I was nearly rude to a man in the Wenlock Arms a few days back. I was sipping demurely on a series of diet cokes while all those around me tucked into delicious-smelling, fine-looking, well-kept real ales. At the bar, enviously buying my companions more pints of Pitfield Dark Star, I was quizzed by a nice fellow about the quality of the beer. I like knowing about this stuff and found my inability to help surprisingly frustrating.

Turns out he’s an American over for the Great British Beer Festival. He asked whether I would be going along. Under other circumstances I’d normally lie politely and be on my way. But I found myself saying “No, I wouldn’t dream of it. I like real ale but I hate beer festivals. I like the pub, me.” Crikey! Where did that come from?

Here’s the FT orthodoxy, as I understand it: we like our booze but our priority is the pub, in particular the pub as the ideal environment for The Soash*. A good pub with dodgy beer remains a good pub, while an awful pub with excellent booze is still rubbish. The root of the deep-seated mistrust of CAMRA on FT stems from this priorities, because CAMRA’s priorities are precisely the opposite of ours. There is also the small matter of those graphics which show people’s heads ickily turning into pints of real ale, but let’s set that aside for now.

The beer festival, it seem to me, is the distillation of What We Don’t Like About CAMRA, with some delicious drinks to compensate. And the booze is GREAT. But beer festivals are uncomfortable places to drink, never enough seating, nowhere nice to lean, every available surface covered in sticky, drying ale, there aren’t enough J-cloths in the world to soak it all up and there is therefore a foul stench of stale ale. Festivals have a bad habit of having live music. GET ONE JUKER. But, oh no, a juker would get all the beerheads complaining about the music and that would distract them from talking about the relative percentages of hop and barley, and the water sources, and what particular blend of imported yeast they use, and…

And you have to pay to get in.

The point is, in exactly the same way as my musical experience is certainly not “all about the music, man”, my drinking life is not all about the quality of the beer. There must be much more to it than that.

*The Soash (sl): socialising (abbr.)