Sunday, 14 November 2010

CAMRA from a Personal Perspective

There has been much heated debate over the last week or so regarding CAMRA, and it's definition of Real Ale. Some have argued that the definition, whilst relevant when CAMRA was founded, is too narrow, whilst others have maintained it is the organisation's Unique Selling Point. I do not wish to get into the argument, especially as the likes of Pete Brown, Tandleman and Martyn Cornell have argued the case for and against far more eruditely than I could. The only thing I wish to add is whilst cask-ale is my drink of choice, other factors such as occasion, location etc, also play a part when it comes to deciding what to drink, and ultimately it's my taste buds that decide in the end.

For my part I have been member of CAMRA since the mid-1970's. This is an unbroken run as well, as my membership number is in the 3,000's. I have seen many changes during this time, including the un-precedented rise in the number of breweries that are operating today. I have been active at local branch level for much of the past 35 years, and during this time I have made many good friends and acquaintances. It is probably the social side that has led to me remaining actively involved in branch affairs for so long, and this aspect was reinforced at the weekend when I attended the Kent Regional Meeting (KRM), at Edenbridge.

KRM's are held every two months, with each branch taking a turn at hosting the meeting. As there are nine branches in the county this is not a particularly onerous task, but even so the host branch need to come up with a suitable venue, offering a reasonable selection of beers, and also provide a buffet lunch for the attendees. Most importantly, and for obvious reasons, the venue must be easily accessible by public transport; preferably rail. This time it was my local branch's turn to do the honours, and we chose the Old Eden, in the small town of Edenbridge, close to the border with Surrey.

Edenbridge is almost as far west as one can be in the county and still be in Kent, which meant a long journey for some delegates. In the end, whilst representatives from both Ashford and Dover branches turned up, members from Canterbury, Swale and Thanet branches did not attend. The next meeting is in Thanet though, which will mean a lengthy journey for West Kent members.

All in all 18 members made it to the meeting, including five of us from West Kent Branch. Although the Old Eden is a bit of a hike from the town's main station, it proved the perfect place for the meeting. There were five cask-ales on sale; two from Westerham Brewery (British Bulldog and 1965), two from Whitstable Brewery (Native Bitter and Oyster Stout), plus every one's favourite session beer, Harvey's Best. The characterful old building was warmed by three open fires, whilst the meeting itself took place in an upstairs galleried room, reached by an open staircase so that it did not feel completely cut of from the main part of the pub.

I sampled both the Whitstable beers plus the Westerham 1965, which was stunningly good. The meeting dragged on somewhat, despite the best efforts of our branch chairman, Iain, to keep things as brief as possible. There was a lot of business to discuss though, including reports on recently held branch beer festivals, as well as plans for next year's events. What is particularly encouraging is the news that there are now 17 independent breweries in the county, with reports of at least two more in the pipeline. Five of these breweries are within our branch area, which does ask the question, how can they all survive? The answer is that they all seem to be doing ok, which is encouraging news.

As well as some decent beer, we enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch. It was good to meet up with old friends from other branches again, especially people I hadn't seen for a while. The slightly worrying thing though is that none of us are getting any younger, and this I feel is the main problem facing CAMRA. There are already reports from other regions of branches having to give up on long-standing beer festivals, and other events, due to an increasingly aged membership, and lack of new blood to replace them.

Fortunately this is not yet the case in Kent, and we received reports of very successful festivals organised by Canterbury and Maidstone branches in particular. However, although the Campaign does have quite a large number of young members on its books it needs to find ways of getting them more actively involved within their respective branches. This is not easy, as we have found in our own branch where, out of a total of 450 members, we are lucky if we get an attendance that gets into double figures at our socials. I don't know what the answer is, as we have tried all sorts of approaches in order to try and tempt people along. One thing's for sure though, and that's without an influx of more active members, CAMRA will be in danger of dying on its feet, and that's something I don't think any of us would wish to see.


Ed said...

When did Harvey's take off in Kent? It seems to have a large and loyal following.

Cooking Lager said...

The answer is staring you in the face. Expand the remit of the beer club to include cooking lager enthusiasts. You've gotta go where the kids are hip, to expand your relevance. Welcome lager louts with open arms.

Paul Bailey said...

Ed, it's difficult to pin-point exactly when Harveys first started to appear in Kent, but it must have been at least 10 years ago, and more like 15. It was a familiar sight in most free-houses before this, but as the Pub Co's started to take over from the likes of Whitbread and Courage, more and more local pubs started to stock it. Nowadays it's widely available; certainly in this part of the county.

Cookie, despite what some people think, CAMRA is not a club. Seeing as practically every pub in the land sells cooking lager, there is no real need for the campaign to embrace this group, but if they wish to come and socialise with us, then that's fine with me; especially if they are female and good looking!