Byline: BY DAVE BROOKES
THERE was a time I wouldn't contemplate a night out without first consulting the 'bible' - the Good Beer Guide bible, of course.
The Campaign for Real Ale was in its infancy at just about the same time I was sampling my first pint of Ansells Mild.
Now 35 years on, CAMRA has never been so popular with membership topping an all-time high of 83,000.
Back in the 1970s, it was the rise of keg beers served up by the rapidly-expanding big brewers that was the issue.
These days, with over 500 micro breweries, there's never been greater choice for drinkers.
But if you think CAMRA could sit back on its laurels and reflect on a job well done, you'd be wrong.
"Complacency doesn't exist in CAMRA's lexicon," remarks Roger Protz, editor of the Good Beer Guide 2007, whose latest concerns are for the future of regional breweries.
"The loss of regional breweries is reaching the proportions of a Shakespearean tragedy, with as many dead bodies strewn around as in the final acts of Hamlet and Macbeth," he says.
"Highly regarded breweries such as King & Barnes, Mansfield, Morland, Morrells, Ruddles and Vaux have all disappeared in recent years."
Protz says there are two reasons behind the relentless drive for takeovers and mergers: the development of national brands such as Greene King IPA and Marston's Pedigree, and the building of ever-bigger estates of pubs to counter domination of worldwide brewers.
And that leaves CAMRA in a bit of a quandary.
"At one level, appreciative drinkers much prefer the cask beers of national and regional brewers to the globals' lagers and nitro-keg products," says Protz.
"But the success of these brands should not be at the expense of local beers from the breweries they buy.
"That will only diminish choice."
While admitting that CAMRA could do very little to stop takeovers and mergers, Protz believes the main consideration is for breweries to remain in local hands - and points to management buy-outs and local cooperatives as the way to achieve it.
"Management buy-outs can succeed," says Protz.
"When Bass was preparing its exit strategy from brewing it sold the Highgate Brewery in Walsall to its management in 1995.
"Highgate eventually became part of the Aston Manor drinks group in order to raise additional money for investment in new plant. …