Adding character to beer for 40 years

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Dancing Duck, Darwin’s Origin, Cornish Sunset... their names are full of character and personality.

And if it hadn’t been for CAMRA what we would be drinking instead is – bland, fizzy, chilled lagers.

Fenland branch of CAMRA members at the Red Lion Hotel in Spalding at the launch of the 2014 Good Beer Guide. Photo: SG171013-556NG

Fenland branch of CAMRA members at the Red Lion Hotel in Spalding at the launch of the 2014 Good Beer Guide. Photo: SG171013-556NG

Nigel Woodburn, chairman of the Fenland branch of CAMRA, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is quick to point out that he’s not criticising quality lagers.

“I am talking about mediocre lagers, fizzy things that don’t taste of anything because they are chilled and pasteurised so much,” he says.

Nigel is steering the group’s celebrations, starting with an event at the Bull Inn at Market Deeping on Sunday, which will be a get together with the Peterborough CAMRA branch.

The Bull Inn wasn’t a random choice, because it was the venue for the inaugural meeting of the Fenland branch of the Campaign for Real Ale on June 21, 1974.

CAMRA nationwide was already underway, prompted, says Nigel, by a group of traditionalists who were bemoaning the state of British beer.

Nigel says: “CAMRA started in 1971 and by that time all the small breweries had amalgamated and they were phasing out cask conditioned beer, which is real ale.

“The big six breweries were producing a bland, tasteless product.”

That small group of traditional beer drinkers decided to start a campaign which quickly struck a chord with a lot of people.

Nigel says by the time Fenland branch began, the national organisation had 14,000 members.

The late Rodney Girdlestone was one of the founders of the Fenland branch, which originally included people from Peterborough before they broke off to form their own group.

Nigel explains that CAMRA wasn’t about getting rid of chilled lagers, but about giving people choice.

Very quickly, breweries started to take notice – CAMRA was described in the mid-’70s as the most successful consumer group in Europe.

Nigel says: “There must (once) have been hundreds of breweries in Lincolnshire and by the mid-’70s Batemans was the biggest one in the Fenland area, and the only regional family brewery left.

“Nowadays, we are going back to the way it was in the 19th century with smaller breweries setting up, like the Prior’s Oven in Spalding, and there is a craft brewing movement. So there is more choice and more quality. I don’t know how may cask beers there were in 1974 but there must be thousands now.”

Of course, Batemans Brewery is still going strong and that’s where branch members are going for their second 40th anniversary celebration and AGM on June 21 when they hope to be supping a specially brewed ale, Fenland 40.