Some beer drama coming out of the UK. CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) and BrewDog have not seen eye to eye very often. With the Great British Beer Festival coming up on August, BrewDog tried to work together with CAMRA – a real ale festival in order have BrewDog beers served there.
It was a done deal, but it looks CAMRA had some buyers remorse. They challenged a aspects of the the amount of carbonation in the beers BrewDog was sending. In correspondence from CAMRA, they objected the yeast content (or lack there of) in the beer, to carbonation. In the end, the group just cancelled BrewDog’s table at the fest.
The battle wages on.
From the BrewDog blog:
Back in May, we announced that we would be attending the GBBF in August. We had came to an agreement with CAMRA to have a bar serving kegged our beers at the festival. We signed the contract and paid the deposit. We agreed to work together with CAMRA, put past differences behind us, and try and introduce something new and exciting to the Great British Beer Festival. We feel the festival lacks the stylistic diversity amongst domestic brewers that makes craft beer great. It is easy to get lost in a sea of boring, lightly hopped bland cask ales at the festival and we were determined to change that.
Foreign keg beers have always been present at the GBBF so it seems strange that CAMRA, in their infinite wisdom, would apply different rules to domestic, rather than overseas participants. We are sure this violates EU law as well as being deeply flawed. It was not easy initially, getting them to allow us to attend with keg rather than cask beer. Ironic that if Scotland was independent, we would qualify as foreign and could serve anything we wanted there.
During the course of the discussion we were able to satisfy CAMRA and Ralph Warrington, Chair of the wonderfully named ‘Technical Advisory Group’ that our draft beer does indeed contain 0.1 million living yeast cells per ml. Our kegged and bottled beers are only lightly filtered (around 5-7 micron), unpasteurized and the bulk of the carbonationisation comes from CO2 created during the initial fermentation which occurs under pressure. Despite this, a subject of our attendance was that our beers were going to be tested by an onsite laboratory (I did not know they had one!) and if they did not meet the CAMRA definition of ale, they‘would not be sold, then returned as ullage, not paid for and our bar cancelled’.
This begs the killer question; who actually cares is a beer contains at least 0.1 million living yeast cells per millilitres? Surely this is not the definition of good beer. For us great beer is great beer regardless of if it is bottle, cask, can, keg. Regardless of if it is bottle conditioned, carbonated during the initial fermentation or carbonated prior to packaging. Give me a Stone IPA (which is carbonated) any day over a fundamentally pedestrian cask bitter.
If we look at what is happening with craft beer globally it is all about a wide spectrum of beer styles with amazing flavour, diversity and craftsmanship rather than CAMRA who are rapidly losing relevance hiding behind arbitrary distinctions which no longer apply. Production and dispense techniques for craft beer have changed since the 1970s, CAMRA need to accept this and change too. Why apply one rule to foreign brewers and another one to domestic ones?
Is our beer real ale? Are other progressive UK craft brewer’s keg and bottled beers real ale? Firstly, I don’t think we should really care. However is CAMRA insist on imposing draconian rules they need to know what they stand for and where to draw the line. The problem is, they themselves don’t know.
We really don’t care what vessel beer is transported or stored in as long as it adds to the brew in a positive way. While we’re firm believers in the carbonation in beer — however taking a puritanical stance that rejects a beer on the basis of carbonation or keg alone only serves to push the industry backwards rather than forwards. Different beers suit different types of dispense. Beers such as milds and bitters are best showcased in cask whereas we feel hoppy, American style craft ales suit the draft dispense far better than the hand-pump. We also think some of our beers, such as Trashy Blonde suit cask better than keg. However, for us big dry-hopped beers need the carbonation to stop them from becoming sticky or cloying on the pallet and help deliver the flavour to your taste-buds in the most satisfying and encapsulating way.
Anyway, after we reached the agreement, paid the deposit and signed the contract, things started to get difficult. We had our order confirmed and thought we were all ready to rock. However, the first issue they threw back at us was with the fact our kegs were going to be 30L. CAMRA started insisting 30L was too small and we should take 18 gallon casks (after we initially agreed a keg order). 18 gallon casks are however massively different from 30L kegs, not just in size but in dispense style. They said 30L was too small, despite the fact brewers attended with 9 gallon casks (a comparable size to 30L kegs) the previous year. They also argued 30L kegs would be too much of a challenge logistically: This is despite the fact they are much lighter than an 18 gallon cask and also require zero racking or venting required thus saving loads of time and space and making them much easier to handle.
During the ensuing debate, it was patently obvious they regretted signing the contract with us and were desperate to find a way of cancelling it. They then reneged from our original agreement and insisted we take cask beer. Because of this discussion we told them we would withhold the balance of the £5,500 payment until we agreed or reverted to the original contract.
They then sent us an ultimatum saying we had to accept their order (including cask beers) by 12 noon on Friday 15th July and transfer the deposit or they would be cancelling our attendance. Feeling totally frustrated but still very keen to attend the festival we reluctantly accepted this at 11am last Friday and transferred the balance, only to be told they had already cancelled our attendance and there was to be no further discussion on this. They had done this on Thursday 14th.
We are pretty shocked CAMRA unceremoniously cancelled our attendance at the festival and also by the manner in which they acted. We intended to take some amazing beers and do some very exciting new beer launches. We wanted to work with CAMRA after our past difficulties and try and breathe some new life into the GBBF and get more young people excited about great craft beer.
Maybe we should also start a campaign to get BrewDog at the GBBF?