My last blog post about keg's absence from the Great British Beer Festival triggered some interesting reactions - some here, but predominantly on Twitter and in 'real life' (where, mercifully, the concept of good debate still endures in spite of social media.)
One of the comments left on that post hinted, quite reasonably, that I follow up on my observations with some action. Maybe in the form of an idea. After all, it's all very well highlighting what's wrong, but quite something else to find solutions.
So I've given it some thought, and I'm wondering if the answer may be more simple than many of us thought.
Firstly though, let's not beat about the bush. The problem for CAMRA is a very tough one.
How can they possibly embrace keg without betraying the essence of their core principles?
How can they be seen to undo all those decades of hard graft?
How could anyone spend years attaining victory over their version of the devil – only invite that very same devil to join their ranks?
It sounds impossible. And yet...
I think all talk of 'giving up principles' or 'betrayal of ideals' is actually a red herring.
I don't think CAMRA needs to change at all.
Not one bit.
They can keep a firm grip on their principles and ideals – whilst giving their blessing to new ideas which just happen not to involve the same adherence to the honourable CAMRA code.
There is a way CAMRA can remain distant from keg – whilst simultaneously offering gentle encouragement to any versions of the old enemy which appear to have mended their evil ways.
Basically, if deemed to have sufficient beer-loving merit, certain kegged beers could be invited to The Great British Beer Festival...
Not fellow exhibitors.
A stall or area - perhaps named something like 'Guest Zone' or 'Twilight Zone' or 'Friendly Visitors From Space' or 'The Third Way' or 'Our Quirky Cousins' or 'Keg's Last Chance Saloon' - could be given over to the concept of reborn keg... and CAMRA could simultaneously remain entirely independent of it. No values would be betrayed, no code re-written, there'd be no need for embarrassment, explanation or confusion.
Basically, CAMRA could make it clear that whilst CAMRA is firmly for Real Ale, the Great British Beer Festival is open to ALL GOOD BEER.
10 years ago, Real Ale was the only good beer.
Things have been developing rather rapidly since then, and a gesture like this would quickly abort the need for any further parting of the ways between what have become two needlessly isolated camps.
Let me say at this point – having a separate CAMRA-backed 'craft beer' festival (one of which does exist at present) is not the same as offering a place at the year's major beer-related event. And let us remember that's exactly how the GBBF identifies itself. As a 'beer' festival. Not a 'cask beer' festival. Surely any event using 'Great British Beer' in its name should not have a separate craft beer festival happening down the road. Anyone arriving from Mars wanting to learn what makes British beer so great would find the two separate competing venues a bit puzzling. “Is craft beer not great beer, then?”, they might very well ask, in Martian.
It is my firm belief that the ultimate ideal for everyone (even for CAMRA) is to enjoy beer that is properly good. Regardless of how it got that way. CAMRA battled to do away with the one size fits all beer production mentality that was killing creativity during the 1970's. They need to keep that battle raging – whilst being careful to recognise a fellow combatant when one arrives, however strangely dressed they might first appear.
It seems to me that what CAMRA still do not fully realise is that they are actually responsible for the very existence of the craft beer movement.
The concise history of it reads something like this -
CAMRA flexed their muscles and forced beer to be tasty...
Our American friends went crazy over the results...
They were inspired and got super creative...
The whole world went crazy over those results.
In other words, CAMRA and Craft Beer are genetically linked. They are parent and child. The rebirth of keg is something CAMRA should be taking credit for, not fighting against.
The very involvement of keg in this new movement is actually more out of accident than design. Keg simply became involved because America, where all the fevered experimentation initially kicked off, doesn’t really do cask. Most of the USA is too hot to keep cask beer in good condition and besides that they've always preferred their brews chilled.
Keg, simply put, comes naturally to Americans. It is not, nor has it ever been their devil.
Ask a US craft beer enthusiast what their enemy is and they'd almost certainly say 'Big Beer', by which they'd mean bland corporate beer, or in other words – they have exactly the same perception of the enemy as CAMRA did when it was first formed.
Because boring beer is the true devil. It always has been.
Good beer has always been the messiah.
Cask, keg, bottle or can. Beautifully brewed beer is what we want, and what we will all continue to strive for, together or apart.
It just seems to me that 'together' makes a huge amount of sense, and 'apart' makes absolutely none at all.
CAMRA champions Real Ale, be it from bottle or cask. They always should. May that never change.
But the Great British Beer Festival should showcase all good beer, and CAMRA should open the door to some guests who share so many of their ideals, but also have a few different ideas too.
Good beer in kegs wasn't around ten years ago.
It is now.
Now we have two entirely different versions of fantastic British beer.
Let's all join forces and really show off.
Let's really show the world just how good this country is at creating beer.
British Cask and proper British keg, side by side, would surely make one hell of a spectacle.
A mouthwatering statement to the globe which we can all reunite behind.
Now that really would be a 'great' festival.
The greatest beer festival in all human history. And no other nation could say otherwise.
The most important thing is that CAMRA doesn't need to change in order for this to happen.
Not one bit.
The next time it throws its giant annual party, all CAMRA needs to do is add a guest list.
The results could be quite extraordinary.