In case you’re wondering or worrying, CAMRA is alive and well. This autumn I padded round the country promoting the Good Beer Guide and my new tome on IPA at a number of beer festivals.
In addition, I’ve had great pleasure in presenting framed certificates to the Fab Five – the pubs that have been in all 45 editions of the guide.
It’s been a heart-warming experience. There may be a degree of turmoil at the top of the Campaign as we await the final decision next year on the Revitalisation programme, but CAMRA is busy, active and committed at the grassroots.
Beer festivals are held in a variety of venues, ranging from what us Cockneys would call the sublime to the gor’ blimey. While the York fest was staged in vast marquees on the city’s racecourse, in sharp distinction, Milton Keynes’ event was held in a sports centre and adjacent to an indoor ski slope.
It was an unnerving and certainly unique experience, speaking to drinkers as, through a large window, I watched skiers hammering down towards the serried ranks of beer casks. Fortunately, neither came to grief.
Norwich was held in the breathtaking medieval surroundings of the Blackfriars and St Andrews’ Halls. The halls were packed with enthusiastic drinkers confronted by an amazing array of beers from near and far, including Belgium. I was happy to settle for that now rare breed, Draught Bass.
The St Albans festival is a remarkable achievement and is now one of the major CAMRA events. When a beer festival was first discussed 22 years ago, the perceived wisdom was that a city with 55 pubs didn’t need an added attraction.
But back then Allied Breweries and Whitbread dominated St Albans and beer choice was poor. Thanks to the determination of members of the Campaign’s oldest branch, the festival has gone from strength to strength. It has encouraged not only a fine range of beers in local pubs – there are still 50 – but also a number of local breweries to supply them.
CAMRA members also turned out in force to celebrate the Fab Five. At the Star Tavern in Belgrave Square in London the drinkers were joined by a reporter and cameraman from ITN, who filmed the handover of the certificate for the evening news.
The Cambridge branch laid on a mini-bus to transport members to the Queen’s Head in Newton. They joined with locals in this amazing old pub – visited by the King, the Kaiser and the Shah of Persia, but not all at the same time – to award landlord Rob Short and his parents with their certificate.
Members from Merseyside and further afield packed the shrine to great beer, the Roscoe Head in Liverpool, for the award ceremony. The pub was under threat of closure for many years when it was owned by Punch Taverns and there was thunderous applause when I said the new owners, New River Retail, would close it “over our dead bodies.” Put the bulldozers back in the warehouse!
The ceremony at the Square & Compass in Worth Matravers was a joyous affair. The Dorset village is remote and untroubled by public transport but, even though the event was held during the working week, CAMRA activists from the region packed the ancient ale house.
Along with locals, we were joined by one of the Campaign’s founder members, Michael Hardman, and former chairman James Lynch. We handed the certificate to landlord Charlie Newman and drank deep of the luscious beers from a new brewery in Swanage, Hattie Brown’s.
A brewery in Swanage! What amazing times we live in.
I raise my hat and salute the hundreds of members who have poured their energy into beer festivals in recent months and supported the awarding of certificates to five astonishing pubs.
I thank them, too, for their help and support in running my events and for being such generous and enthusiastic hosts. They are the unsung heroes of CAMRA, truly the salt of the earth.
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