Today is the day when the CAMRA Good Beer Guide 2018 is launched. The tightly observed embargo on the contents is over. Bloggers everywhere will be “taking the weight off their bulletins” as Eric Morecambe once said to newsreader Richard Baker.
The democracy of the Guide is that no entries are paid for and local branches submit their quota of nominations. Any system like this inevitably generates variations- many branches base their entries on collated beer scores; some seem to use additional and/or more subjective criteria but that is a small price to pay for a volunteer-led grassroots approach.
The outcome is always an interesting mix. The Guide inevitably reflects trends and changes over time. The establishment and growth of Wetherspoons meant many of their pubs found their way in, with early opening times a boon to tickers everywhere. Plenty of these ‘macro’ pubs still feature along with a fair of number of chain pubs such as Ember Inns, and new build Marston’s ‘family’ pubs. The decline in numbers of wet-led pubs across the land is mirrored in successive editions of the Guide, though there remain lots of glorious exceptions.
The rapid growth in micropubs and their errant step-siblings is strongly reflected in the 2018 Guide. So, increasingly, are the numbers of brewery taps. It is easy to predict many more of the latter will feature in years to come as it’s the best way for many small breweries to ensure a regular outlet for their beers.
The downside for us Guide completists is that the opening hours of micropubs and brewery taps can be very limited. One such is the Rock & Roll Brewhouse in Birmingham, which opens 13 hours a week (Friday evenings and Saturdays). It is not alone. Some weeks I spend more time in Good Beer Guide pubs than that. By the way the Rock and Roll Brewhouse is a good place to visit- more on that another time and not just because it has this image of the wonderful Siouxsie.
Of course some are hobby brewers, juggling other jobs, child care and no doubt numerous other commitments. The beer can often be very good in such places – it is the Good Beer Guide after all. But it does beg the question should there be a minimum number of hours a place should be open to qualify for entry?
When the charming Sixpenny Tap in Dorset first appeared in the Guide it was open six and a half hours a week and remained an entry on that basis for several years.
Of course the Guide isn’t just produced for a handful of us obsessives to chase around the country drinking half pints armed only with a set of highlighter pens. And it is a guide not a set of mandatory instructions, even if some of us treat it that way. But is it unreasonable to expect a greater level of public access than some that are included?
I love the Good Beer Guide and have been buying it since 1981. Then, as now, edited by Roger Protz, when it was about a quarter of the size it is today despite having 500 more pubs in those days. In that edition I had visited 451 pubs. It took me until the 2015 edition to visit every pub before the end of the the calendar year on the cover, though I have also completed the 2013, 2014 and 2016 Guides. I still need to visit 3 in the 2017 edition, two of which (in London) were closed on the occasion of my visit, though both feature in the new Guide.
In a week that Roger Protz announced that he will no longer be editing it, it seems appropriate to thank him for a doing such a great job over many years. It raises the profile of cask beer, and has often generated talking points or sometimes controversy (from the very first ‘plague’ edition).
Yes it’s infuriating when the opening times are wrong (not always avoidable as they sometimes change post-publication). Yes I grumble when I see a new pub included on the Isle of Man, or a pub on a beach in remote North West Wales that doesn’t open at all from Monday to Thursday and even fewer hours out of season (Porthdinllaen here I come). Yes, it is irritating when the same pubs get listed under different towns in different editions (hi again to the Blunsdon Arms now that you are in Swindon); or when medium sized cities get sub divided into different areas (didn’t see that coming Coventry).
But the thud of the new Good Beer Guide on the doormat is one of the best days of the year. It has taken me to so many great pubs and places I would not otherwise have visited. I simply wouldn’t be without it.