Is CAMRA Run By Puristans Or Precisionists?

monkey4That is surely an unkind thing to say but recently I read a fascinating book about the first leader of the good if extreme folk who settled Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1600s. In that book, I came upon the distinction between “puritanism” and “precisionism” which boiled down to the distinction between the passionate approach or a technical approach to matters of correctness in faith… and the precisionist’s need to be correcter than the next guy. I was reminded of the distinction when I read Martyn’s strongly worded post this morning about some unfortunate things said by Colin Valentine, the chairman of the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale:

Excuse my intemperate language, but I’ve just been reading some total lying crap by the chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale about beer bloggers. Apparently we’re the “bloggerati” (eh?), and we’re “only interested in new things”, and for beer bloggers, Camra’s “40 years of achievement means nothing, as the best beer they have ever had is the next.”

Sitting at a distance across an ocean and up a rather large river, I have wondered about the point of CAMRA’s pronouncements from time to time. At one level, it’s really just like an automobile club offering discounts to members and lobbies for sensible things like pouring full measures. But the organization is also argumentative and seems to lack its senses of humour and perspective. For example, CAMRA is as much anti-keg as pro-cask. And now it appears to be anti-beer-blogger.

To be honest, I couldn’t care less what Colin Valentine thinks, says or has for breakfast as he represents a financial interest in the brewing trade that is as established and self-serving as any brewery or pub chain or industry publication. He also no doubt has an abiding faith in the correctness of doing so. But, regardless of correctness, Valentine has a huge stake in making sure CAMRA continues to be considered the authoritative voice on things beery within the marketplace of ideas. And if Dredgie is correct – and I am not quite sure he is – beer bloggers are the new vanguard of modern beer media. Which means a threat to CAMRA.

Which brings me back to those first Bostonians. Who in the beery discussion are the puritans and who are the precisionists? And who are neither?

America’s Communalist Christian Foundation

I have been reading a lot this winter. Lots and lots of histories – mainly US but plenty about the founding of Upper Canada, too, though those texts are fewer and far between. Right now, I am reading John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father by Francis J. Bremer, a book about the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony founded in 1630 a decade after the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock. It is a great ride, covering his grandfather’s birth in 1480 to his own death in 1648 and contextualizes his life in the ebb and flow of the state’s regulation of religious practices from pre-Luther to the lead up to the English Civil War, also the name of an excellent song by The Clash. But this is the key bit. The middle bit to his sermon to his fellow passengers on the event of their departure to New England from the Old World:

… for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going…

See that? The new order of New England shall not only be a candle on a stand rather than under a bushel (basket) – but if they were to screw up “wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants.” That is a heavy burden but one that acts as a prophesy, reaching to today from 381 years ago. What was the way to avoid having “prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us”? Worship of those other gods, pleasures and profits. And also failing to make “others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke.” Pinkos! I see Pinkos! Pinkos like me!

Next time you hear about how American was founded on faith, you may want to agree in part and note that what sort of Christian by which it was founded.

Massachusetts: Jack D’Or, Pretty Things, Holyoke

If you have read this blog for a while you will appreciate that I like saison. A few years back I wondered out loud if it was going to ever be the next big thing and I may have had my wish granted to some degree as they are out there even if they haven’t exactly bumped macro pilsner off the shelf. Pretty Things, which calls itself a beer and ale project, says this is simple table beer but they are being coy. A sensible $5.99 paid for a bomber belies the quality here. A while back, I inhaled upon one of their Saint Botolph’s Town rustic dark ales. It happened so fast, without a moment to type notes. I have high hopes for this one.

It pours yellowed straw ale under a fine white head. The aroma is lightly citrus with herbals. I once grew lemon verbena and which I can’t say it reminds me of that it did remind me that I once grew lemon verbena. There is also a creamed sweet maltiness. In the mouth, there is pith and white pepper, twiggy minty notes as well as a cream soft malty underbelly, smoothed from the oats. A bit of pear juice but also a nod to cox orange pippin apple as well as a mid-mouth astringency. Apparently no spices whatsoever if the brewer is to be believed (who’s calling them liars? you??) so it coaxes all the herbal notes from hops. And yeast strains. Why don’t we argue more about having more interesting yeast strains? But no spices. Sorta like those early Queen albums proclaimed in the liner notes that no synthesizers were used now that I think of it. In fact it goes rather well with 1974’s Queen II now that I think of it. I don’t know if it would be Zepworthy for, perhaps, even Houses of the Holy, a record I might rather pair with Fantome but still it does remind you that these earthier manorial beers like certain aspects of the 1970s overly dramatic folk tale art rock playbook, even for their pre-democratic roots, are far more than table beer.

I would like to try it against Hennepin. I am thinking this is a bit bigger and maybe more complex but shares the moreishness. Like all saisons, primal. I particularly like the use of the cap security label to tell me that this is a representative of their April 2009 Third Batch. We are in this for the data after all. BAers are in love.

Massachusetts: Beer Of The Gods, High And Mighty Beer

botg1What to have for the day Obama gets to grasp the brass ring? Something from a blue state, that’s obvious. And something that doesn’t look like one of those designer beers. And one with a name that speaks to hyperbolic hope. High and Mighty’s Beer of the Gods passes the test on all counts.

At a pleasant and prudent 4.5%, this take on “kolsch meets alt” works wonders. The beer pours a slight lemony light amber with a snow white billowy foamy head. There is plenty of steely-twiggy hopping going on as well as a lighter yet creamy touch of malt all within a fresh moreish body. In the malt there is light plum and apple and plenty of grainy texture. A great session beer.

Ridiculously good value at $5.50 for a 22 ounce bomber. BAers are oddly not amused.

Massachusetts: St. Hubbins Abbey, High and Mighty Beer, Holyoke

sha1Excellent. A Spinal Tap reference in a well-priced Belgian-style ale, named for the patron saint of quality footwear. The brewery’s website is but a page – refreshingly Tap-tastic as well. The brewery apparently uses the equipment at fellow Holyokarians at Paper City, whose mixed 12 packI reviewed three summers ago…when I was but a pup.

This ale pours an attractive orange amber with a cream head that resolves to frothy rim and foam. A light citrus scent is followed by a orange peel nutmeg and black pepper spiced wash of soft water fruited maltiness. Perhaps nutty but that’s mixed up with some black tea astringency right in the middle of all the $6.75 for a bomber at Tully’s of Wells. Great value and, at 6.2%, not a skull crusher. I envy myself having one in hand, I really do. BAers give respect…but not to eleven or anything.

My Deep And Witty Analysis Of The Big Hop Giveaway!

My computer ate it. It was a virtual unified theory of beer blogging, an apology draped in an accusation resting on a question with its feet up on satisfaction. Brilliant. Gone. In sum: I didn’t like their variety packs, the special glass, Utopia, the ’90’s triple bock or their white-like thing; but, once called out, I found liked their value-priced Scotch Ale and premium Imperial pilsner a lot and the ads have grown on me; remember that good business knows it does one good to do good; remember, too, they are a big raft brewer with a range from perhaps some kraphtt, much craft, and some special; I have no idea what percentage of their total hops ordered this giveaway of allotment represents; but in the end it is great to see a breakaway brewery remember that a rising tide raises all boats. Good work, Jim.

The long version was better. An epic.

Craft Or Kraphtt: Sam Adams Scotch Ale, Boston Beer, Mass

Stan was rightly giving me grief the other day or at least a lesson in life when I spoke of the Sam Adams line of beers. I didn’t mean to be mean and I am a delicate flower in the face of such dressings down – but, as you all know, I am working with what I am thinking about beer pricing and value. To that end, I’ve suggested five general categories of beer quality. What is the goal of the five point scale? I suppose it is as useful as a Top 25 Brewers list or using the numbers 1 to 10 to rate a beer: it is a means to give order to things. And it is supposed to give order based on deeds not claims – sure, subjectively (as that is the essence of the experience of beer) but not to bash as I live in a post-sticks-and-stones universe. Further, taking up the challenge of Matt at Rutgers, I drove into another country and bought up not six not eight but seven different Boston Beer brews to make sure I had a clue.

Scotch ale is something one would think is very important to a Scot yet it is neither the national drink or the other national drink. There are plenty of examples in the archives and they share that sweet, toast and smoke malts the style is known for. Surely a nod to style that is otherwise defective can send a beer teetering from craft down into kraphtt, no? So – what with this one, 5.4% with a best by date of April 2008? If smell alone could win the day (and who amongst us has not thought that thought before?) this one would surely stand proud as craft with the deep apple butter aroma it gives off. Chestnut ale under a rocky lacing tan head, goes down in a rich wave of sweet malt (butterscotch, pear, apple butter, licorice, and maybe even blackcurrent) tempered by the burnt toastiness of blackened malt with a hint of twiggy hops, perhaps Fuggles, in the end. A lovely brew. “Tha’s a braw bricht brew the noo!” Oor Wullie would say…if he ever grew up to be old enough to try one.

A solid effort and one that makes me offset the same brewer’s white ale over there on the other side of line between craft and what is not quite craft. And, as part of a variety twelve pack for 14.99, great value. 19/20 BAers agree.