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What Is the Point of Wirral CAMRA?

March 25, 2014

~~A recent article (titled THE WIRRAL BEER DESERT – A point of View from Wirral CAMRA Members) by three members of Wirral branch of CAMRA was published in the spring 2014 edition of MerseyAle.  The full article can be read online at the link below.

I will try and address the key points of the article.

1. Wirral CAMRA: Many Wirral pubs are tied to a pubco, and therefore restricted in the range of beers they can purchase, and very often the range and quality they offer are not to the consumers taste. The number of freehouses, who are able to source their beers from whichever brewery they choose, are a rarity.
Peerless Response: The issue of pubs being tied is relevant to all regions nationally not just Wirral. However, most pubcos  over the last couple of years have upped their game and now allow purchase of a range of beers. In M&B pubs in Wirral I have recently seen ales from Liverpool Organic as well as microbrews from around the country.  In JDWetherspoon beers are supplied from Peerless, Northern Brewing, Frodsham, George Wright etc, as well as a massive range of beers from outside the area. It is also the case that Punch, Enterprise, Greene King, Admiral, Spirit can all buy beers via the SIBA DDS scheme which most brewers are members of. I can certainly confirm that the volume of Peerless ales supplied to Wirral pubs has increased significantly over the last 2 years.  To say that the national brands are not to consumers tastes is incorrect. What you mean is that you don’t like them! These brands are the mainstay of the pub trade and whilst most CAMRA members would certainly chooses a well brewed real ale from a microbrewer, many drinkers delight in going to a local pub and knowing they can have a pint of Black Sheep, Directors, or Bombardier.
Other great Wirral pubs such as the Irby Mill, The Telegraph, The Magazine, Gallaghers, The White Lion, all have ever changing guest ales.
I agree that freehouses are a rarity but this is the same in all regions.  Locally the Fox & Hounds and the Wheatsheaf at Raby are fine examples of freehouses which support locals with a fine choice of ales.

2. Wirral CAMRA : Quality of beer is frequently a problem due to restricted sales; cask beer, once tapped normally will have a shelf life of no more than 3-4 days. Lack of sales creates a vicious circle in that the poor quality causes consumers not to wish to drink it.
Peerless Response: This is true but again not just specific to Wirral.  I have in recent weeks had dodgy pints in Liverpool, Chester, Sheffield and Wirral. Landlords nationwide are struggling with the effects of high rents and also to the fact that beer duty has increased by 40% over the last 4 years. As they struggle to maintain a living it is no surprise that some will try and wring another couple of days out of a cask rather than pour it down the drain. The answer is to support your local pub. If you get a bad pint ask for it to be changed. Try having a quiet word with the landlord and suggest the beer is ready to be changed. Doing these simple things should be part of being a CAMRA member.

3. Wirral CAMRA : Many Pubs seem to purchase their beer solely on a cheaper price, without consideration to the desires of their customers. Very often this produces a poor range of beers that does not suit their customers palates or less popular high strength beers.
Peerless Response:  I can tell you that price is a consideration for all pubs.  Beers that are popular nationally such as Thornbridge Jaipur can come with a hefty price tag and mean that landlords have to charge a premium. Instead of whingeing, talk to the publican and ask to see his forthcoming choices for guest ales.  Many pubs would be only too happy to receive feedback. Beers that don’t suit palates? Again this is a personal issue for the authors. Your reference to high strength beers makes no sense if landlords are buying solely on price, as they are always more expensive to buy.

4. Wirral CAMRA: Wirral pubs, with some exception, fail to offer their beers at reasonable/competitive prices causing a further reduction in beer sales.
Peerless Response:  This is a massive generalisation. Are you really saying that Wirral is more expensive pub for pub than those in Liverpool or Chester?  Beer prices vary enormously due to the type of pub and the range available.  I just do not accept that Chester has cheaper beer than Wirral, even JDWetherspoon charges more in Chester than it does in Birkenhead. 

5. Wirral CAMRA:  Certain pubs are over-ambitious in the number of hand-pumps they have on their bars. If the turnover of their cask-sales is low, too many hand-pumps will simply mean that certain (not all) of the beers fail to be served to a satisfactory standard, and causing reduced sales. Better to restrict the number of hand-pumps to the level of sales, thus ensuring increased turnover and improved quality.
Peerless Response: Again, this is a universal problem not a strictly a Wirral issue. Running a pub is a tricky business and getting it right is difficult

Wirral CAMRA’s final statement suggests that if you live in Wirral and want to enjoy good cask beer, at a good price, you have to move to Liverpool or Chester. One of the authors of the article is Dave Goodwin who has long experience in CAMRA having served at National Executive level and is currently Chairman of the Wirral branch. Dave has also worked for Brimstage and Wapping breweries and should understand the industry well enough not make such comments.

Dave – you should hang your head in shame and resign. Your position is untenable.

The CAM in CAMRA is for Campaign.  Wirral CAMRA has done precious little in recent years. Liverpool branch by contrast works tirelessly on a variety of industry campaigns.
I believe the purpose of a local branch is to support local pubs and breweries, hold an annual beer festival and occasionally produce a magazine with news and updates. Wirral Camra has not managed any of these activities in recent years. I say to Wirral CAMRA members, now is the time to vote out the current committee. Wirral CAMRA is pointless.

Steve Briscoe
Peerless Brewing, Wirral
Ex CAMRA Member

kev murphy
March 25, 2014
Well said Steve during my time in Hoylake I received no support from the CAMRA of Wirral, how we built sales to over 1000 pints of ale a week was to listen to what the customer wants, taking advice from local brewers like yourself, if you sell what the customer wants then it should easily be gone within 3 days. I totally agree with regards to the wirral Camra never did we see them lay on any kind of ale festival or produce and kind of ale magazine. It goes to show that this is definitely a good market for these type of events as the Hoylake Beer Festival you held was a massive success. One thing that sticks out to me is that if Wirral ales are so poor then how come my little pub alone was selling over 1000 pints a wee, and had a good number of Camra members in the pub everyday, surely if they were as bad as made out in the above statements then Camra members and customers would be drinking in Liverpool. I always received 100% pass marks from Cask Marque on their visits.
John mc
March 25, 2014
Spot on Steve great response, the comments were disgraceful shocking, been saying Goodwin must go for ages, he does absolutely nothing for Wirral Real Ale and as for the Birkenhead Festival, the disgusting comments are the last straw he must go now, as you rightly said his position is untenable and the committee voted out
Simon Tiplady
March 26, 2014
Campaign groups of all descriptions seem to focus their time complaining about underperformers instead of complimenting and encouraging those that are doing well. The original article did mention "a few exceptions", those exceptions are the ones that should have been discussed and commended for their efforts. We've written a short article on our blog and linked back to yours. Simon Chester Beer Appreciation Society (CBAS)
Dave Hawkins
March 26, 2014
I agree Steve: I am a member of CAMRA however do not participate as I find the members to be patronising and full of narrow self interests. There are good Wirral beers to be found: Peerless, Brimstage etc and some excellent pubs such as Gallaghers or the Magazine. They are talking through their 'Trappers Hat'.
Helen Mossman
March 27, 2014
At the start of this blog you say that the item in Mersey Ale is a point of view from 3 members of Wirral Branch but then you write the rest of the blog as if the views expressed are those of the whole of CAMRA Wirral Branch and its Committee. You then discuss the letter as if it is a dispute between CAMRA Wirral and Peerless Brewery but there is no dispute. In fact you continue by saying that you agree with most of the comments in the letter. Perhaps the only difference is the extent that the factors affect the Wirral compared with other neighbouring areas. Helen Mossman Wirral CAMRA Branch Secretary
Steve Briscoe
March 27, 2014
Hi Helen, There is no dispute between Wirral CAMRA and Peerless Brewing, at least not on my part. I have tried simply to put my point of view against each item in the article. The article is signed off by the Chairman of Wirral CAMRA. As such, I can only assume that as Chairman he feels he is representing the views of the branch. I feel that headline element of the article is the biggest problem. Why on earth would a CAMRA branch tell its members to drink elsewhere. It would be much easier to focus on the positives of the region. Regards, Steve
Dave Goodwin
March 27, 2014
The letter is signed by me as one of three individuals with no mention of my position as Chairman - that connection has been made only by you. The CAMRA Branch has not told its members to drink elsewhere – the letter signed by three individuals and not from the Branch simply says drinkers “may wish to consider … travel to surrounding areas”. It is meant to be a wake up call for some of our licensees. Of course there are some excellent Wirral pubs but the factors which I think we both agree on are more common in Wirral than elsewhere locally. Surely it is better we work together to persuade local pubs to take more excellent local beers and improve choice and quality rather than engaging in personal comments.
Gareth Owen
March 27, 2014
Dear Steve, I have read the article in question and whilst it is feisty in it's tone there is no implicit criticism of any specific pub or brewery - including yours - which mystifies me as to why you seem to taken all this personally. It is not a letter written by or on behalf of the Wirral CAMRA committee. It is an open letter from three CAMRA members and as such they are free to express their opinions and it is up to the readership of Merseyale to agree or disagree with them accordingly. Personally, I think that their comment about beer being dearer in Wirral than Liverpool or Chester is incorrect as this is not my experience. Maybe I'm lucky as I live very close to Gallaghers'Pub & Barbers which is an outstandingly good establishment showcasing as it does some of the best beers from local and regional breweries. Not everyone in the Wirral is as fortunate as their "local" may not offer the range and quality of ales as mine. This may persuade some to go further afield in search of the Holy Grail of choice and excellence. No doubt some of them even go to Liverpool & Chester. In your previous comment you say that there is no dispute between Peerless and Wirral CAMRA, if this is so (and I believe that you are right) it hardly advances your argument by posting a picture on Facebook of a sign inviting everyone - bar the Wirral CAMRA committee - to Thirsty Thursday. This is especially baffling considering I am on the committee and also your Brewery Liaison Officer and another member of the committee is one of your own employees! Anyway, I hope to see you and Rose later, sample some of your excellent beers and enjoy the ambience of Thirsty Thursday. Entry permitting, of course ;-) Gareth.
Steve Briscoe
March 27, 2014
Dear Dave, Whether signed as an individual or as Chairman matters not. You are the Chairman and when you make such announcements you do so as an elected representative of the Wirral Branch. I have no dispute with CAMRA, just a difference of opinion. Your comments directly affect the livelihoods of publicans and indeed brewers on the Wirral. I do not agree that factors you describe are more prevalent in Wirral. I would much rather focus on the positives. Your last paragraph suggests we 'work together to persuade pubs to take excellent local beer', I don't need help on this, we do this every single week of the year. I am not sure how your article does this either. In terms of personal comments, I fully stand by my opinion. Your position of Chairman is untenable given your views. However, I resigned from CAMRA some time ago and will leave it to the membership to decide, regards, Steve.
Steve Briscoe
March 27, 2014
Dear Gareth, I appreciate there is no specific criticism of pub or brewery. This makes things worse. The article is very generalized and suggests Wirral is too expensive when compared to Liverpool or Chester. This is simply untrue. In terms of allowing CAMRA members into my brewery all are welcome, but I have to say that I am unable to allow entry to anyone who agrees with the article. If I condone entry then I accept the article. Many Wirral publicans (and CAMRA members) are extremely upset with the article. See you later :-))
Andy Davis
March 28, 2014
Personally I feel that Wirral camra does little for the area - looking at their Facebook page there's mentions for Formby, Prescot and Waterloo, all NOT on the Wirral. Why didn't Wirral Camra publicise about the news the Refreshment Rooms closed, but actually didn't? They haven't had a magazine out since December, its had to be suspended, and I've never seen it actually published, yet I can pick up a Liverpool one around Wirral. The article is just terrible and makes Wirral look a laughing stock and poor cousin of Liverpool. Claims that its a desert and there are no local pubs are laughable. There's certainly far more in the suburbs of Wirral than there are in Liverpool suburbs. From my home in Oxton I can walk in any direction and find a good pub within ten minutes walk - Caernarvon Castle, Cock and Pullet, The Shrew, Open Arms and the 'Spoons in Birkenhead, not to mention Gallaghers, the Mags and pubs in suburbs just a quick train or bus ride away. It was nice to see the West Kirby and Hoylake festivals mentioned, but where was the promotion before the events? I'm sure there will be a decent rebuttal from non member drinkers in the next Merseyale, from far more than just three people, and this will make the signatories, and the organisation they're affiliated with look stupid, wrong, and will certainly encourage locals to NOT become Wirral Camra members.
Trev W
May 20, 2014
I have to side with steve on this one. I saw the original article, was disappointed in its tone. The lack of online activity in recent years, demise of birkenhead beer festival (there are other venues surely) dont help wirral camras profile. With 17 wirral gbg entry pubs, wirral camra should celebrate the diverse pubs and areas served in this branch. Liverpool city centre is great for drinking, but is expensive, high rents being passed onto the punter. I wonder why other pubs mentioned by people on this forum are not in the gbg? I can add to that list the stork - good enough for wirral branch meetings, but not for the gbg itself.
Trev W
August 26, 2016
Over 2 years fast fowarded, there is an established Hoylake beer fest, ship and mitre festivals at port sunlight and Wallasey cricket club. The CAMRA Birkenhead beer festival was revived at prenton park a few months ago. Still no CAMRA magazine, and most CAMRA meetings still located at one venue (Gallaghers). Could meetings be spread around more? How much progress has been made by Wirral CAMRA in 2.5 years?
Will Redfearn
December 5, 2014
My pal used to have the Commodore in Lord Street,with a good range of proper beers, but CAMRA wouldn't put it in their'guide' because it was a favourite with bikers!
Matt F
March 12, 2015
What a well thought out, clear and composed response. It just takes a wander to their website to see that Wirral CAMRA are stuck in a time warp. They seem to have a extreme case of Wirralitus, where people have a very small minded view of how things should be. As a relatively young person (Well I try and tell myself that) I find some views and attitudes on the Wirral outdated. Companies like Peerless stand out, their attitudes, approaches and acceptance of the modern times should be lauded.

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