April 2, 2015 | Posted in CULTURE & SOCIETY | By

How Many Real Ale Pubs Should A Local Real Ale Society Handle?


Though Britain’s pubs are closing down at an alarming rate, there are still thousands out there and in many city centres, new bars open all the time too. Clearly, no one can hope to visit every pub in the land in their lifetime though some have given it a good go.


CAMRA, Britain’s biggest real ale campaigning group, divides its national membership into regional and local branches. Cities such as Manchester, London, Birmingham, Glasgow, etc., have several branches serving different corridors, and some will still be expected to cover a wide area.


Some groups do well to cover and visit as many bars in their catchment areas as possible; others seem to focus on some outlets and pretty well ignore others. This is something I tend to disagree with. If a bar in a given area isn’t serving real ale, the society needs to promote real ales as a good idea to them; if a bar is serving real ale badly, they need our advice; if a bar is doing well with its real ale sales, it needs our promotions.


I challenged one of our committee members on this recently and he asked me what I do myself to promote real ales in our community – my response being given here; I support the group as a member, I visit as many pubs as I can within my very limited economic budget and I also write frequent beer diaries and blogs like this one which has potential to be seen by many people locally and globally.


What I find is that some bars receive multiple visits from the local group collectively over a given campaigning year – this is usually when the beer there is cheaper than average; the bar has been unusually popular with members visiting, someone in the group is on the staff there, or perhaps more excusably, the bar is easy to get to on public transport and offers real ale group members discounts.

Other pubs receive fewer visits while many receive none at all. Café bars are often treated as not real pubs, a bar with loud music or more expensive than average ales will often be snubbed; the few members suggesting they be visited are often met with stony silence or tutting. The real ale within therefore gets un-noticed – but we are a real ale society, not a switch off the juke-box please society.

On a recent crawl, we passed a few bars I was told do real ales, and realized we haven’t been into them in the three years since I joined the society. Two of the bars were totally new to me. The reason we haven’t even listed them for future visits seemed to be that a bar that was known to be thriving and selling real ale anyway didn’t need our attention, but I fiercely disagree – our support and publicity for bars that are getting things right helps encourage other bars to follow suit.

Of course there is nothing to stop me, or other members of the society making our own private visits to the bars, or popping in to deliver magazines, flyers, etc., and such visits will be made by me personally, but this kind of casual informal visit is often being treated as a substitute for the group giving the bar collective and more formal attention, so that as few bars as possible are missed on our patrols.

Many see CAMRA as the policing and security group monitoring all aspects of real ale and pub / brewery activity in our areas – to ignore some corners while giving greater favour to some is in danger of being seen as elitist, and we have a moral obligation to widen our search fields to maximize our impact.


Arthur Chappell

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