A year since the much-discussed revitalisation vote and the formal approval of ‘good beer,’ the annual CAMRA Members weekend took place recently. Held in Cairns Hall, Dundee, this was the first AGM since the new beginning.
Following the Friday social evening, the event commenced with Jackie Parker chairing her first, and last, AGM. Nick Antonia will be taking over for 2020. Later in the day, the recently appointed Chief Executive, Tom Stainer, provided an upbeat presentation, using football analogies and praising ‘Team CAMRA’. It was good to hear the Sheffield Pub Heritage Book held up as an excellent example of local campaigning.
As for debates: the most contentious were two concerning the definition of cider. Included were a vote which involved the tellers, mentions of pasteurisation, and more. No doubt, these definitions will be revised for 2020. There was also a return of the cask breather debate, described by one speaker as ‘the topic what is to CAMRA what Brexit is to the Conservative Party.’
There remain elements in CAMRA who still take the attitude that ‘all keg is crap’ – agreed, much keg is such – think Carling ….. however, much packaged beer is high quality and often real ale. Nationally, some branches are well ahead of the game while others still seem to be stuck in a 1980’s time-warp. For example, the CAMRA Steel City Beer Festival in Sheffield, the best beer city in the world, has had a ‘keg bar’ since 2016. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, Nottingham Beer Festival and Derby Winter Beer Festival have followed. ‘Gin bars’ have also been seen.
On the ground, high quality beer, not necessarily cask-conditioned is embraced. This is illustrated by the high level of discussion attracted by a number of (usually, but not always) small breweries who are doing ‘something different
,’ even if this does not always involve ‘cask
.’ Examples include Dundee-based 71 Brewing and Sheffield-based Abbeydale, Lost Industry and St.Mars of the Desert (SMOD). In addition, a number of highly regarded breweries have recently returned to cask: for example, Brewdog and Cloudwater. The latter continue to cite quality concerns and will only allow their cask to go to specific outlets. Locally these include both the Rutland and Shakespeare’s.
Abbeydale, the largest brewery in Sheffield, continue to provide an excellent cask selection (an award winner at CAMRA GBBF 2018) while simultaneously developing their ‘funk dungeon’ project (barrel aged sours) and producing a new beer on an almost weekly basis. Recent expansion will see the installation of a canning line. Summer 2018 Barnsley Pub of the Season, Biere de Maison (Elsecar) has no hand-pumps and no traditional cask-conditioned beer. However, it has a vast range of packaged beer, plus a range of ‘keg’ offerings.
It will all happen again in York next year and, for the 50th. anniversary of CAMRA in 2021, Sheffield City Hall is booked.
As well as the formal business of the AGM and the policy making process of the conference that CAMRA members are invited to attend and participate in, the “Members Weekend” is also about socialising with other people from near and far that enjoy real ale, cider & perry.
The conference venue as always featured a Members Bar – a small beer festival exclusive to CAMRA members showcasing local cask beers plus a selection of traditional ciders to enjoy on the lunch break and in the evening, this proved a great place to meet up before going out and exploring Dundee. A map showing all the pubs with good beer was included in the Members Weekend Handbook that came in your conference bag.
Some of the more traditional pubs had clearly made an effort to cater for the extra demand for real ale, with the Pillars bar – which only has one handpump on the bar – setting up a mini bar in the corner with two extra beers and customers invited to pull their own pint and pay the bar man! There was also evidence of the modern craft beer scene being present in Dundee and CAMRA members were also made welcome in these venues such as the St.Andrews Brewery bar – a smart modern venue with a large number of interesting beers on tap as well as food; 71 Brewery also had a bar as did Innis & Gunn.
Dundee also of course features the usual chains such as Wetherspoons and Brewdog.
Organised trips to breweries were arranged for those that planned ahead and book, however of course in between the beers you could opt to have a look around the non-boozy attractions of Dundee including the new V&A gallery and the various little nods to the fact the publishers of the classic Beano and Dandy comics is based in the City!
DEBATING IN DUNDEE
Abigail Newton, known for steering the organisation’s Volunteer Committee, was elected CAMRA’s vice-chairman. She will be joining new national chairman Nik Antona in steering the direction of the campaign, with Jackie Parker and Ian Packham officially stepping down as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, at the close of Conference.
In her address to members, Jackie reflected on CAMRA’s achievements under her tenure as chairman over the past year, including appointing a new chief executive and deputy chief executive, producing an equality and diversity policy and developing CAMRA’s Information, Education and Training programme. She also paid tribute to the Games and Collectables Committee, which has donated more than £1.3 million since 1991.
Jackie told members: “Let’s not forget that the name of our organisation is CAMRA: the Campaign for Real Ale, and let’s continue to do just that – campaign for pubs, real ale, cider and perry. It’s what we do best!”
Joining the national executive are four new members: Gary Timmins, Catherine Tonry, Hubert Gieschen and Jonathan Kemp. Nick Boley and Ian Garner were re-elected for a second term.
This was also the first CAMRA Members’ Weekend for Chief Executive Tom Stainer since beginning his new role in January 2019. Giving his first Campaigns Report, Tom looked towards the future of the organisation, saying: “Just as the beer landscape has changed, so has CAMRA, and so must it continue. Nowhere is this better reflected than in our campaigning.”
“We should not be afraid of welcoming bold new thinking and new ideas. Your ideas are welcomed and they are encouraged. If you think CAMRA needs to change, it will only change with people like you involved.”
Members also debated a number of motions over the weekend, on topics including campaigning against large pub-owning companies converting pubs from tenanted to managed, campaigning for the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for England, and reducing the amount of single-use plastics used within CAMRA – all of which were carried.