2019 Good Beer Guide: Time for a Rethink?

Welcome then, to the 2019 Good Beer Guide.  Bearing a close resemblance to the cover of its 2017 sibling, and now aged 46, the Guide is not so much carrying middle-aged spread as entering full blown obesity.  If it gets any bigger Ryanair won’t accept it as hand luggage.

It runs to 1,048 pages. The brewery section is over 300 pages, having expanded a further 15 pages in those last two years alone.  When I started out on the Good Beer Guide journey it was on edition number 10. It contained 5,000 pubs (500 more than now) and 11 pages of breweries in a slimline 274 pages.  The maps were in colour as were the brewery logos.

The Guide has faithfully tried to reflect the explosion in the number of breweries in recent years but inevitably fights a losing battle.  By the time it goes to print it is out of date. By the time it ushers in a new edition, the pubs it lists have been selected more than 18 months previously.  Some change their hours, their qualities and their licensees.  Some close. It remains though, as Martin Taylor points out in his excellent summary https://retiredmartin.com/2018/09/23/winners-losers-in-the-new-good-beer-guide/ here, a tribute to local branch members who take their task of nominating seriously, and outstandingly good value.

Can it become more user friendly without losing its purpose and core characteristics?  A suggestion from the Derby Chair on the CAMRA discourse forum to make future editions App only met with some opposition. I understand the suggestion as it could be updated continuously, but the App should be able to do that already. It would also have to be so much easier to navigate and probably couldn’t easily replicate the crucial map sections. How about omitting the beer lists from the breweries section?

After a good run of completions, I failed to get to 5 in the 2018 edition (3 in Wales; 2 in Guernsey), but they all make a second appearance in the 2019 version. There are no brand new entries in some of the heartland city centres for beer – Norwich, Derby and Manchester for example – but Southampton gets a whopping 4 new ones and Great Yarmouth gets 3.

From an entirely selfish perspective I was pleased to see several pubs listed that I had already been to, after ferreting about for information.   They include the Dock at Penzance, the Idle Valley Brewery Tap, and the excellent Spotted Cow in Holbrook, Derbyshire.  Also a trip years ago to the Bel Air Inn on Sark finally paid Guide based dividends, as did a more recent expedition to the Seaview Hotel, John o’Groats.

On the debit side, two years ago I chased Scapa Special all round Orkney on the bike, cycling serenely past the Standing Stones Hotel at Stenness which duly appears for the first time.  On the same trip I looked in at the Tongue Hotel and it didn’t have any cask beer.  Yes, you guessed it.  Long journeys to places like Bridport and Patrington also overlooked future inclusions.

But I am questioning the wisdom of my sanity for the first time (though not before time you might reasonably say).   The main reason is that the opening hours of some listed are becoming plain silly.  The Connoisseur Ales (Brewery) Tasting Room in St Helens opens once a month.  Once a month! And yes I know it is the Good Beer Guide and not the Good Pub Guide but if I put some superb homebrew for sale in my garden it doesn’t matter how good it is, it shouldn’t be listed in the ‘The Pubs’ section, which is what it is still called.

Included in the blizzard of micropubs and brewery taps new to the West Midlands is the Burning Soul Brewery, which is open 11 hours a week.  The fun Rock and Roll Brewhouse is open 10 hours a week. The Beer Barn in Boughton Monchelsea, Kent is not open Monday to Thursday. There are plenty of other examples.

I welcome the expansion of micropubs and brewery taps- apart from anything else they make economic sense – but entries in a credible national Guide have to be accessible to those using it.  And being open is surely a minimal key criteria.

I still love the anticipation of each new Good Beer Guide and still get it on ‘prescription’. There are 445 entries I haven’t previously visited and will make the effort to go to most of them. Or at least the ones that are open. Will I try to finish it again? Place your bets now.

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35 thoughts on “2019 Good Beer Guide: Time for a Rethink?

    1. Is there a Good Kebab Guide Will? If not then you are surely the man to do one. A pal carries the Good Curry Guide with him and we used it to good effect in Cardiff recently, but there hasn’t been a new edition for a few years.

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    1. Yes, a thing of beauty. Chopping the beer lists (or most of it) would probably save 200 pages. It might help profitability too as it is a reasonable price and they can’t be making money from those of us who get it on prescription.

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    1. Totally agree. Perhaps difficult to where the dividing line should be in terms of hours as increasing numbers of more traditional pubs don’t open early midweek or midweek lunchtimes. 25-30 hours a week would seem to me like an absolute required minimum.

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      1. There are also some “proper pubs” like the Three Stag’s Heads at Wardlow Mires in Derbyshire which only opens for 26½ hours on three days a week. I hope they always make sure they have fresh casks on on Thursday evening!

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      2. Indeed – that’s an example of why it’s hard to set an absolute minimum. I would like to think all the places that aren’t open for several days at a time are doing that unless it’s Old Tom or the like. Congratulations on your blogging award – well deserved.

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      3. I don’t know – I can see the argument for allowing somewhere that’s only open at weekends or Thursday to Sunday evenings or whatever, because those are the times that a lot of people are most likely to want to go for a beer. Given the current GBG format with a limited numbers of entries I’d agree that there’s a line to be drawn, though – when it gets to places with monthly rather than weekly hours it’s starting to get silly!

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    2. The Tasting Rooms in question has plenty of competition in St Helens, perhaps surprisingly given the amount of keg in the centre (2 National POTYs in a decade).

      I don’t mind regular, limited hours, but once a month is taking the mick. GBG “tickers” will do it, but I’m sure folk visiting St Helens for the Cricketers and Turks Head will be annoyed they’ve turned up on a week the Connoisseur is closed !

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      1. This post has generated more traffic and comments than my usual pitiful efforts. Perhaps it will help generate some famous CAMRA guidance on future entries but suspect the branches will guard their autonomy fiercely.

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  1. I think the Brewery section is an important ‘Directory of UK Breweries’ that is unavailable elsewhere. Maybe it should be a ‘ two books for the price of one bundle’ with separate pub and brewery editions? Ardent tickers could then leave the brewery section at home for reference only. Maybe there needs to be some categorisation of entires with clear symbols – Trad Pub; Cafe Bar; Brewery Tap; Other (seldom open).

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      1. Definitely. In fact someone I know who is now ticking the book very enthusiastically blames me for suggesting it as a present for him from his sister! I am sure it must be CAMRA’s best seller but doubt they make much out of those who pay the lower amount in the ‘Privilege’ club.

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      2. CAMRA must have these figures, although obviously they are commercially confidential. I’d guess that the gift market accounts for a substantial proportion of sales. There must be families where son or daughter always gets Dad the GBG for Christmas. Move it to an electronic-only publication and you lose all that.

        CAMRA may not make much money from Privilege Club members, but it certainly doesn’t make a loss. There are very wide margins in the book trade. And the price to branches is even less (£9.50 a copy, I think).

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      1. I am inclined to agree but lots of people who don’t use apps disagree! There have been quite a few problems with the GBG app since it was launched and that hasn’t helped people to be persuaded in that direction.

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  2. I subscribed to the App edition,as opposed to a digital version (I don’t follow discourse so not sure which the Derby chair was suggesting) for near enough 8 years,till they ‘upgraded’ it and I went back to the book because it was eminently more usable,which shows what I think of an App only suggestion. I do think the breweries section needs looking at though.

    Short hour/beer in sheds I agree also need more consideration before inclusion ,though it feels like there’s been a push,even if it was unstated,with the club’s and non pub location awards to branches to be more inclusive of venues that sell cask beer to demonstrate how modern thinking we are in CAMRA and it’s not just a list of atypical pubs

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    1. Problems people have experienced with the App haven’t helped persuade people in that direction for sure. I find it quite difficult to use if I am without the book. Think there has to be a sensible minimum number of hours that places are open regardless of type. Suppose the active membership of each branch varies and this shapes nominations. Here in the West of Scotland we have very few places of the type that are appearing elsewhere.

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  3. I’m
    It a fan of brew taps so I agree with your suggestion that limited opening should be a factor. There’s a whole raft of criteria ( discussed at length tonight as it happens) and I can’t believe that place fulfils them.
    Still who am I to judge? We’re in, witha sigh of relief

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “I failed to get to 5 in the 2018 edition (3 in Wales; 2 in Guernsey), ”

    From way over on this side of the pond that is totally understandable.

    “And yes I know it is the Good Beer Guide and not the Good Pub Guide but if I put some superb homebrew for sale in my garden it doesn’t matter how good it is, it shouldn’t be listed in the ‘The Pubs’ section, which is what it is still called.”

    Blimey! That’s a bit of a bloody stretch! Even Wiki gets it wrong. They state the GBG lists the best cask ale outlets. So if it’s outlets it shouldn’t just be best cask ale anywhere.

    Christ, event the GBG website itself states:

    “Packed with 4,500 of the best real ale pubs in the UK and information on every real ale brewery currently operating and their key beers.

    The perfect package for pub-goers everywhere.”

    So yes, it should be more on the pubs that serve good cask ale, rather than cask ale that can’t be had for love nor money. (and who are the wankers putting these obscure places into the guide?)

    “Will I try to finish it again? Place your bets now.”

    I bet 10 quid on just having a good time going round the various places for a decent pint. 🙂

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  5. With regard to reliability of the GBG info, I suspect the merry band of pub tickers and bloggers are more sympathetic to incorrect hours and beers than the general punter. We realise the voluntary efforts that go into selecting the entries.

    However given the increasing rate of change in landlords, opening hours and beer quality I don’t see how the current approach is sustainable. Just because the current app is poor doesn’t mean that approach shouldn’t be seen as the way forward. For example, I’d much rather pay for a version of the easier to use WhatPub enhanced with GBG indicators.

    As Mrs WM put it recently… you’ve taken us to pubs that haven’t been open and you now expect a pub to have Bass just because of that book. It’s out of date tosh.

    Liked by 1 person

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