9 August 2019

More than just beer

The beer world is more than just being about production and consumption of a pleasant, historic drink. It's about community, about personality, about the very tenets of humanity itself. It's about culture and society, about how we present and identify ourselves, whether individually or as groups of people. It's about relationships - be they friendly, intimate or professional. It's about health and wellbeing, both physical and mental - the effects of the latter only having been relatively recently and regrettably belatedly more understood and explored.

Some may claim or pretend otherwise. It's just beer for f*ck's sake. It's just something to get pissed on on a weekend. It's fizzy, tastes good and comes in slabs of 18 for £10 from the supermarket. It's £2 down the local Spoons. It's for making things that should already enjoyable like music, football or meeting your mates somehow more enjoyable.

Such a narrow view is a perfectly valid one to have if that's all you use it for. If beer is merely a sidenote in your life, fine. But for some, it's more than that. Especially when, as a beer lover, beer is used as a weapon - deliberately or unconsciously - against you.

Not a physical weapon. I'm not talking about glassings or drunk driving or physical or emotional violence. Those are all overt, physical, blunt effects of alcohol abuse in general. Measures are in place to prevent these things happening and most humans on this planet would argue and agree that these things are necessary and uncontroversial. The reason being is that these things are not discriminatory - any human can be on the receiving end of these things regardless of colour, creed, sex, gender, sexuality, social class or ability.

Yet somehow, when beer causes pain of other kinds to minorities, disadvantaged, ostracised or disenfranchised groups in other ways, it's overlooked, seen as an irrelevance, ignored or ridiculed. 

Your author is a white middle-aged middle-class male who has faced little to no prejudice in his life for the way he looks or talks. I have faced prejudice in other ways for the way I act (I suffer from mental health difficulties, have been told repeatedly I exhibit symptoms of autism or Asperger's despite never having been tested or diagnosed as such, and I'm a die-hard lily-livered liberal in a very right wing country.) But beer has been a welcoming and wonderful sphere in which to exist, whether online or in the real world. Occasionally I have wobbles. A few weeks ago I stepped into the Pembury Tavern in London and, despite a wonderful welcome and service from the staff, immediately felt like a fish out of water, a Skoda at an F1 race - the imposter syndrome took over big time.

But some reassuring words from my Twitter friends set me straight and I had a wonderful day. Similarly bar staff at Tiny Rebel in Newport, the Old Arcade, City Arms and Head of Steam in Cardiff to name but four locations, treat me with respect, understanding and absorb and reciprocate my unbounded enthusiasm. They are tolerant of me finding wonder in the routine and the benign. They are everything a beer wanker could wish for in bar staff. They make me being me so much easier.

Others aren't so lucky. When a woman walks into a bar and sees a grotesque pump clip with a "comic" depiction of oversized mammary glands staring back at her, it cheapens her soul and existence. It objectifies and exploits something that she has no control over for what should be the simple task of enticing a drinker to consume a beer. Other methods can and have been used for this purpose without resorting to objectifying 50% of the human population. Other methods should and will be used from now on if CAMRA have anything to do with it, because, following on from the Portman Group, they banned any sexist, misogynystic, objectifying imagery or names from their Great British Beer Festival held this week at the Olympia, London.





It's worth considering straight away that CAMRA's hand was forced on this and it is a little overdue. The major thing that changed in the past year was that the industry started listening to more varied and numerous voices, as opposed to just the loudest subset of voices. CAMRA must have finally realised that, "missions" and their Articles of Association aside, they needed to take steps to fill the chasm they were slowly letting emerge between legacy and novel. I'm not exactly CAMRA's biggest fan and I'll probably never re-join but they've learnt a lot of lessons in a very short period of time. They recognise they were in danger of becoming an irrelevance and although their AoA havn't changed, they are taking steps to mitigate that. I'll reserve judgment.







I treat CAMRA (and craftywonks too, there's a similar intransigent streak running through the polar opposite right-on crowd as well) like I treat fellow Welsh Rugby fans. We all like the same thing, I am willing to associate and socialize and interact. But the minute you tell me I'm less of a fan than they are for not being able to go to games, then screw you. Certain CAMRA members seem intent on protecting their image to the point of excluding others who could actually help keep their hobby and their organisation alive. Their "concerns" stem predominantly from combination of change in general which is BAAAAAD (sheep emphasis deliberate) and the fact that "different" folk whose faces, bodies, ideas and perspectives don't mesh entirely with the preexisting predominant heteronormative sociological bubble the complainants exist in. If the reaction on Twitter to this week's news was representative, it appears some don't even like the new breeds of beer drinker doing the same things they do, entering the same spaces, having the same hobbies and interests because, shock horror, they may have to breathe the same air as them.



Those legacy drinkers, members and the "old guard" dictated policy and politics within CAMRA for too long. Their influence has been lessened. Not eliminated, just diluted somewhat, by the more varied and valuable and virile new breed of beer drinker and appreciator brought in by the craft revolution. The 21st Century beer drinker comprises folk from all ethnic and national minorities, from every colour on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, from every ability, political outlook and philosophical perspective. The stereotype of the CAMRA drinker will very soon truly become that - an actual stereotype, and not a truth.

 And the great - and seemingly willingly overlooked - thing is literally noone loses out. Everyone wins. The naysayers, the incels, the fuddy duddies - they all win because they can still drink good beer in good condition, and more of it. Just with less cartoon flesh and less unfunny bodily puns, which were never needed. I am still wary of particular CAMRA members as I am of any single person or persons purporting to fully represent a diverse group. And plenty of these (surprisingly mostly anonymous) warriors have raised their heads above the social media parapet this week in reaction to Guardian and Independent articles, and of course Melissa Cole's wonderful, brave, inspiring appearances on national and local radio and of course that doyen of free speech and diverse opinion, Good Morning Piers.... sorry Britain.

He wasn't there this week. Probably a good thing. Between the sainted Ms Cole and the hijab-wearing Muslim female jockey who appeared earlier this week, he probably would have exploded.

The reaction on Twitter and in other media has been largely predictable : huge amounts of support and similarly huge - and vitriolic - howls of despair from Brexit-enboldened proto-Morganites desperate to exert their waning one-world heteronormative conservative influence over an ever-changing world. Why others who seem comfortable enough in their own blissful guilt-free ignorant lives feel dutybound to dictate what we should be worried about peturbs me. A few years ago those Horaces and Hyacinths were saying the same about recycling and climate change and now look at them, desperately falling over each other to stock up on (branded chic overtly visible colour-coordinated stylish) reusable water bottles, claiming they're saving polar bears. They still whinge and moan online using non-recyclable iPhones and Samsungs they buy every year.

Can't wait to see these dudes' (and, regrettably, dudettes') reactions if a female-led brewery brought out beers called Tiny Penis, Triggered Incel, Short White Syndrome or Boiled Gammon.


As we reach Friday night, the GBBF appears to have been a success. The optics coming out of GBBF this week have thawed my stance on the organisation of CAMRA itself. Front line reports on Twitter and elsewhere are good so far but, while we still have unreal amounts of entitled male muttering, especially from the safe space of Twitter, plus we have the rowdier Saturday to still get through, it is clear that although a battle may have been won, the war is still going on for a little while yet.

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