Friday, 19 September 2014

Laurence of an Ale beer!

Wirral Desert-gate from a WirrAle Perspective

In the spring 2014 Mersey Ale Wirral CAMRA published an article under the title of Wirral Wanderings which appeared to be an all-out attack on Wirral CAMRA members, Pubco’s, local licensees and the general pub and beer industry on the Wirral. Since Wirral CAMRA does not currently produce its own magazine this is the first time that the branch had published anything in a large scale since the 2011 Birkenhead Beer Festival magazine.

 It was retrospectively explained in an aggressive follow up article in the autumn 2014 Mersey Ale defending its original article, that the outspoken piece was specifically designed to generate debate. What I really cannot understand is why either publication which are laden with negativity, generalisation and hypocrisy would ever have been sanctioned by Wirral CAMRA and how they ever imagined that it could help their cause.

The Wirral Beer Desert article certainly created some reaction, but not the reaction it was intended for. All the articles have done is highlighting the self-aggrandising, antiquated thinking Wirral CAMRA has become renowned for. If alienating local breweries, licensees, residents and visiting drinkers was the intention, then Job done!

Both articles are supposedly a complaint about pubco’s and while the pubco model, beer range and quality can be an issue (and one that I recently blogged about), it is in fact a national problem one best handled by CAMRA collectively. It could also be tackled by quietly talking to targeted pubs directly where appropriate.

The problem is the article completely missed the mark as well as the largest problem for Wirral CAMRA, that they need more active members!

Quite how they imagined that a major rant about pubco’s would entice people to go to their overly formal meetings or secular socials, let alone submit beer scores is beyond me. Neither article in any way tries to reconnect with their members, something which Wirral CAMRA has been lacking and only reinforces that Wirral CAMRA members have already voted with their feet and walked away from them, reflected by the low numbers attending their events.

Inconsistent beer quality was cited as an issue in both articles yet the reality is that Wirral CAMRA has next to no idea about the quality of beer in a large number of their pubs. Good beer quality is the primary entry requirement for the Good Beer Guide yet for the 2015 guide (made up of data collected throughout 2014), Wirral CAMRA had scores from only around half of  their pubs and the majority of those from only a single person. Fewer members mean fewer beer scores.

The exclusion of all local JD Wetherspoons pubs from any of their original comments a massive contradiction. Whilst I openly admit that I have precious little love for this particular chain of gastro pubs, the fact remains that only one of their 8 Wirral outlets is in the 2014 Good Beer Guide. If this chain was exempt from their generalisations, then I would have expected far more of their pubs to have been included.

Both their articles state that “the Wirral pub trade is declining” and while I agree that certain areas have struggled with the recent economic down turn, most of those have been suffering for far longer. Areas such as Birkenhead and Tranmere which have suffered both from the decline of the ship building industry as well as a lack in footfall due to peoples changing working and socialising patterns has resulted in a necessary period of change when people have become increasingly savvier with their time and money. The majority of pub closures here have been from those either unwilling or unable to adapt to this changing market, or those pubs which were simply too large. Those that thrive have done so generally by catering for specific niches such as sport, food, value, barbers, tourism or even “live music biker bar”.

However, it would have made far more sense to positively reinforce those areas currently undergoing ale resurgence than to state such generalised negativity.

Fresh on the back of The Open 2014, the Wirral’s North Coast has a flourishing ale scene where three beer festivals have attracted thousands of Ale and Cider drinkers from across the Wirral as well as introducing those from further afield to Local Wirral Beer; New pubs have opened up in Parkgate and West Kirby; New licensees have taken over declining pubs and turned them around increasing ale sales; The Wirral’s first micro pub is scheduled to open in Liscard later this year; Or on pubs historically serving only keg beer now also serving cask for the first time.

CAMRAs pub database Whatpub also shows more pubs’ serving real ale now than last year reinforcing that the Wirral beer scene is experiencing resurgence, or maybe this is a mirage.

The Wirral really is a great place to visit. We have some spectacular coastline, friendly people as well as some amazing pubs which could only get better with some positive support. We have some amazing landlords providing a selection of Local beer, national chains as well as Further afield microbreweries.

I really am amazed just how disconnected Wirral CAMRA really has become. Its spread itself too thin by having committee members involved with campaigning at a national level while precious little is actually achieved locally. Missing opportunities to campaign localy by apparently snubbing certain beer festivals as well as providing massive contradictions as to just what they have achieved in the last 12 months along with a complete U-Turn from Wirral CAMRA chairman Dave Goodwin over the original clarification defending their article as “a wake up call for some of our licensees” with no mention of the pubco issue further displays the ineptitude of the article. But what I cannot accept is a total lack of an apology to those people hurt by these articles.

I would love to witness the effect a friendly, positive and social campaigning group could on have Wirral pubs as displayed by other local CAMRA branches, but this would involve the type of radical thinking that I believe the existing committee is unwilling to embrace. As to whether I believe Wirral CAMRA is pointless, I shall leave that decision to those better placed

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