Sunday, 12 February 2012

The ignorance and arrogance of the luddites

I've just had a long chat with a good mate regarding unfined beer. He owns a brewery, one of the best and most progressive of the UK micro-breweries in fact and together we waxed lyrical about the accentuated flavours of unfined beer compared to the fined stuff.

We didn't say that beer was 'better' unfined, we just said the flavours were bigger and the mouth feel fuller. Unfined beer is definitely very different to fined beer in terms of taste, flavour, mouth feel and obviously appearance.

One tweet I read today from a CAMRA stalwart was 'unfined beer is an acting clever fad which brings nothing by way of flavour, confuses people and IS for geeks'. Apparently this person knows about beer, which I found quite surprising.

Firstly unfined beer is not a 'fad' in the same way that CAMRA will become very disappointed when they realise that craft keg isn't a fad either. CAMRA will cotton on to this at the same time they realise they have been irrelevant to the current fast moving UK micro scene for a quite some time.

Secondly unfined beer tastes VERY different to fined beer, it gives the beer a much bigger flavour. To say it does nothing in terms of flavour is very wrong. It's not your opinion, it's wrong. It is factually incorrect.

Thirdly, unfined beer does NOT confuse people (nor does unfiltered keg beer either, just to point that out). We have been doing taste tests in the Stockbridge Tap and the staff have been giving the customers all the information they need, including leaving samples of each beer in front of the taps to allow them to see the difference. They explain the differing aspects of the beer, then they allow the customer to taste the beer. The results? The unfined beer has been WAY more popular. If your customers are confused you're giving them no information, and that's the fault of the staff and the venue, not the brewer. That said, if you're a brewer wanting to trial something different, pick the right pub and publican.

Fourthly, unfined beer is NOT for geeks. It's for anyone interested in seeing what the difference between fined and unfined beer is. The beer world is changing and more people than CAMRA would like to hear about are genuinely interested in where their beer comes from, what it's made from and why it's different from another beer. CAMRA can disgree with that all they like, but I sell contemporary beer all day everyday for a living, and I know I'm right. I see daily changes in our industry.

The production of unfined beer is about nothing other than choice, something it seems CAMRA are keen to stamp out. The whole 'craft' movement (I dislike the term, but it provides a useful reference point so I'll use it for this) is based around choice, education, passion, diversity and most importantly great beer in as many formats as possible to anyone who is interested. We're not interested in dictating to drinkers, we simply give them a choice. Why? Because WE want a choice too. WE want to drink great beer and sometimes we want it cold and carbonated, sometimes unfined, sometimes filtered, sometimes not.

CAMRA advocate few if any of those things and actively try to bash forward thinking breweries down. As another tweet said 'There you go ****, all you need to do is educate your customers, or just give them what they want'. That's indicative of the CAMRA attitude, they think they can prescribe what drinkers want, without ever asking them. CAMRA say that beer should be clear and CAMRA say beer needs to be sessionable, and CAMRA say blah blah blah. CAMRA are nothing more than a self serving organisation more interested in their own pointless awards and stuffy predilections than actually asking the beer drinker what they would like.

Another amusing and nonsensical arguement I read was that unfined beer was an excuse for breweries to refuse to take back ullages. I can't remember the last time I had a call asking for beer to be uplifted, our beer is made properly and goes out in the condition any good publican would expect. Every so often you have a production issue, it happens and it's more likely to happen to a small brewer. That's the way of things. However, we're not going to make rubbish beer and then just say it's unfined, how would that benefit us as a producer?  Moreover  we're proud of our beers, and our directors, sales team and head brewer have more passion than to use a cynical ploy to try to punt out sub standard beer. If that is your experience of breweries as a publican, stop using those breweries and use breweries with more integrity.

I despair of CAMRA, the only negative comments about this unfined beer movement have been from CAMRA luddites. I'll tell you all now, you mean absolutely nothing to the majority of breweries who are leading the charge for new and exciting beers. The wild growth of our niche industry is testament to that. You can spout your arrogant ignorant propoganda all you like, but great beer talks a lot louder than an out of touch brigade of irrelevant dinosaurs who just can't accept that their fight is over, the battle is won and the war has moved on. The industry doesn't need CAMRA anymore, we don't care what you say or what you think. We're not interested in your rhetoric.

There is a new animal in our bars these days, an informed, intelligent new wave of interested beer drinker. A drinker who wants new experiences, wants to be amazed, educated, enthralled and engaged. We'll cater for them, because we share the same philosophy.

CAMRA can continue to give them 'what they want' without ever asking them.


  1. That's a lot of words to justify a straw man.

    You've taken two or three tweets by one CAMRA member and used them to create a self-serving tirade against the entire organisation.

    A poorly written, error-riddled tirade.

    Perhaps if you engaged in a conversation rather than running off to spew bile when someone dares to express a contrary opinion (all the while complaining that the targets of your ire don't allow freedom of choice -- the irony!) then the "luddites" would be more receptive.

    Try to be a grown up.

  2. In 2010 I wrote an article for a national newspaper suggesting CAMRA were in danger of becoming irrelevant (probably error strewn and poorly written but my editor was happy enough) so to accuse me, when you clearly know nothing about me, of using one or two tweets as the base for my argument shows you up. Equally your comment was just criticism and personal insult, with nothing to back any of it up. Thanks for the response though.

  3. You're using the fact that you have a proven history of axe-grinding as evidence that you're right?

    I don't have to show that CAMRA aren't Luddites, it's up to you to show that your claim that they (as in the organisation, and not cherry-picked members) are is justified.

  4. "The production of unfined beer is about nothing other than choice, something it seems CAMRA are keen to stamp out. The whole 'craft' movement (I dislike the term, but it provides a useful reference point so I'll use it for this) is based around choice, education, passion, diversity and most importantly great beer in as many formats as possible to anyone who is interested...
    ...CAMRA advocate few if any of those things"

    As far as I can see the only one of those that CAMRA isn't concerned with is "formats" but choice, education, passion and diversity of styles are all central tenents of CAMRA. You only need to look at beer festival tutored tastings, the publishing arm and BEER magazine (to name buit a few) to see this is true.

    "There is a new animal in our bars these days, an informed, intelligent new wave of interested beer drinker. A drinker who wants new experiences, wants to be amazed, educated, enthralled and engaged. "

    And like oit or not many of them are CAMRA members. Although the organisation may not currently reflect all of the views of all of the members (would it ever be able to?) 130 odd thousand people are CAMRA members because they see they DO bring benefit to them as drinkers.

  5. I'm confused Chris...having been in that twitter conversation to some extent yesterday, it was not obvious that the person arguing against unfined beer was a CAMRA man.

    Personally, I think it is all about education, we need to teach the beer drinking populace that a cloudy pint is not a bad pint. When I'm giving tastings to the cricket club regulars I often get "Oh it is not very clear" and have people refuse to even try it and this is when I have a light hop haze in the beer. A bit of explaining and most of they have come around but there are still those that refuse anything but the clearest beer.

    Attitudes will change but it may take time and there are some people who will never come around the the thought of unfined beer.

  6. I had to explain what hop haze was at Belfast beer of the festival judging as people thought it hadn't dropped bright.

    I agree with you Chris that clarity shouldn't be a judging criteria and Im not sure if it is an official CAMRA one or just invenetd by various beer festivals. I've seen people trying to get wheat beers to drop bright...

    I've not tried many unfined beers but the Moor ones I've tried I've preferred in their fined format. I don't want the taste and texture of yeast in my beer in most cases. I know other peopel may prefer different.

  7. It's true that CAMRA as an organisation is doing nothing to actively promote unfined beer. We also do nothing to actively promote wheat beers, or barley-wines, or barrel ageing, or dry hopping with kangaroo ballsacks*. All of which can be a good thing.

    To the best of my knowledge CAMRA also has no policies against any of the above - including unfined beer (or ballsacks).

    If you want to change things - cause CAMRA to actively campaign for something -
    you have to join up and campaign for it internally and propose a motion for the AGM when you think there is enough support. You'd have my support (not worth much I'm afraid) and other members would get behind it too, I'm sure. Alas, it is likely that motions supporting a small niche are unlikely to pass, but you never know! ("Make May A Mild Month"?) Bring in the vegetarian/vegan edge and some traction may be found. So long as the bulk of active CAMRA members who have time to go to AGMs is made up of old retired folk the direction of the organisation will reflect the views of that demographic. Perhaps this means CAMRA will die out as this particular demographic dies out... but I don't think this is going to happen in a hurry. Better to try and get inside and influence the direction of the organisation.

    CAMRA also doesn't want to "stamp out" anything, as far as I know. In my branch at least we welcome innovation and interesting beer styles. Our beer festivals get in strong and hoppy IPAs, wheat beers, and anything else we can fit into the beer list. (Last festival we had 2 oxymoronic Black IPAs in (Hardknott and Windsor & Eton), they were both popular - Summer Wine Diablo IPA won the show though.) We also always host a popular foreign beer bar with both bottled and kegged beers. But at the end of the day bitters & best bitters take predominance... as that's what most folk at beer festivals want.

    We were keen to try getting some key-kegs in from Hardknott and London Brewers Alliance breweries this year. Unfortunately we don't really have the equipment or expertise to work with key kegs. We would put key-keg beer on alongside cask beer and sell it as real ale - we'd explain the format in the festival guide too, not try to hide it. It will happen --- it just takes some time, we're volunteers and most of us have busy full-time workloads that have nothing to do with beer. There is only so much we can do with a couple of hours a week.

    All the best,

    *I hope to bring the Australian outback art of kangaroo ballsack hopping to the UK brewing scene one of these days.

  8. Arguing on the internet is like taking part in the Special Olympics, you may win but you're still "special".

    If you disagree with what Chris has to say should probably read the introduction to the blog, above the post.

  9. Totally agree with the author
    (I don't like being told what is or is not 'Real Ale'...its just beer at the end of the day (real or unreal)...I'll drink what I like (& yes on a hot day give me a Carling).....argue all you want but CAMRA is perceived as a stuffy know it all bunch of 'older' individuals drinking flat beer (wrong I know, but perception is reality) is not not seen as modern or new...
    CAMRA is a very good lobby group for beer drinkers (ie: consumers)'s not there primarily for craft/micro brewers