In recent years it has become customary for pub and beer bloggers to herald the annual arrival of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide with a celebratory post.
Like early arriving migrating geese, the Guide usually lands in September. But this year, for obvious reasons, publication was delayed until 29th October. Us pub tickers who get it on prescription get it a bit earlier and, again for obvious reasons, had to accept that no opening hours were listed.
CAMRA branches had to check their submissions, in some cases hastily substituting for pubs that have not reopened since lockdown (and evidently, in other cases, leaving them in).
I usually complete, or get very close to, completion of each Guide but this year a combination of covid and family ill-health meant 49 (pubs (1.1%) were left unticked. A planned trip to the south-west was kyboshed by lockdown, whilst the solitary requirement in Suffolk thwarted me with an unscheduled closure caused by an electrical fire. All part of the fun (was what I didn’t say at the time).
Over the years the Guide has become somewhat obese, mainly because of the huge increase in new breweries and the continued policy of listing their beers. This year has seen a contraction to a slightly more manageable 912 pages, 12 of which are devoted to introductory pieces.The breweries section still runs to 282 pages.
The number of pubs stays at just over 4,500, with a few things to keep us tickers on our toes like moving the Coach and Horses at Danehill from East to West Sussex, to the fury of pitchfork wielding, effigy burning local residents perhaps. And listing places that only open 12 hours a week (catch you sometime the Brewery Tap in Mitcheldean).
Marking up the Guide is a mammoth undertaking and a cause of particular suspense in the geographical extremities. When I went to Alderney in the Channel Islands I went to 6 pubs to try and cover all potential future bases. Inevitably there is a new one I didn’t visit all those years ago. I even rang them to check it hadn’t just been renamed. It hadn’t.
The outer Orkney Islands have a number of pubs that serve cask beer in the summer but the only previous one to make the Guide was on glorious Sanday. This year there is one on Rousay, described as the Egypt of the North due to its 160 archaeological sites, all of which will have to be ticked, or truicked in the case of the Taversoe Truick.
The Taversoe pub opens at weekends and is two miles from the ferry. The Guide tries to lure us there by adding “the stunning view from the dining room is worth the trip in itself” – they could be right.
At the time of writing, most pubs are closed in Scotland, all pubs are closed in Wales, and you can only drink with a meal in large parts of the north of England. Sadly even this restricted access is likely to be rapidly constrained by future covid restrictions.
Members in many branches have worked hard to update information on opening hours on Whatpub and provide inviting descriptions, like the “dark and alluring” Crown in gorgeous Minchinhampton.
I can’t pretend to have the same level of commitment to completing the 2021 edition- it’s not as enjoyable or practical under current conditions. Few would disagree with Nik Antona, CAMRA Chair:
It is also difficult to know if some pubs are closed temporarily or permanently. Even where they are open in England’s tier 3, you can’t eat a “substantial” meal in every one without unintended consequences.
But I still love the Good Beer Guide as much as ever, still love pubs and cask beer more than ever and long for a return to normality. Government responses to this pandemic betray how little our politicians understand pubs and the role they play in our communities and our lives. The Good Beer Guide is the single most influential publication when it comes to promoting cask beer. Let’s hope the pubs that nurture it can survive such difficult times.