In my time working in beer in the UK and Germany I’ve had some interesting dealings with customers and industry folk alike regarding CAMRA and the Reinheitsgebot. When working at the BrewDog bar in Bristol, we’d often get real ale traditionalists who would come to the bar and turn their noses up at the broad selection of craft keg beers (even though I am fairly convinced some knew full well BrewDog had stopped producing cask beer a while back but just liked to grumble). And more recently, working at Ale-Mania brewery in Germany, I frequently meet beer drinkers and brewers who are unwilling to drink/brew/accept the legitimacy of beer that is not produced according to the Reinheitsgebot. This got me thinking about some similarities between the Reinheitsgebot and CAMRA, perhaps the two most controversial beery topics of discussion from the UK and Germany. (Deep breath) here it goes…
The main goal of both CAMRA and the Reinheitsgebot is primarily to protect the respective beer drinkers from having to drink crap beer. CAMRA aimed to protect British beer drinkers from the rise of pasteurised, fizzy bitter and foreign lager and the Reinheitsgebot seeks to protect German drinkers from additives, adjuncts and nasty chemicals finding their way into beer. A noble intention, it would seem.
Opinions begin to divide on both matters when we look at the implementation of this core value, which is essentially promoting good beer. In both British and German cases, a relatively small, outspoken group of people are able to achieve their goals by imposing stringent rules on brewers and thereby drastically influencing the consumer habits of the beer drinking masses. The main, non-commercial propagator of the Reinheitsgebot is the Deutscher Brauer Bund (German brewers federation), and to a lesser but more severe extent its Bavarian subsidiary, the Bayerischer Brauer Bund, via German brewery marketing departments. CAMRA’s voice, on the other hand, can be heard the loudest from its members, some of which are more vocal than others. Both groups have a common, fixed belief that their approach to beer production and dispense, i.e. beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot and cask ale, is superior to the alternative, i.e. beer not brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot and keg beer, and they generally exhibit little tolerance for these respective alternatives.
Now where the Reinheitsgebot and CAMRA are almost identical is the influence they exert on the beer drinker. The Reinheitsgebot has been twisted and manipulated to lead the German consumer to believe that beer can only become an entity if it is brewed using water, malt, hops and yeast. Whereas many British beer drinkers have been conditioned to only drink naturally carbonated beer served from a cask, as keg beer has been portrayed as fizzy, tasteless and evil. Perceptions of beer are narrowed down to a very particular, warped ideal and consumers are fearful and sceptical of beer (if you can even call it that, in a German context) that doesn’t fit the bill. And it is precisely this narrow mindedness that has posed a significant challenge to craft brewers who are trying to break into these tough beer markets. However, despite the uphill battle faced by craft brewers, craft beer also poses a counter threat to these conservative institutions. CAMRA and the Brauer Bund rest firmly on their laurels and they openly resent and denounce the success of craft beer, as it completely disregards the traditional values that they have put in place, thus potentially rendering these values irrelevant and obsolete. What it essentially boils down to is the classic struggle between conservatism and liberalism.
In response to the closed-mindedness and skew of information, countermovements are formed to present headwind to these overarching industry voices. In the UK, a key example is CAMGRB, the Campaign For Really Good Beer, whose key philosophy is: “It is up to the brewer to decide how their beer is made and dispensed”. And in Germany, the newly founded association Deutsche Kreativbrauer (German creative brewers) joined forces to propose an alternative to the Reinheitsgebot that promotes natural ingredients, transparency and creativity in beer production. I believe it to be important that German and British beer drinkers have this access to an ever widening spectrum of opinions and information, which should ultimately allow the consumer to form his or her own, informed opinions of what beer is and most importantly how the consumer enjoys to drink beer, as opposed to this being predetermined by a phoney beer law or CAMRA hardliners down the local boozer.