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 By the time it goes to print it is out of date.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.