I am happy that this week's CAMRA and BrewDog discussion has given the opportunity for we who are not familiar with the workings of the organization some insights. This morning there have been a load of Twitter activity (oxymoron alert!!) about the Great British Beer Festival including more than a few good observations from Steve Lamond in exchanges with he who is called Young Dredge - like these:
@gareths121 @markdredge maybe as Germany is a country that "doesn't have a tradition of cask conditioned beers" they are exempt...#
@markdredge maybe 10% of attendees are at GBBF to seek exotic beers, the remainder just want a day out drinking with friends...#
@markdredge and that's because the majority of people at the beer festival will stick to what they're familiar with...#
Today's flurry of commentary arose from a good summary of events written by Will Hawkes in The Independent this morning, "British beer: a storm in a pint glass." I liked the article - even as others seem to circle wagons... again - especially this curt accusation from James Watt of BrewDog about the nature of the festival: "...There are beers across a massive flavour spectrum, rather than everything being a 3.5 to 4.5 per cent bitter.”
Such a clever lad, Mr. Watt. A wag. Yet, when you look at the comments from Lamond above, I think you may see something that I am getting from this distance perhaps for the first time. While the first comment falls into the stereotype of overly persnickety rules hugging and seems to miss the dual points that there are plenty of locales within Germany with a tradition of cask conditioned beers while few actually give a rat's ass about exporting an English club's ideas of traditions of cask conditioned beers into other countries, the other two comments confirm something not much discussed. Maybe the GBBF is more about a gathering of the like minded enjoying a hobby about product than it is a festival of the product itself. The idea of celebrating "a day out drinking with friends" at a large scale as well as, no doubt, the success of CAMRA in being able to leverage an event of this newsworthy scale through organized volunteer effort is a very separate thing from the just question of what's on the menu. Something between a convention's trade show floor and an agricultural fair. A gathering of hobbyists.
If that makes it a fest about 3.5 to 4.5 per cent bitter, so what? It doesn't make it a festival about the best beer, for sure. But it is about the favorites of those involved. Is that so bad?