Now then, tell us who you are, what do you do and a bit about yourself?
I’m Jon Howard, 22 years of age, and CAMRA’s Press Officer. My day job is to ensure real ale, pubs and the organization as a whole are portrayed positively in the regional and national media. This will involve me speaking out on various aspects of Government policy, helping lobby for change, and generally doing my bit for the cause.
How did you get involved in CAMRA?
My parents have always been real ale drinkers, and growing up near the New Forest, it’s difficult not to stumble across the odd cask of good beer. This year I happened to be doing a postgraduate degree in Culture and Media at the time when the job at CAMRA was going, so through education and gentle persuasion (proving I knew my stout from my porter), I was recruited.
Why do you think there has there been a change in younger drinkers habits towards real ale?
Young people like myself are getting tired of seeing pubs become ‘McDonaldized’ to the point where you are greeted with the same 3 lagers every time you pull up a bar stool. There are over 2,500 varieties of real ale in this country concocted by 650+ brewers, each one looking to bring out something new for every season. Thanks in part to recent successful marketing campaigns, more young adults than ever are beginning to see this whole other side to the beer industry, with misconceptions of the typical real ale drinker slowly being deconstructed.
If it is white wine for chicken, red wine for meat, lager for kebabs, suggest what food would you recommend to accompany real ale?
Apart from saying the obvious in that real ale goes with everything, there are so many different styles it really depends on what you’re eating. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a steak and ale pie with a traditional bitter as accompaniment. It may sound a bit clichéd, but who doesn’t like pie and beer?!
What is your current favourite ale? Bottled and cask
I have a reasonably good relationship with a number of brewers, so I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. But I’m a big fan of dark milds and barley wines, and am really getting into some of the beers coming out of Belgium and the USA at the moment. There’s so much more to American brewing than just mainstream export lagers. California for one is a hotbed of great beer.
Would you encourage our real ale readers to join or get involved in CAMRA? What are the benefits?
Join CAMRA as a student or young member and you instantly make about 97,000 friends! Aside from 20 pounds worth of free Weatherspoon’s vouchers and a subscription to CAMRA’s monthly and quarterly publications, your membership card will get you discounted, and in some cases free entry to hundreds of beer festivals across the UK each year.
Is there any reason why some ales/drinks leave varying degrees of hangovers more than others?
Like any alcoholic drink it all depends on the ABV and the number of alcoholic units. I’ve always had a particular susceptibility to white spirits such as vodka and rum, but fundamentally it all boils down to levels of consumption!
There are about 60 pubs a month closing in the UK. Do you think it’s a dying trade and what do you think has aided this?
The stats are even worse than this I’m afraid with 36 pubs per week currently shutting their doors in the UK. Due in part to huge beer tax hikes by the Government and below cost selling in the off-trade, pubs are finding it tough in this current climate. But the pub is a British institution and has far too much history attached to ever face extinction. It’s like us throwing away our teabags or abolishing the monarchy.
What would you say is needed to evolve/adapt for the Beer Industry to survive?
From seeing new and innovative ideas coming out of pubs every week, there is every certainty the pub trade will survive. Offering free soft drinks for drivers or providing an in-house barber are just some of the few top ideas dreamt up by landlords at the moment. Even a quiz and a curry are fool-proof ideas of generating custom. It’s all about establishing a target market and feeding its needs.
For more information on how to become a member of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, please visit www.camra.org.uk
To read the full version of this interview, head to our shop and get hold of a copy of Issue 8 of Proper Magazine.