Vile attack on CAMRA
As national Cask Ale Weeks approaches in April, you might expect unity of purpose among brewers of real ale. But Stephen Oliver, the managing director of Marston's Beer Company in Burton-on-Trent, has chosen to launch an intemperate attack on CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, in the trade paper Morning Advertiser (12 March).
His language -- "beardie weirdies, sandal-clad, whisker-stroking stormtroopers" -- is not only tired and lifted from the stale porridge of abuse in the 1970s but also contains the explicit implication that the campaign is some kind of Nazi organisation. "Stormtrooper" has only one connection in history -- and that is to the Hitler period in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. As far as I am aware, CAMRA does not exclude Jews or ethnic minorities from membership or ban them from its beer festivals.
Oliver's outburst is prompted by his belief -- wholly misplaced -- that CAMRA favours small micro brewers over larger companies such as Marston's. There is no truth to this absurd claim. CAMRA supports all brewers of cask beer. It has built good relations with such large national brewers as Greene King, Wells & Young's and -- perhaps it escaped Oliver's radar -- Marston's. His boss, chief executive Ralph Findlay, was the main guest speaker at CAMRA's annual meeting in Wolverhampton in 2007.
Oliver's rhetoric insults the vast number of CAMRA members who give up much of their free time to run the campaign's beer festivals, which number around 12 a month and culminate in the Great British festival (GBBF) in London in August. The tired old jibe about beards ignores the fact that in the past decade three National Organisers of GBBF have been women. The current national chairman of the campaign is a woman, Paula Waters. And CAMRA's chief executive Mike Benner is clean-shaven, well-dressed, and has a happy home life when he's not working hard to promote cask beer and save pubs.
Stephen Oliver cannot grasp the fact that without CAMRA, formed in 1971, cask beer would have gone the way of the dodo. Brewers were disappearing faster than the snows of winter and the remaining ones aped the new national brewers by switching from cask to keg production. CAMRA convinced many brewers to return to the cask fold and its success helped create the new wave of small craft brewers from the 1980s onwards. Along the way, it has given support to Marston's and its now unique "Burton Union" system of fermentation.
But Oliver was only warming to his subject. In his column in the Morning Advertiser, headlined "It's hard to keep the gobby hobbits happy", his concludes, "It's a golden opportunity [in Cask Ale Week] for serious brewers...to show that to enjoy cask ale you don't have to have mislaid your razor, wear socks with your sandals or to have a beer gut the size of Rotherham".
It's also a golden opportunity for cask beer drinkers to demand an apology from a prat with nasty views who demeans the brewing industry with his attack on CAMRA. He should apologise for his remarks without delay and, in particular, withdrew the disgraceful slur about stormtroopers.