The end of CAMRA as we know it?
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has announced it could be making huge changes in how it operates and what it stands for.
The organisation was formed in 1971 as a reaction to the demise of cask beer being brewed and sold in the UK. But with the recent surge in beer appreciation — notably in London, which now has over 80 breweries — it finds itself in a position where its values and aims need refreshing.
This spring and summer, the 177,000 members (including 14,500 in London) will be invited to share their views about the future of CAMRA by completing surveys and attending around 50 meetings across the country. The first will be held at Southwark Brewery on 13 April.
What does this all mean for London's beer scene? That very much depends on the feedback. But there are a few options on the cards.
"CAMRA has sometimes been criticised for failing to move with the times, being old-fashioned and reactionary, and failing to embrace developments in the pub and beer industry such as craft beer," CAMRA co-founder Michael Hardman has admitted.
Certainly, if you've talked to any beer enthusiast of late, you'll have heard some snarky comments about how CAMRA tends to ignore the existence of craft and kegged beer. It's a bold and positive thing that CAMRA has now faced up to this on the record. But what could this lead to?
CAMRA holds 13 official beer festivals in London each year — from small affairs such as the one at Kidbrooke, to the huge Great British Beer Festival, which serves over 900 types of real ale.
We'd be surprised if CAMRA's London festivals were wiped off the map; many are far too popular. But Hardman's comments suggest that we could see more craft and — dare we say — kegged beer being served at them. This would put CAMRA in more direct competition with festivals such as Craft Beer Rising. And maybe CAMRA will start working closer with London's breweries too, establishing more festivals and events that support them.
CAMRA for wine and gin?
Who says it has to stop with beer? Another option touted by CAMRA is that they could become a campaign for "all pub-goers regardless of what they drink, or even all alcohol drinkers, regardless of where they drink it."
London is now a city making its own gin, whisky, wine and mead. Helped by an organisation with 45 years' experience, these industries could really get a boost. King's Cross Mead and Whisky Festival 2017? Why not.
Support for pubs
And who says it has to stop with liquid? CAMRA already has a community pubs campaign, and Hardman says it will consider doing more for pubs, which would surely include the many that come under threat of demolition. Seeing as CAMRA socked it to the big breweries back in the 70s and 80s, why couldn't they do that to today's developers?
So which will it be?
CAMRA itself isn't even sure yet. It may be a combination of the above, or something totally different. But surely it's a positive thing that CAMRA has taken on the feedback of its members.