Campaign for Real Ale
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Logo of CAMRA
|185,000 (as of 24 January 2017)|
National Chairman / Chief Executive
|Colin Valentine / Tim Page|
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is an independent voluntary consumer organisation headquartered in St Albans, England, which promotes real ale, real cider and the traditional British pub. With over 185,000 members, it is now the largest single-issue consumer group in the UK, and is a founding member of the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU).
The organisation was founded in 1971 in Kruger's bar in Dunquin, Kerry, Ireland by Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Jim Makin, and Bill Mellor, who were opposed to the growing mass production of beer and the homogenisation of the British brewing industry. The original name was the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. Following the formation of the Campaign and the first AGM at the Rose Inn, Coton Road Nuneaton in 1972 – where early membership records consisted of the four founders and their friends, interest in CAMRA and its objectives spread rapidly, with 5,000 members signed up by the following year. Other early influential members included Christopher Hutt, author of Death of the English Pub, who succeeded Hardman as chairman, Frank Baillie, author of The Beer Drinker's Companion, and later the current Good Beer Guide editor, Roger Protz.
On 31 March 2016, founder Michael Hardman returned to chair a Revitalisation Project Steering Group. The aim of the Revitalisation Project is to review the organisation's purpose. Consultation meetings took place in the spring and summer of 2016, and further discussion will take place at the Bournemouth AGM in spring 2017 leading to possible refinement of proposals then subject to a final vote of all members at spring 2018's AGM.
CAMRA's stated aims are to:
- Protect and improve consumer rights.
- Promote quality, choice and value for money.
- Support the public house as a focus of community life.
- Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of our national heritage and culture.
- Seek improvements in all licensed premises and throughout the brewing industry.
CAMRA's campaigns include promoting small brewing and pub businesses, reforming licensing laws, reducing tax on beer, and stopping continued consolidation among local British brewers. It also makes an effort to promote less common varieties of beer, including stout, porter, and mild, as well as traditional cider and perry.
CAMRA does not support the promotion and sale of keg based craft beer in the UK. CAMRA's Internal Policy document states that real ale can only be served without the use of additional carbonation. This policy means that "any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions" is not admitted to CAMRA festivals if the brewery's marketing is deemed to imply an equivalence of quality or character between the two versions.
In 2009, CAMRA announced that it had reached the 100,000 members mark and subsequently went on to pass the 150,000 members mark in 2013. Member benefits include a monthly newspaper, What's Brewing and a quarterly BEER magazine, and free or reduced price admission to CAMRA-organised beer festivals. In recent times CAMRA has obtained benefits for its members from some commercial organisations and increasingly some licensed premises offer members price reductions on real ale (and sometimes cider and perry).
CAMRA is organised on a federal basis, with numerous independent local branches, each covering a particular geographical area of the UK, that contribute to the central body of the organisation based in St Albans. It is governed by a voluntary unpaid national executive, elected by the membership. The local branches are grouped into 16 regions across the UK, such as the West Midlands or Wessex.
The current National Chairman is Colin Valentine, who took over from Paula Waters in February 2010. Tim Page, who succeeded Mike Benner, has been Chief Executive since November 2014.
CAMRA has established influence at national government level, including Historic England, and has been designated by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as a "super-complainant" to the Office of Fair Trading.
Events and publications
CAMRA publishes the Good Beer Guide, an annually compiled directory of its recommended pubs and brewers; the Good Cider Guide, an occasionally compiled directory of pubs that sell real Cider; the Good Bottled Beer Guide, an occasionally compiled review of real ale in a bottle. CAMRA members receive a monthly newspaper called What's Brewing and a quarterly colour magazine called Beer. It also runs the Great British Beer Festival, a yearly event held in London at which a large selection of cask ales and ciders are tasted. It also maintains a National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors to help bring greater recognition and protection to Britain's most historic pubs. In 2013 CAMRA launched public access to a national pub database website called Whatpub.com which is maintained by CAMRA members through the branches structure.
CAMRA supports and promotes many beer and cider festivals around the country each year, which are organised by local CAMRA branches around the UK. Generally, each festival charges an entry fee which varies depending upon the area, and either covers entry only or includes a commemorative ⅓, ½ or 1 pint glass sporting the details of the festival. A festival programme is usually also provided, listing the drinks available for tasting and providing a brief description of each beverage. Members often get discounted or free entrance to CAMRA festivals.
The Campaign also organises the annual Great British Beer Festival in August. It is now held in the Great, National & West Halls at the Olympia Exhibition Centre, in Kensington, London, having been held for a few years at Earl's Court as well as regionally in the past at venues such as Brighton and Leeds.
CAMRA presents awards for beers and pubs, such as the National Pub of the Year, in which approximately 4,000 active CAMRA members from 200 local branches vote for their favourite pub of the year. The branch winners are entered into 16 regional competitions which are then visited by several individuals who select the ones they like best. There are also the Pub Design Awards, which are held in association with English Heritage and the Victorian Society. These comprise several categories, including new build, refurbished and converted pubs. The best known CAMRA award is the Champion Beer of Britain, which is selected at the Great British Beer Festival, other awards include the Champion Beer of Scotland and the Champion Beer of Wales.
National Beer Scoring Scheme
CAMRA developed the National Beer Scoring Scheme (NBSS) as an easy to use scheme for judging beer quality in pubs, to assist CAMRA branches in selecting pubs for the Good Beer Guide. The person filling in the form records their name, date, the pub, the beer and the score. The scores range from 0, meaning that no real ale is available; increasing in increments of 0.5 through 2, which signifies an average beer that is drunk without calling attention to itself in either a positive or negative manner; up to 5, which signifies a perfect beer. CAMRA members may also input their beer scores on line via the CAMRA website Whatpub.com.
Pub heritage group
The group maintains two inventories of Heritage pubs, the National Inventory (NI), which contains only those pubs that have been maintained in their original condition (or have been modified very little) for at least thirty years, but usually since at least World War II. The second, larger, inventory is the Regional Inventory (RI), which is broken down by county and contains both those pubs listed in the NI and other pubs that are not eligible for the NI, for reasons such as having been overly modified, but are still considered historically important, or have particular architectural value.
The LocAle scheme launched in 2007 was developed by Steve Westby of the Nottingham branch to promote locally brewed beers. The scheme functions slightly differently in each area, and is managed by each branch, but the overall rule is that each participating pub is allowed to purchase beer from whatever brewery they wish, but if the beer is to be promoted as a LocAle it must come from a brewery within a predetermined number of miles set by each CAMRA branch, generally around 20 or 25, although the North London branch has set it at 30 miles from brewery to pub door, even if it comes from a distribution centre further away; in addition, each participating pub must keep at least one LocAle for sale at all times.
CAMRA members may join the CAMRA Members' Investment Club, which since 1989 has invested in real ale breweries and pub chains. With a fund value of nearly £20.5 million owned by around 4,000 members, it has produced a healthy financial return as well as offering a programme of brewery visits.
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