Now then, tell us who you are, what you do and a bit about yourself?
I’m Jon Howard, 22 years of age, and CAMRA’s (Campaign for Real Ale) 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 Wetherspoon’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!
I read recently that 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.
There has been an increase in the sales of home brewing kits. Can you offer any advice/tips/insider secrets?
I think this has come off the back of the Neil Morrissey/Richard Fox TV series. All I can say is, if you are going to brew at home, make sure you have read plenty of literature on the subject, and are dedicated to the art. Without either, you might end up with some ‘interesting’ beer.
Its 9am Monday morning, what would be the start of you typical working day and how does it go from there?
I enjoy the job as it isn’t typical 9-5, however I mostly begin the day by scanning press clippings where CAMRA has been mentioned, or where myself or a colleague has been quoted. I then pick up email requests from journos in need of research, and really just man the phone lines. Pub closures is obviously a hot media topic at the moment- in the last week I’ve been helping Canadian, Australian, Swiss, French and Japanese TV stations on such a issue.
It sounds like heaven being surrounded by beer all day. What is your working atmosphere and environment like?
CAMRA HQ’s building is in quite a discreet location, and is a reasonably normal environment I’m afraid. Aside from the bar in the boardroom and various brewery signs dotting the walls, it’s really just a two-floored open plan office with desks and computers! But everyone who works here is passionate about the future success of pubs and brewers, so there’s definitely some good common ground here.
Can you organise a piss up in a brewery?
As a CAMRA member technically I can organise over 150 of them per year! However, I’d be hard pushed to set one up myself, as there’s an insane amount of manpower going into setting up some of our larger festivals…
I’m sure sampling ales for a profession is great, how do you keep your gut in shape?
Well I’m still only 22, so I haven’t yet been hit by the bulge. I do play a lot of men’s lacrosse so I suppose getting knocked around on the field at weekends is good for the gut. And I only drink in moderation. Of course.
For more information on how to become a member of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, please visit www.camra.org.uk