Portsmouth CAMRA – Interview

Portsmouth CAMRA feature local breweries in their Ale Mail publication CAMRAlogo3and they have been writing updates with kind words about The Southsea Brewing Co. for a while, so I thought I’d turn the tables and write something about them for a change.

CAMRA has received a bit of flak recently due to the founder saying ”craft beer doesn’t exist” live on BBC breakfast. I wanted to find out more about the organisations stance on the beer industry as a whole and who better to ask than the chairman of our local branch – David Blaikie.

Interview with David Blaikie – PSEH CAMRA Chairman

Hi David,

So you’re currently chairman of the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Campaign for Real Ale – can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you got to where you are now?

I moved to Brighton in 88 and discovered Real Ale. I came from Northern Ireland the land of Guinness, Bass and Lager. Even in 88 the choice of English ales was tremendous compared to Ireland. I remember going to a London Beer festival (89?) and being amazed by the choice and variety, I was hooked. I quickly bought CAMRA life membership and calculated I needed to live about 12 years to break even.

In 1992 I started beer scoring every beer I tried. A note book was filled, then transferred to a Psion PDA, then a Palm Trio and eventually into an iPhone 3Gs, 4s, 5s, 6s. I recently scored / reviewed my 4000 Real Ale / draught beers.

My job forced me to relocate from Gatwick to Swanwick and I decided it was time to get properly involved in CAMRA through PSEH (Portsmouth South East Hampshire).

There has been a sharp rise in the number of breweries starting up both locally and around the country, what do you think has caused this and how do think they can all compete in a crowded market place?

The explosion in the brewing world is really tremendous. I think there are many causes. The world is becoming more cosmopolitan. World travel has given us much more adventurous taste buds. The American craft beer market has opened consumers (and brewers) eyes and taste buds to excessive creativity and extreme tastes. I’ve visited the USA 6 times and every time I’ve been amazed by the beer scene and become a self confessed hophead. Brewers across the country have also opened up to more adventurous brewing. Brewdog springs to mind but is just one of many 100s “pushing the envelope”. Modern Breweries happy to challenge the old malty status quo.

Competition is a real issue. Brewery saturation may happen soon but until then I love the choice and variety. I love being a home brewer and thankfully have no urge to go professional in a really crowed market.

You mention excessive creativity and extreme tastes, do you think the trend for experimental style beers will last, or do you think that the more balanced beers will be the ones that stand the test of time?

Interesting question and I have no concrete evidence for my gut feelings.
I suspect the ale consumer market is segmenting into two camps. The traditional ale consumer who knows exactly what he/she likes to drink and the experimental ale consumer who is always looking for something different. Experimental beers will always please experimental drinkers and traditional ales (like Doombar) will always be appreciated by drinkers who know exactly what they want. CAMRA welcomes all Real Ale drinkers regardless of their Ale drinking preferences. I suspect traditional ale consumers may remain in the majority for a long time. For the Brewer this means 2 types of ale drinkers to catered for; the traditional consumer who demands an absolutely consistent ale year in year out and the experimental consumer who is reluctant to drink the same ale twice.

Some people have accused CAMRA of being stuck in a time warp and refusing to acknowledge new trends and technologies in the craft beer industry, how do you feel about these accusations and do you think CAMRA has a real understanding of the beer industry as a whole?

CAMRA has a long history and was born in a world where Real Ale was in real danger of extinction.
CAMRA is the Campaign for Real Ale. By definition CAMRA can never be the Campaign for Craft beer or the Campaign for any other future beer invention. So the criticism that CAMRA is stuck actually has a grain of truth. The organisation is locked into the definition that founded it. However that definition is a key strength of the organisation. CAMRA is certain about what it stands for and is in a clear unambiguous position about what it promotes. In England Scotland and Wales the proliferation of hand pumps can be seen as a victory of CAMRA, but still represents a platform for further campaigning. Northern Ireland is a special case where the battle for Real Ale rages on and the hand pump is still threatened with extinction.

The CAMRA definition talks about beer which has fermented in the container it’s served in, ruling out techniques for clarifying beer such as pasteurisation which effectively kills any micro organisms. Do you think the use of finings is an acceptable alternative, or would you prefer your beer ‘‘au naturel’’?

I think the flavour experience of modern ales is much more important than the clarity. I’m not a fan of pasteurisation because I believe yeast adds some extra flavour elements to the beer.
I use Irish Moss and protafloc in my own home brew and have no issue with commercial breweries who do the same but leave the Ale in touch with yeast on the premisis where the ale is served.

I have enjoyed pints in various brewpubs that have been a bit cloudy due to the ale being served a little bit too quickly. I sit and enjoy the cloudy ale thinking, that will be clear in 3 or 4 days time if the brewpub could just keep the ale in the conditioning tank a bit longer. As a home brewer, I have the patience to wait for the ale to clear. I understand the commercial pressures to sell the product ASAP. 

I know you are a home brewer yourself and I’ve tried some of the beers you have made, you’re certainly not afraid of using hops! What are your favourite commercial beers at the moment? Which breweries would you recommend we keep an eye out for?

My taste buds are tuned towards extreme hops and extreme bitterness and I don’t know why. My favourite (Non American) breweries are: Arbor, Beavertown, Brewdog, Bristol Beer Factory, Darkstar, Hook Norton, Kernal, Oakham Oakleaf, Magic Rock, Marble, Mordue, Siren, Titanic and Thornbridge.

I think they call it lupulin threshold shift! You’ve mentioned some great breweries there; I hope my brewery will be on that list one day!

I went to craft beer rising last week and noticed there were not many hand pumped beers on offer, most being dispensed from kegs, why do you think new breweries are choosing this method of serving their beer and how do you feel about it?

I think the American Craft Beer explosion is rippling through our domestic brewing industry. Craft Keg as a dispensing method has some practical advantages over Cask Conditioned. I particularly enjoy sampling a single beer when it’s offered as craft keg and simultaneously on hand pump. I still believe that the best fresh cask conditioned will out perform the equivalent craft keg, but I welcome the opportunity to be proved wrong. New breweries have an open experimental approach to brewing bold beers with original unusual ingredients. I recently tasted a cask conditioned Salted Liquorice Stout, an amazing combination of flavours that seriously worked. New bold beers with the “craft” tag are finding new young drinkers who have no knowledge or understanding of Watneys Red Barrel.

I also think economic issues are also driving the modern brewers towards craft beer. If a brewer has to choose between selling Real Ale at £3.50 a pint or an equivalent craft beer at £4.50, he has a significant incentive to go down the trendy more expensive craft route.

Yeah, I think the skill of good cask cellarmanship is whole other art form of the industry which is in danger of being lost as more pubs hire inexperienced staff, which in turn can give a bad experience for people trying cask ale for the first time.

There’s no doubt that CAMRA’s campaign has been successful in getting people interested in beers that aren’t mass produced lagers, do you think their work is done now? Where do you see CAMRA in the future?

CAMRAs promotion of cask conditioned ale has been successful. This success gives CAMRA the mandate to continue promoting. That promotion is just as valid in Portsmouth as it is in the parts of Northern Ireland where hand pumps do not exist. Cask Conditioned ale has a clear definition that is the cornerstone of CAMRA. Craft is a much more ambiguous product. Lager is in slow decline. As long as CAMRA has the mandate of its 175,000+ members it has a long future ahead, promoting Real Ale.

OK great, I’m sure there’s a lot more we could talk about over a beer but let’s save that for another time.

Thank you very much!

Follow David on Twitter: @Nikonvscanon

David has also provided the following useful links:

Our local Branch Web site:        http://www.psehcamra.org.uk/

Our Gosport Beer festival site: http://www.portsmouthcamrabeerfestivals.co.uk/gosport-winterfest.html

The National CAMRA site:        http://www.camra.org.uk

CAMRA Pub Database:              https://whatpub.com/

Winchester Beer festival:          http://www.winchesterbeerfestival.org.uk

Southampton Beer festival:     http://southamptonbeerfestival.org.uk/tickets/

American Home brew site       http://www.basicbrewing.com
Southern Hants CAMRA site:  http://www.shantscamra.org.uk

On line Brewery Calculator:     http://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/
IOW Beer Bus weekend:          http://iwbeerandbuses.co.uk

Portsmouth Pub Database:      http://portsmouthpubs.org.uk/portsmouth-pubs-map/

My own Flicker photo stream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nikonvscanon/





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