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Monday, 12 August 2013 00:00

A good pint, well made

by Keith Flett

Looking forward to the Great British Beer Festival

The Great British Beer Festival gets under way at London's Olympia on Tuesday.

Organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) it showcases a large numbers of British-brewed beers, ciders and perries plus many other brews on draught from around the world as well.

Certainly in my part of north-east London and, in many other places too, the world is changing when it comes to beer.

Of course there are still the big, often multinational producers, selling their products in supermarkets and such pubs as remain open.

There is also a significant boom in the numbers of small local brewers, producing beers to local tastes, and in some cases experimenting to find out what local tastes really are.

I'm not a huge fan of many small businesses any more than I am of big ones.

It's just that thanks to union organisation large companies in most cases can't avoid paying their employees reasonable wages and at least trying to appear as if they behave decently.

The new brewing movement, which sometimes describes itself in a very hard to define word, as "craft," comes historically and politically from a very different place.

This is no reflection of David Cameron's defunct "big society" but rather a reminder of the early principles of the co-operative movement that underwrites much of it.

Craft breweries do not have the ownership structure of the Rochdale Pioneers, but their insistence in the use of unadulterated ingredients to provide a wholesome product is central here.

In many cases the new breweries have open days when anyone can turn up, sample beer and take a look at the brewing process.

They will also see stacked around the brewery varieties of hops and malt that go to make up the beer.

How the relationship between the new craft breweries and the people who drink their beer develops remains to be defined.

Some of the larger ones such as Brewdog, which is part funded by those who like drinking its beers, have high publicity profiles.

Equally, and inevitably with capitalism, there are those around who seek to bring the beers of the new breweries and drinkers together not so much to encourage people to sample and spread the word but for their own profit.

Camra however has a model of organising that complements those of the new brewers.

It is not for profit but is based on voluntary labour and campaigning in a way that will be very familiar to those active in the labour movement.

That means that all those serving and fulfilling many other roles at Olympia are there in their own time because they believe in the importance of promoting decently brewed beer.

Camra has its critics, and there is a debate about how beer should be served, whether from a cask or from a keg.

This is for the specialists. Most will be interested only in whether or not what they are drinking tastes good.

The interesting point is that despite a couple of centuries of capitalism and its focus on shareholders and profits, other ways of doing things endure.

Whether it is the volunteering principle that lies at the centre of the Great British Beer Festival or the focus on good quality ingredients and carefully brewed beer of the new craft breweries, both are a testament to the reality that the market principle is not the only way of doing things.

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