Flat caps and Luddites?

Posted on January 29th, 2013 by Robin Goldsmith in Beer, Drink

GBBF 2012 scene

‘Not so old’ real ale revellers at the GBBF 2012

In January’s edition of What’s Brewing, CAMRA’s monthly news magazine, there was a highly insightful article by food and drink market researcher, Peter Jackson. He investigates why more 18-24 year-olds don’t drink real ale when it often tastes better, has probably a greater variety of styles and costs less than lager and cider. I completely agree with everything he says in this article, so here are two of his key points and a few thoughts of my own.

Firstly, he mentions proactive sampling which I think is absolutely vital to attract new enthusiasts and to cast out the image of real ale as an old man’s drink. Other products are frequently available for tasting at supermarkets, trade shows, railway station concourses etc.., so why not reach out more to the public? Negative stereotypes will prevail, as long as there is little to counteract them, to dispel the myths and preconceptions. There’s not much point preaching to the converted, but there’s so much to be gained from engaging with a new audience.

Secondly, Peter Jackson also talks about embracing craft keg as a "bridge to the real thing". The Luddites among CAMRA members must realise that this does not mean reneging on the original aims and ideals of the organisation. On the contrary, surely this shows support for the drink that we all enjoy and care about and strong support for a campaign body which, by its very nature, has to reflect consumer reality? It is better to be reactive and proactive than to rest on one’s laurels, doing nothing. This is in all our best interests. Progression, as opposed to regression, is the only way for CAMRA to survive. Did Jessops and HMV react quickly enough, or react at all, to changing times and what’s happened to them?

I’ve been going to the Great British Beer Festival for the last 20 years and have never seen any trouble among the 1000s of people there. Visitors come for the atmosphere and to experience the different styles and flavours of beer. This takes priority over getting drunk for the sake of it. Increasing appreciation of the taste of beer, whether craft or keg may even help reduce alcohol abuse among those who solely drink cheap lager, cider or vodka for the sole purpose of getting drunk. Rather than pointless internecine arguments about whether CAMRA should support craft beer versus real ale or keg versus cask, promoting the taste and therefore the enjoyment of quality beer, whatever its form, should take priority. This means demonstrating that ale styles can be attractive to young and old, trend setters and followers (just look at Brewdog’s growing following), traditionalists and purists.

Real ale should no longer be viewed by many as a drink for old men in flat caps talking endlessly about the halcyon days of Geoff Boycott. There’s nothing wrong with upholding beer traditions or talking about old cricket legends, but all CAMRA members must accept the need for change – modernisation without compromising or diluting standards. Otherwise, the ‘Campaign for Real Ale’ may lose its relevance in the modern world. After all, even that traditionalist and monolithic organisation, the Football Association, which has been in existence far longer than CAMRA has, is now being forced to undergo extensive changes, in order to make it fit for purpose in the 21st Century. So let’s attract new ale enthusiasts, let’s support the microbrewery renaissance and the growing popularity of flavour-driven beer styles, by embracing real ale or craft beer as the drink(s) of choice for pub goers of all ages. CAMRA can do this, but its membership has to recognise the need for modernisation.

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