110 brewers have signed an open letter calling on CAMRA to end its use of discount vouchers and criticising its refusal to debate the issue at this year’s Annual General Meeting.
The signatories are from breweries all over the UK, and include many brewers of CAMRA-judged award-winning beers, including national champion beers. More breweries are coming forward in support.
They say CAMRA’s current policy undermines real ale and pushes drinkers to corporate chains, to the detriment of smaller pubs. They say the current policy imperils small breweries and many independent freehouses.
In the letter, they say: “…it is dangerously inconsistent for CAMRA to promote real ale as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art while simultaneously making it the cheapest beer on the bar. Inevitably, new drinkers will be led to have little regard for the quality of real ale. The policy also undermines CAMRA’s public image, as it promotes that which it was established to overhaul: a limited range of beers from large breweries, served-up cheaply by pub chains.”
The Scarborough Branch of CAMRA had proposed a motion on this issue for the forthcoming AGM in York, but CAMRA has rejected it from the order paper. An appeal has been lodged, but will not be heard until the night before the AGM. Had the motion been accepted and passed, CAMRA would have stopped providing or promoting discount schemes, but could have still acknowledged any private businesses that wanted to offer its own discounts.
Currently, all CAMRA members are sent sixty vouchers a year for use at a selection of large bar chains. Each voucher offers 50p off a pint of real ale, cider or perry. The brewers say the practice sets unrealistic expectations among new real ale drinkers, damages small breweries who cannot produce to the scales the big chains require, and disrespects the craft that goes into producing real ale.
The open letter says: “CAMRA will win more support from the wider brewing and pub industries when it stops driving people to chain pubs for cheap beer, and when it instead respects real ale, respect the pubs that showcase it, and respects the brewers who produce it.”
Scarborough Branch member Phil Saltonstall, who owns Brass Castle Brewery in Malton and who proposed the motion, said: “As a CAMRA member who firmly believes in real ale and its position as the most interesting and characterful way of showcasing beer, I’ve always been offended every time I am sent discount vouchers with my membership renewal. The discount vouchers run counter to my desire to support high-quality real ale and I’m particularly worried that they drive members away from the very pubs that need their support. I love real ale and these discount vouchers cheapen it.
“I know not everyone will agree with our motion, but many do and there was an excellent opportunity to have the debate in April at the AGM. It is infuriating that CAMRA has sought to stifle this debate. In doing so, it said the matter was an internal issue, which shows a blindness to the huge impact this has on real ale, breweries and publicans, and CAMRA’s public image.
“Of course, CAMRA is a consumer organisation, rather than an industry body, but a consumer organisation that prices its favoured product out of existence does not make any sense. It is the prerogative of businesses to offer discounts as they wish but CAMRA itself cannot be both the champion of good-quality, great tasting cask beer and the promoter of bargain-basement cheap pints.
“To accommodate price discounting, some pub companies insist that brewers provide real ale at a crazily low price. This works for large breweries or cheap-to-produce or short-dated beers, so CAMRA is diminishing the real ale market and either harming small breweries or forcing them to produce something other than real ale. It is a direct effect of price discounting that more breweries are turning to the production of keg beers and discontinuing cask beer production.
“Opponents of this motion may fear it would lead to a reduction in CAMRA numbers, but there are many other ways CAMRA could incentivise membership and in any case, the organisation’s incoherent policy on this issue undermines its credibility in almost all campaigning areas. It cannot exist only to boost its own membership numbers, while the fate of real ale is left to its own devices and all indicators on the health of the real ale industry are on the slide. Cask beer needs a self-respecting and energetic Campaign for Real Ale now more than ever.”
- Photo caption: CAMRA members Kev Jones and Phil Saltonstall, both of Brass Castle Brewery in Malton, with the open letter signed by 110 UK breweries
- Contact Phil Saltonstall on firstname.lastname@example.org with any queries or to arrange interviews
- A copy of the letter and list of signatories to date is enclosed below
28 February 2020
To the National Executive
Campaign for Real Ale
As brewers, we are incredibly proud of our cask beer product and we all want to see it thrive. UK real ale has a respected international reputation, attracting visitors from around the world who want to enjoy a pint in a quintessential British pub. CAMRA has been a strong advocate for cask beer, its producers and purveyors, and long may that continue.
However, CAMRA’s current policy of giving its members discount vouchers for a small number of large pub chains, in mainly urban areas, jeopardises its own hard-won successes. The promotion of discounting and this particular discount scheme devalues real ale, and imperils freehouse pubs and smaller breweries.
We had hoped to have this debate at the forthcoming CAMRA AGM in York, and welcomed the motion put forward by the Scarborough branch. If carried, that motion would have ended the CAMRA-led discount scheme but acknowledged the right of independent businesses to offer their own discounts. Sadly, CAMRA has rejected the motion from this year’s order paper and stifled debate. We are deeply disappointed in this refusal to engage with the issue.
Let us be clear: it is dangerously inconsistent for CAMRA to promote real ale as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art while simultaneously touting it as the cheapest beer on the bar. Inevitably, new drinkers will be led to have little regard for the quality of real ale. If a new member’s first experience of real ale is a cheap pint in a chain bar, then much of the charm and quality of the real ale experience is lost.
The policy also undermines CAMRA’s public image, as it promotes that which it was established to overhaul: a limited range of beers from large breweries, served-up cheaply by pub chains.
We are particularly concerned that the current policy drives CAMRA members away from the very pubs it then needs to campaign to protect.
When CAMRA was established, 22% of beer drunk in the UK was real ale and now that figure is only 9%. All of us in CAMRA want to turn that trend around, but handing out discount vouchers shows a lack of faith in real ale.
CAMRA will win more support from the wider brewing and pub industries when it stops driving people to chain pubs for cheap beer, and when it instead respects real ale, respect the pubs that showcase it, and respects the brewers who produce it. If individual breweries and pubs wish to offer discounts or loyalty rewards, that is their prerogative, but our campaign organization should not be actively undermining its own reason for existence.
Abbeydale Brewery – Sue & Pat Morton
Accidental Brewery – Mike Dent
Anarchy Brew Co – Dawn & Simon Miles
Ainsty Ales – Andy Herrington
Atom Brewing Co – Sam Welburn
Bad Seed Brewery – Chris Waplington
Bang The Elephant Brewing Co – Nigel Patton
Beer Ink Brewery – Diane Lesley Stoppard
Beer Station Brewery – Ian Walsh
Big Hand Brewing – Dave Shaw
Billericay Brewing – Trevor Jeffrey
Black Storm Brewery – Adam Brewer
Bone Machine Brew Co – Kimmo Karjalainen
Boot Beer – Jon Archer
Brass Castle Brewery – Phil Saltonstall
Brecon Brewing – Buster Grant
Brewsmith Beer – Jen & James Smith
Brew York – Wayne Smith
Buntingford Brewery – Tony Liversidge
Burton Town Brewery – Jonathan Dale
Carnival Brewing Co – Dom Hope Smith
Chapter Brewing Co – Noah Torn
Charnwood Brewery – Andrew Reed
Colchester Brewery – Tom Knox
Common Rioters Brewery – Stephen O’Connor
Corvedale Brewery – Norman Pearce
Crankshaft Brewery – Angela & Haydn Williams
Crouch Vale Brewery – Colin Bocking
Cullercoats Brewery – Anna & Bill Scantlebury
Cwrw Lal Community Brewing Co – Doug Macpherson
Emmanuales – Nick Law
Enfield Brewery – Don Burgess
Errant Brewery – Martyn Stockley
Exe Valley Brewery – Guy Sheppard
Exit 33 Brewing – Pete Roberts
Fell Brewery – Tim Bloomer
Ferry Ales Brewery – John Cussons
First Chop Brewing – Rik Garner
Five Towns Brewery – Malcolm Bastow
Flagship Beer – Joe Murphy
Flathead Brewery – Thomas Soar
Framework Brewery Ltd – Andrew Goodliffe
Frisky Bear Brewing Co – Carl Saint
Fuzzy Duck Brewery – Ben Croston
Golden Triangle Brewery – Kevin Tweedy
Grizzly Grains Brewing – Sam Bennett
Half Moon Brewery – Jackie & Tony Rogers
Hambleton Brewery Ltd – Ben Harrison
Handyman Brewery – Ben Topping
Harviestoun Brewery – Stuart Cail
Harwich Town Brewing Co – Paul Mellor
Helmsley Brewing Co – Kyle Boote
Hesket Newmarket Brewery – Nathan Gregory
Howling Hops Brewery – Peter Holt
Iceni Brewery – Brendan Moore
Iron Pier Brewery – James Hayward
Kelburn Brewing Co – Karen Moore
Left Handed Giant Brewery – Bruce Gray
Leigh On Sea Brewery – Ian Rydings
Lymestone Brewery – Ian Bradford
Lincoln Green Brewing Co – Anthony Hughes
Lost Industry Brewing – Jimmy Seaton
Loxley Brewery – David Woodhead
Magic Rock Brewing – Vik Stronge
Maldon Brewing Co – Mike Farmer
Mallinsons Brewing Company – Tara Mallinson
Mashionistas Brewing Co – Flo Swann
McColl’s Brewery – Daniel McColl
Neepsend Brew Co – Hannah Bolton-Tite & Gavin Martin
Neptune Brewery Ltd – Julie & Les O’Grady
Newtown Brewery – Clive Luff
Nobby’s Brewery – Paul Mulliner
Nomadic Beers – Katie Marriot
North Riding Brewery – Stuart Neilson
Northern Alchemy – Carl Kennedy
Out There Brewing Co – Stephen Pickthall
Papworth Brewery Ltd – Richard Harrison
Pitchfork Ales – Dave Turner
Quirky Ales – Simon Mustill
Red Willow Brewery – Toby McKenzie
Revolutions Brewing Co Ltd – Mark Seaman
Roosters Brewing Co – Ian Fozard
Roundhill Brewery – Russell Allen
Running Man Brewery – Chris Mildren
Sheffield Brewery – Paddy Spencer
Spotlight Brewing – Ric Womersley
Stealth Brew Co – Malcolm Shipp
Steel City Brewing – Dave Szwejkowski
Stod Fold Brewing Co – Hamish Boyle
Taw Valley Brewery – Marc Whiteside
Team Toxic – Sue Hayward & Gazza Prescott
Thames Side Brewery – Andrew Hayward
The Canterbury Ales – Martin Guy
The Cheshire Brewhouse – Shane Swindells
The First and Last Brewery – Red & Sam Kellie
The Hop Studio – Dave Shaw
The Meanwood Brewery – Graeme Phillips
The Three Non Beards Brewery – Paul Marshall
The West End Brewery – Joshua William Gray
Three Brothers Brewing Co – David Dodd
Tiny Rebel Brewing – Brad Cummings
Torrside Brewing – Chris Clough
Weird Beard Brewery – Bryan Spooner
Westerham Brewery – Robert Wicks
Wild Weather Ales – Mike Tempest
Wilde Child Brewing – Keir McAllister Wilde
Wishbone Brewery – Adrian Chapman
XT Brewing Co – Russ Taylor
Xtreme Ales – Mike Holmes
Yeastie Boys – Stu McKinlay
Zapato Brewery – Matt Gorecki