Search for the Campaign for Real Ale in the Freaky Trigger archives and you’ll find a history of mockery and frustration tinged with occasional praise as the lumbering beast moves in what we think is the right direction. When Pete started the Publog back in 2000 CAMRA were something to be defined against: warriors for the ale cause stuck firmly in the 1980s, with a suspicion verging on contempt for a mass public that had betrayed real ale, and with no consideration of – say – pub atmosphere, which you’d think would be fairly essential to enjoying ale regardless of beer quality.

I very much doubt anyone from CAMRA follows the publog – not even the much-derided Chairman Mick – but in many ways 2006 CAMRA, as seen at the GBBF, is a different creature. It’s been campaigning on behalf of pub interiors, pub games, getting more women into pubs, and has now launched Cyclops, an easy-read taste guide to beers, like the little glasses with numbers on you get on wine bottles. The actual execution of these campaigns has often been limited or laughable – who can forget the woman with a foaming pint head – but definitely these are laudable aims (Jukebox preservation next please!).

The gleeful range of beer on sale at the GBBF is a reminder of how vital CAMRA has been in preserving and encouraging ale drinking and brewing: the love of beer on display is heartwarming. But it’s really noticeable how narrow the aesthetic of real ale still is. Beer after beer, stall after stall, uses the same fonts, the same illustration styles, the same anthropomorphic bulls, rams and bulldogs making feeble puns. The feel is midway between a Spectator cartoons page and 80s White Dwarf. It’s all a bit….sad.

Now I’m not saying our particular posse didn’t fit right in. But think about a country like Belgium, famous for its variety of beers across the world: it is noticeable that Belgian beers somehow manage to sell themselves without a huge amount of puns, goblins and cartoon foxes getting in the way. Microbreweries in the USA, judging by the beers I saw on my trip to Seattle last year, seem comfortable with modernism, innovation and elegance in label and bottle design in ways that would be entirely alien at the GBBF.

CAMRA was founded to defend a sector under siege, and it’s done so admirably. But its method of defense has too often involved strengthening the walls, creating a dogged microculture of stout-hearted ale yeomans, making the GBBF take on something of the vibe of a gigantic potting shed. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a Campaign for Cool Ale.