Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hollow at the core: CAMRA'S shame

I've spent a lot of time over the last week contacting as many people as I can regarding the MUP's effect of traditional farmhouse cider makers in the interests of balance and variety. As well as looking for sympathy, I'm looking for help. I'd decided to 'reach out' to groups like CAMRA knowing the influence they have. I even had the pleasurable company of NACM chairman Henry Chevallier at my kitchen table on Friday afternoon complete with Australian cidermaker Nathan Hyde. CAMRA have a huge membership (138K+), they have a Cider & Perry Committee that safeguards standards and represents 'real cider' to a discerning membership. They have anally tight definitions of what 'real cider' actually is, they have a cider and perry month each year in October and a Pomona Award given to out to the person, place or thing that has done the most to promote real cider over the past 12 months. They've done alot of work over the past 40 years to protect and lobby for real ale so it would be reasonable to assume they would prove a keen and powerful ally. I know In the main, they're busy fighting against the beer duty escalator,  so I've have been pressing Andrea Briers, National Cider & Perry Committee Chairman for a response for a week our so.

I finally got it, here it is:

"On behalf of Andrea Briers, please find below a quote from CAMRA as requested. I have sent it on behalf of Andrea as she is a volunteer and won't have time to send this until this evening otherwise.
Andrea Briers, CAMRA National Cider and Perry Committee Chairman, said:

“CAMRA's views on minimum pricing are intended to save pubs. A minimum price of 40 pence a unit should have only a limited impact on the retail price of real cider at the farm gate. Minimum unit pricing will only apply to retail sales. We wish them well with their campaign and will be looking into the potential impact of a 40 pence a unit price on farmhouse cider sales."

All the best, Jon Howard, Press Manager, CAMRA, Campaign for Real Ale"

Hey? What? Thats a complete load of guff. So I went to the CAMRA website in case I was actually tripping on drugs and didn't realise. When I read their introductory blurb, I knew I wasn't:

(Here is a link in case the text on the screen shot is too small.)

I'm no Sherlock but its obvious that something is wrong here. They are either clueless about traditional cider, don't actually give a shit about traditional cider or feel they are unable to respond appropriately . Back in January, I did a job for them on Wassails (not sure I'll be asked again.) The excellent editor of Beer magazine found some money to send me to Herefordshire to cover the Leominser Morris - it was a fantastic night - so I know that they do feel something for cider (a responsibility even?) And I'm pretty sure they can't be clueless about it - they have lots of ciderlovers in the ranks.

Disappointed and a little angry, I sent them my reply:

"Thanks for getting back to me, I do appreciate your time - I know you are all busy people. I'm really glad to hear that you guys are working so hard to support the pubs, we all know how dire the pub business is at the moment, so I feel reassured that you and your members are fighting so hard for the cause! 

I'm sad to say that I find CAMRA's lack of support to the real cider community unsurprising. I really think that for such a large organisation who has a Cider & Perry Committee, you make very little effort away from the pubs and festivals in helping protect 'real-cider' traditions -despite the token waffle on your website about "the number of outlets for real cider diminishing, even in the West Country"  and how sad it is that real cider is"rarely available away from the farm gate. It is unfortunate that many of the most well known ciders in the UK are cold, fizzy keg products which have been produced artificially rather than naturally.The facts may be true, but your pretence of care is garbage.

You sadly haven't even realised that your current standpoint is actually going to exacerbate the problem, which sums up just how out of touch CAMRA is regarding traditional cider issues. Need I ask you tell me how many real cider makers have you spoken to about this?

Over the last seven days, I've spoken with many of them, three MP's, SWECA and the NACM and they all agree that MUP will really damage rurally based traditional cider sales direct to the public. Its not about wether the MUP is a good or a bad thing - thats a different argument. This is about protecting tradition and quality - two important things that you would have the general public believe you support. 

If we lose these 'loose' cider sales (from the barrel, on the farm) 'real cider' will die a painful death and be replaced by an abundance of packaged, gassed, pasteurised- industrialised product, making your tight definition of 'real-cider' utterly redundant. You say that the MUP will only have a "limited impact" on retail sales from the farm but you fail to realise that many, many small producers who make 'real cider' depend on those retail sales, not wholesale sales. If they can't supplement their wholesale business by selling retail direct to the public, a significant proportion of the ciders you enjoy will become unavailable and the remainder will be forced to package it up. 

The truth is, if CAMRA actually cared about 'real-cider', you might at least even consider supporting a call for some kind of exemption to protect it being sold the way it always has been - from a barrel. I think you should be ashamed of yourselves because you've reached stage where you can't even practice what you preach and it would appear that your Cider & Perry Committee is a complete farce - no more than a superficial social club. 

This is a really serious issue. The finest cider makers in our country are facing devastating new legislation designed to tackle a problem that has nothing to do with them, that will rip the soul out of the UK's cider heartlands and all you can do is just shrugg your shoulders and say 'we wish them well…' Its clear you just don't care. I know CAMRA was set up to protect beer, and I fully appreciate the impact you have had in UK beer in the last 40 years, you've done a fantastic job and on the whole, your efforts are to be applauded. But If you don't care about cider in the same way - what the point in pretending you do?

Sorry if this seems harsh, but its about time someone was honest with you guys.

It is blunt, passionate and I don't want to battle with them. If I've hurt anyones feelings I'm genuinely sorry, but I believe someone has to say it. I realise the effect MUP will have on farm gate sales is really problematic for them because they voted to support MUP. I'd be interested to know what their members feel about their official point of view and how many of them once they know whats going on, would want them to back it too. This issue is already spilling over into the beer blogging community and I think it'll stir more opinion and controversy there still.

CAMRA, I've been trying to forge a relationship with you for some time altough your limp response makes me feel like its pointless. I'd prefer you decided to back an exemption for traditional farmhouse cidermakers selling 'from-the-barrel' on the farm, or at the very least respond to this issue with some balls. I hope I GOT YOUR ATTENTION so that you realise you are guilty of the worst kind of hypocrisy. Its sad how the people who have the strictest definition of real cider, in the greatest numbers, the people who even the Government approach about policy are the only ones who don't appear to understand the problem and worse still, outwardly appear to care about it the least. 

Do you think there might be a better way of dealing with it than 'good luck'? You have the responsibility and the power - how about putting your money where your mouth is and being pro-active.

If anyone reading this wants to do something to help, signing this petition is a start. Please spread the word and help us out -->


  1. Sadly, sometimes you get the impression that CAMRA has been infiltrated by the anti-drink lobby.

  2. I would expect no less from CAMRA

  3. Yes CAMRA bash away but the only way you change things is getting your hands dirty. I've taken a more active role in my local branch and I am now finally getting the branch to recognise real cider and the issues that surround it. I have been given a budget and offered full support for anything I need to do. The problem with CAMRA is that many do not have the knowledge and experience of cider to know what to do. So get involved, show you passion and in time it will wear off them :)

  4. Anonymous (15.8.2012) - I agree! I tried to get the ball rolling by asking APPLE to do something, I tried to get their press manager to do something as well as numerous other members but realised that CAMRA's allegiance, unsurprisingly, is with ale. I think CAMRA likes the idea of real cider because it has great marketing potential -it has a strong heritage, is very British etc hence all their guff about it, but your governing body won't actually put its money where its mouth is (or even ask its members to) and lobby for it. I'm glad to hear that your local branch has given you some money and the support to try and make a difference. Many members I've met certainly seem to feel quite passionately about it- I think head office could take a leaf from their book.
    Call it CAMRA bashing if you like because I'm indifferent to that- its totally beside the point and I don't care. I've had nothing but admiration for them until this point because they've done a great job looking after pubs and ale for a long time, but this policy is clearly hypocritical if you read their 'About Cider & Perry' page (above) and they don't even have the balls to discuss it! The APPLE committee who supposedly DO have the knowledge, passion and experience who know what to do won't do whats needed... The saddest thing for me is that the majority of their members have no idea that this is the case... thats shameful and hollow my friend.
    I hear people say 'the best way to change CAMRA is from within' and it probably is. That makes sense. I'm not a member and never have been although I've thought about it in the past. I've been getting my hands dirty for quite some time over this and think I'm safe to say I pull my own weight, in my own way.
    I even manage to do it publicly and openly.