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Jan 2021

CAMRA - 1971 to 2021

A personal view of beer drinking in my younger days

CAMRA 50th Logo Back in 1971, it was near impossible to get what we now identify as 'real ale' in pubs. Most pubs you went into had a variety of keg ales but rarely beer on hand-pump. There is no doubt that some people liked the keg beers - a friend once said that he didn't like cask-ales as he had no idea what he was getting and always drank the same keg-beer as it was the same every time! I suppose that came from the problems that we all had with landlords not looking after their beer properly and the consequent inconsistency of your pint - or maybe the lack of choice. A lot of drinkers migrated to lager too for the same reasons. Of course, advertising played a part in that and just like the fashion industry, people identified with the product that the 'famous personality' who was promoting the particular item or was seen wearing the item in the case of clothing. (Not much changes, does it?).

At the time, I was living in a rural community where the nearest pub that served cask-ale (Bass) was miles away and awkward to get to. I spent some time in London around the time CAMRA was being formed and at least there, one or two pubs were beginning to get decent ale and the two main breweries, Youngs and Fuller's, had a decent number of pubs selling their beer. Luckily, I liked both their beer offerings so I never really worried about the limited availabilty of breweries (at least ones I knew existed at the time). Unfortunately, my local was keg-only so I was on light-and-bitter (remember that?) or Irish Stout.

I then spent quite a few years in Hertfordshire where, as you can guess, one brewery dominated with the occasional access to another (local) brewery. Then more breweries started to appear, although I had to travel to the next town to try their offerings as nearly all my local pubs were tied to one particular brewery (guess) with a couple of tied-pubs selling beers from the other brewery. Over the years, more and more breweries appeared and the choice of beers started to take off (but not in my local pubs until a (now) major chain opened a pub serving a choice of beers (hurrah!) for a year or two then gradually drifted into one or two independent breweries' beers (and usually unavailable) with all the others coming from, you guessed it, the dominant brewery that all the other pubs had. Puts me in mind of Carry on Abroad where the the diners were offered 'choices' - 'Beans and Chippings, Eggs and Chippings - that's choices!'. Anyone who knows me will realise what brewery I mean and why I still avoid it.

Anyway, by the time I moved on, there were a lot of very good pubs serving a good choice of excellent cask-ales (but still rare in the town where I lived). I still miss one or two of the pubs as they were, and still are, absolutely top-rated. Now that I live in Furness, the choice of pubs and, in particular, beers that I have access to is mind-blowing! Back in 1971, I would never have guessed that there would be so many fantastic beers out there, not just tradtional ales but a hugh variety of beers to satisfy pretty-near everyone. Not just on hand-pump but key-keg, bottles and cans, all supported by CAMRA (and even some keg-beers are decent and of course, as are proper Continental Lagers when you can get them).

Now what has this got to do with CAMRA's 50th? Well, without CAMRA and their work, I very much doubt that I would have had access to anything like the variety of quality beers/ales that are available now. Bearing in mind that although CAMRA is an organisation, it is the work of its members and volunteers that has brought us to this position. Now, in these very difficult times it is much harder to keep things going while the pubs are effectively closed and breweries have lost much of their customer orders. Don't lose faith though, you can still get beer delivered if you are lucky enough to have brewery or pub locally that does this. We just need to be sensible and patient so that when all of this has passed, we will still have access to our favourite beers (well, most of them anyway). Keep looking at the CAMRA website (see the links menu item) and see what they, and the volunteers, are doing to help keep things going. If you are 20, why not join now and you can look back with nostalgia in 2071 and listen to everyone grumbling at all these old people talking about real-ale. Actually, whatever age you are, why not join us now and get ready for the return of the pub?

Jack Summers-Glass
InnQuirer Editor

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