs in my part of the world usually have a decent selection of real cask ales (as well as the taps of gassy yellow piss found everywhere else, of course). Atmosphere-wise their pubs are the usual sky sports+poker machine rubbish, but you can get a surprisingly not-bad pint. Since CAMRA probably get the vouchers free as sponsorship, more power to them, I say!
The opening days are mostly dictated by the fact that CAMRA's festivals are run by volunteers, who have to take a week's holiday from their ordinary jobs to run them. If you add the weekends either side, you get 9 days straight to run through. 3 days to set up, and 1 to take down is roughly how it works, so that fits in with most people being able to take a week off to staff the event.
If you open on Thurs to Sun, that means a one day shorter festival, which can't happen because of venue costs (in the case of the larger 5 day events), so you're talking about Weds to Sun or Thur to Mon, in either case meaning the whole of the first week to allow for set up. The staff would then need to take an extra one or two days' holiday, which most people just can't do.
In any case, the amount of beer ordered at the festivals you mention is such that it is rare for even the popular beers to run out before Friday. In the case of the Great British BF at Earls Court, the really popular beers i.e. champion beer of Britain competition winners, have additional orders placed to make sure that they don't run out. And the chances of you not being able to find a few you like in the 200+ that are normally left at GBBF by Saturday are, I think, slender.
As for the benefits of CAMRA membership, how about cheap entry to beer festivals, cheap beer books (including the Good Beer Guide), monthly mag with details of new beers and good pubs. And of course the fact that you are helping to promote good decent beer.
I should declare an interest - I will be running the Nelson Bar at this year's GBBF from 3 to 7 August. Coincidentally, that means I will be serving the Doom Bar and Black Prince, although Skinners will have Betty Stogs and Cornish Blonde. See you there.
Having just gone to a CAMRA event, and widely sampling the beers, there was only one possible conclusion: the vast majority were between weak/indifferent and atrociously bad. The vast majority had phunny names, as if the brewers put more effort in labelling than brewing. The reason there's so many small, hardly-known breweries seems to be that they make horrible concoctions that will never be bestsellers.
Lord knows there's enough masochists on this blighted isle to keep those small atrocious breweries in business. But it seems to ruin the argument in the article.
...I have to say that JD Wetherspoons are generally pretty good at stocking a decent selection of real ales. They also keep them very well as their aim is to have all their cellars Cask Marque approved.
Just because JD Wetherspoons is cheap doesn't mean they can't keep and serve a good pint of beer.
Whether you agree with what their pubs are like is another matter entirely, but it's unrelated to the quality of the ale they sell.
From a purely mercenary point of view I usually save more than £20 on cheap or free beer festival entry. As for Wetherspoons, beer quality varies enormously. Of the two here one is consistently mediocre, and the other regularly makes the shortlist for pub of the year.
I see a lot of comments about fizzy-pop lagers, and as someone who has tried a lot of beers and thinks each has their place, I've never really believed in CAMRA's main aim - which seems to be to tell people what "real" beer is.
This smacks of puritanism and even snobbery to me. As far as I'm concerned the only factor in determining whether you should drink a beer is "do you like the taste?"
An old ale drinker telling me that my tastes aren't as good as his is no different to culture vulture who looks down his nose at me because he goes to the opera and visits art galleries, whereas I'd rather watch a live band or go and see a sci-fi movie. Each to their own.
The Wetherspoon vouchers aren't really relevant; here in Ipswich you can wait 20 minutes at an empty bar with five staff behind it and still not get served.
But there are other REAL benefits to membership. Apart from the monthly newspaper (What's Brewing), you also get free admission to virtually every one of the hundreds of beer festivals run by local Camra branches. And even here in East Anglia where there isn't a huge density of them, that pretty much pays for my membership fee every year.
I am a member and know about the real benefits - I just chortle when I get the vouchers and give them to the nearest Blue WKD drinker I can find.
Maybe it's just me, but every ale I've tried in JDW tastes like it's been sitting in the cellar for far longer than its meant to - my suspicion is the MO is to buy stuff that is close to the limit on the cheap. Not to mention they tend to be utterly soulless.
It could just be that I'm spoilt by good locals in the area that consistently have a set of 5 rotating guest ales from various large and micro-breweries.
(not sure why I ticked AC in the original post..)
As has been mentioned some stock a number of Cask Marque approved ales and they do win awards for this.
Perhaps most real ale drinkers aren't snobs and drink at times other than Friday nights when everyone is "getting tanked up" on the cheap booze.
Then again, perhaps some Wetherspoons are worse than others and I've only been to good ones.
Interesting, though beer could be a special case. Tax and sales costs vastly outweigh the production costs, so economies of scale in production hardly effect the price you pay in the pub. Not sure that applies to so many other goods.
Then again, I guess it is the case for pretty much anything you buy in Waitrose...
This is an example of evolution in action.
There is always great diversity in species when there is little change. New species evolve to fill ever smaller ecological niches.
Then along comes major change. Most species die out and a few strong ones adapt and carry on.
Finally the last stage. Rapid change is decreasing. Again new species start to differentiate and occupy ever smaller niches.
In the case of beer (no pun intended) The technology had become very stable around the turn of the century. Thus there were many many brews.
After a while change occurred with improvements in transportation, reduction in supplies ( the war you know..) and new technology - stainless steel and industrial processes. As a result many smaller brewers died out - unable to compete.
Now the playing field is level, technology is not changing much, and more and more variants are emerging.
I remember being on a pig farm once and seeing one pig pissing and another drinking it as from a tap. I reckon it was Watneys. I think they used to call it a 'Party Seven' (?). The main competition was probably Ind Coope, whose 'Double Diamond' made chunders. Luckily when I was old enough (i.e. 13 or 14) to get served in the pub you could get Courage's 'Directors' - which I kind of hope you still can - but it did really emphasize what absolute crap just about everything else in there was. It was almost like they were trying to get us drinking spirits! Or preparing us for being absorbed into the American Empire. Then in '81 I was in hospital having smashed my motorbike and there got to try Old Peculiar and Ruddles County and haven't looked back since! Though I still have a soft spot for Special Brew.
Bootnote: there was no problem smoking on the ward either. And the only problem doing an eighth was having to empty out the tailor mades then repack them suitably adulterated. Obviously they no longer had quite the same bouquet but not a single nurse, doctor or consultant batted an eyelid. Not even matron (who didn't look anything like Hatty Jacques).
"£20 worth of JD Wetherspoons vouchers"
You can use the vouchers in Castle Rock pubs.
“So, as you can’t get our ales in Wetherspoons, we invite CAMRA members to join us at all of our pubs in Yorkshire and the East Midlands, where the 50p vouchers will be honoured on any of our own beers."
How nice it is to live so close to the Castle Rock brewery.
Personally I'd rather see the country go to hell in a handbasket before I start wearing chunky arran sweaters, sandals with socks, a large woolly beard and listening to scrawny folk singers singing "Hey nonny nonny" with a finger in their ear.
Or should I read the article before commenting?
I was fortunate (?) enough to attend a "Cameron Direct" before the election (my son wanted to go. He can now say he's met the PM !). And one thing I can tell you, is that he is passionate about business. He repeated the phrase "Britain is a *trading* nation" many times. His argument for continuing EC membership was we need to trade. That we have made more money from trading than ever from making or milling.
Todays news about the shift in UK diplomacy is encouraging.
Hopefully we will see further encouragement for entrepreneurs.
I couldn't grow a beard even if I lived on a diet of pure testosterone kebabs, and frankly I'd look very silly in a flat cap. Does that mean I have to give up my Dark Island?
Also to the comment re Wetherspoons: hear hear. Wetherspoons dick the breweries about, placing and cancelling orders, and when the brewery subsequently can't sell the beer before it starts to go off Wetherspoons take it at a cut down price, declare a "beer festival" and sell what would have been lovely beer to the public at the same near-freezing taste-killing temperature as the fizzy gnats-piss.
A pal of mine recently started work as a trainee manager for one of the big pub management companies.
At his induction he was introduced to the companies branding ethos - that they want each of their pubs to be as identical as possible within each brand, and they actually see McDonalds as a role model for this.
IMHO, bland, mass produced pubs have become more of a problem nowadays than bland, mass-produced beers. Most pubs are suffering these days, but "Real Pubs" are also under attack from within their own industry.
My mate Al got the book "300 Beers to try before you die" and we have challenged each other to do as many as possible this year. I've currently done 80, and 70 of those I had never drunk before. Approximately 10 of these are now firm favourites. Thanks to this article I can now justify to my wife that I am helping the economy.
ashamedly i started my drinking career on rocky ground as a kid it was bass shandy and then swiftly onto bottles of white lightning, white diamond and white strike on t'old coal stacks in our town behind t'kwik save
things got worse when i started weaning myself on lager but luckily i started experimenting more in Uni and discovered the loveliness of proper beer, ive not had a chance to experience any proper CAMRA beer festivals as curiously they hold them in the week when most people work! other than that fantastic work by camra and its members to get real ale more recognised and more popular.
dont get me wrong i do still have lagers everynow and again but i frown on my stella swigging friend who thinks its like gods tears(!)
IT is not in as great shape as beer.
- For PCs, buy Evesham, not Acer?
- Software arises in small shops and bought out after they have struggled to reach critical mass.
- The big software boys either buy or copy one databases or utilities arter the other.
- The Open Source movement is the CAMRA of IT
@paulf "So I'd love to attend their beer festivals around London (Reading, imminent GBBF and so on) but they hold them during the week when most of us "younger types" are gainfully employed."
Errr..have you ever been to one ? - a beer festival's not like a music festival, you can go for a few hours, a half day, a full day ->evening and variations of the theme. As for 'younger types' - if you can get to the pub in the evening, you can go to a beer festival. Myself and colleagues that go range from early 20s to late 40's. And it's not obligatory to get so wasted you can't function the following day...
>Wetherspoons dick the breweries about,
I'm not aware that's the case (allegedly some is bought at the back end of it's date period, but I'm not sure even that's true) - any actual evidence, or urban myth ? AFAIA there's been some beers brewed especially for some of the Wetherspoon's festivals, which would imply there's no dirty tricks being pulled there - I doubt anyone would start brewing without a firm order on their books.
"any actual evidence, or urban myth ?"
I probably went a bit far in linking the two, although I am acquainted with a local brewer who hates doing business with Wetherspoons. The "dicking about" is actually a phrase used by him specifically in reference to them. (Having said that, he hates even more trying to do business with Punch who are apparently in a whole other league.)
An interesting aside with regard to the serve-bys... Although I'm by no means an expert I have done a good few years' cellarkeeping in my time. One of the first things I remember being taught is that certain beers (London Pride in particular) tend to be complained about more when they're "fresh". The guy I learned from frequently left LP till it was a couple of weeks out of date before serving it. That aside it was always difficult, when faced with a punter complaining about their LP being "off", to hold my tongue and not reply "Yes? And what did you expect? It's London Pride."
The micro/mini brewery culture works because the participants /cooperate/. The local brewers know each other and share all sorts of knowledge, equipment and people. This leads to successful experiments being replicated and a drive to be different. This is the epitome of a _craft_ industry. So here's the 64,000 dollar question: How could that 'craft' culture be implemented in, say, IT? There is another success-factor worth mentioning: The distribution area is small and the chain /involved/ so that reports of good/bad and liked/disliked in particular pubs are quickly fed-back to the brewers - who take the matter seriously. There is a lesson here for software suppliers.
My local Weatherspoons is great, its spacious, carries a wide range of well priced drinks, and serves damned good steaks too, £7.50 for a 10oz mature Ribeye with baked potato and salad plus your choice of real ale, great!
They also introduced me to Sailor Jerry's rum and Koppaberg fruit cider, both now available elsewhere, but they had them first.
There is nowhere I know of comparable.
Oh, and they have WIFI.
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