CAMRA Hits the big “Four-Oh!”


    “Big oaks from little acorns grow” so the saying goes. Well, CAMRA had an identical beginning with just four disgruntled men being those acorns. Once described as “The most successful consumer group in Europe”, the idea for the Campaign wasn't actually formed in Britain but in the Irish Republic whilst the aforementioned were on holiday in1971. Mellor, Makin, Hardman and Lees didn’t know the difference between keg and cask beers but they knew that they utterly detested the former for its gassiness and heavy promotion which was killing off decent beers in Britain and intended to do something about it.

    Processed keg beers are easy to look after and transport and have a longer shelf life but the strongest argument the brewers had was that they could produce identikit beer which could be promoted anywhere and offend no-one with its lack of strong flavours. As the movement grew, Lees’ mother’s flat became the HQ for a movement named “The Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale” and the membership file was a shoebox!  Later changed to Real Ale as revitalization was deemed not snappy enough. The journalistic experience of the founders proved extremely useful and the word soon got around. A small newspaper “What’s Brewing” was compiled using a Letraset (remember them?) and the first conferenceheld in 1972 with an attendance of around 100 but the Campaign was under way.

    More pubs began to stock a cask beer again and CAMRA became even more questing. The large brewing concerns refused to let on the strength and ingredients of their products (none of your business), so CAMRA had them tested and declared their findings, much to the annoyance of the beerage who regarded the campaign as an irrelevance. More fool them. Like Topsy, it just kept on growing.

    Now, with a membership of 120000 and still growing, it has seen off the huge conglomerates which swamped the country with bland beers and has gained the respect of everyone in the industry. Many pubs sport the Cask Marque logo, which organization wouldn’t have existed if not for CAMRA. With its national beer festivals and local festivals countrywide, the word is spread and the country loves them. Real ale has a symbol from the past which has endured and is still the dispense method of choice. This is of course the handpump and the real ale lover has only to stand at a pub door to elicit whether real ale is available. By the way, the big brewers scorned the title ‘real ale’. They believed that all their beers were real but today’s brewers embrace it due to its now universal use.

    CAMRA is a respected organization in parliament and many MPs are members. Indeed there is even a parliamentary beer group which consists of all political persuasions. It has a large lobbying presence and influence and has achieved so much.

     Here’s a taste of some of CAMRA’s successes:- 
    • Licensing hours reform
    • Introduction of beer orders which broke the monopoly of the big brewers, seeing the back of the likes of Watney’s, Whitbread et al.
    • Progressive beer duty which helped small brewers (but enraged the larger ones)
    • Appointment of Pubs Minister
    • Introduction of guest beers
    • Saving pubs from closure

    • Production of local beer guides
    • Beer festivals local and national

    Finally and most importantly, CAMRA has saved real ale for the nation.

     ‘Get real’ never had
    more significance!

    Here’s to the next 40.