Thursday 8 January 2009

Guide me

My pub is, at least for now, in the Good Beer Guide. It might come out after this little tirade, but for now we are very proud to be in it. We also understand how difficult it is for every branch to make the selections each year. Although it is very difficult to be sure how important it is to my business overall, it certainly brings in some custom. When we get customers who choose the pubs they visit from the Guide, they sometimes ask how the selection is made. It is often commented that pub x just does not deserve to be in and pub y is much better and should be in. "Why is this so?" they ask.

In a pub last night along with some other CAMRA colleagues, there was a discussion of the relative merits of various pubs. I ventured that pubs that are selling exclusively beer from one large brewery are not as good as a pub that sells a variety of beers from many different breweries. "After all Jennings is a national brand" I, perhaps foolishly, threw in.

Well I was firmly rebuffed. Apparently it is not a national brand but a local beer to Cumbria. You can barely get it outside Cumbria, I was told. We have some very staunch local support for Jennings and this is good. I like most of their beers and last night I particularly enjoyed the Cocker Hoop with it's good hoppy aromas. The Cross Buttocks I thought was not so nice, although I don't know why.

I don't know about the readers experience, but since Marstons bought Jennings their beer seems to have been turning up all over the place. I believe that the Cockermouth plant has been expanded because of the increase of sales of the beers and of course I'm not complaining about that.

Then there is Robinsons, who frankly make some of the most uninspiring beers I have ever come across. They seem to be working their way into the Lake District and competing with Jennings. There are even some Robinsons pubs in the Good Beer Guide, although I can't understand why.

The reason in my mind for the Good Beer Guide is to inform visitors to an area about the very best real ale pubs. Locals don't need to be told because they already know. For me, being in the guide is important and it is important that there is a standard. There seems to be a pattern of pubs going into the guide because they are close to someone's house and it's their favourite local, not because they are superb pubs and have a well kept selection of exciting beers. Putting pubs in the guide so as to spread out the geography seems barmy. If there is a concentration of good pubs in an area then put them all in the guide and the barren areas will show up as such.

I cannot understand why a competitor of mine is not in the guide when they have a selection of well kept ales that are not determined by some bean counting suit somewhere. Why can good pubs like this get overlooked when others get put on a pedestal for providing the same thing that is provided the country over leaving the real ale tourist feeling cheated?

Of course the main thing is, if you do disagree with the choices locally to you, then join CAMRA and attend the meetings.


Whorst said...

You need to speak with the guvnor who runs the other pub. My guess is it's political. CAMRA is so bizarre on so many fronts, it could be anything really.

Paul Garrard said...

I sat in on a GBG 'selection' meeting a while back and found it crazy that each branch seems to be alloted a number of pubs they can submit and the concern was that if they didn't submit enough they would lose entries in subsequent years. There were a couple of pubs that probably shouldn't have been submitted.

The brand of ale sold shouldn't influence the choices either. Give me a good GK IPA or Woodfordes Wherry over half a dozen obscure mediocre quality ales anyday.

Geography or choice should not influence the entries!

Unknown said...


I don't know about CAMRA being bizarre as such. There are some interesting views that I don't always agree with. The only thing is, it's an organization that has 90,000+ people who all like ale. They might not collectively get it right all the time, but they are decent people.

Ale Fan,

Funny enough I have not had either GK IPA or Woodfords Wherry so as such I might agree, unless I find them crap when I do try them. However, my point is that although half a dozen mediocre beers deserves no recognition, half a dozen fantastic obscure beers wins over a poor selection of commonly available beers every time.

Whorst said...

Decent people? Maybe, but with a lack of social grace. I've had all sorts of run ins with them. From my experience, none of them had any beer knowledge other than what was available in their local pub. To them, all lager is shit, because it's fizzy. You yanks can't brew, yada, yada, yada. You have to admit, the stereotype of a CAMRA member is not a good one. I'm sure some are nice people, but they have failed as ambassadors to the beers I love.

Alistair Reece said...

Ale Fan - being concerned at losing a number of entries for subsequent years almost smacks of a Stalinesque five year plan! Or perhaps they are worried that if they don't fill their allotted slots they will be sent to the corner with a dunce's cap on for failing to promote the cause of real ale?!

I tried to use the CAMRA pubs database when looking for a decent place for a pint in Ashford over the Christmas hols, assuming that it would be fairly selective. The nearest listed pub, so I was told, really kept its beers well. Hmm, if that means GK IPA tasting like rubber underlay then GK can keep it. The pint of boring old Guinness was much nicer.

Tim said...

I can get draught Jennings beers from a coupel of places I know in London that get them in on rotation as guest beers. One of these being a Fuller's tied house! You can also get their beers from any Waitrose in the country. Your local branch of CAMRA is naive. My hats of to you Dave for trying to make a difference.

Tandleman said...

I can only say what happens in my branch. We give every member the opportunity to both nominate pubs and vote on them. We take into account what people say about competing pubs and ensure as much as we can than tactical voting has no chance of succeeding, You must remember that CAMRA people are all individuals with their own requirements both for what makes good beer and for what makes a good pub. As Chairman, I have no more influence than the next man, other than what limited powers of persuasion I may have while speaking for or against a particular pub. Others are just as passionate of course. We do take only one geographical aspect into account. We split the voting by pre allocated numbers (determined by the number of pubs in each area)to our 3 metropolitan areas, Rochdale, Oldham and Bury.

It isn't perfect and we continually seek to improve it. Oh and I don't agree that pubs that sell one brewer's beer should be excluded. That would be perverse, but of course they have to be good at it to compete with a fre house. For us it is always about good beer.

Dubbel said...

From personal experience, the vast majority of pubs in and around Burton/Warwickshire/West Leicestershire are Marston's houses and Jennings ales are available in many of them. Sometimes up to three or four from the Jennings range are on alongside the other Marston's stablemates.

I'm not complaining as I'd choose a Sneck Lifter over Pedigree any day.

My opinion is that pubs with a wider and more varied ale selection are more deserving of a GBG entry, as this is what lures me into (and to return to) a pub.

Unknown said...

Thanks all for your comments.

The main thing I'd like to clarify is that I do not think tied houses should be excluded. In fact there are tied houses that have access to reasonable lists and use them. Good Marsdons pubs being an example.

I think Dubbel sums it up nicely. Choice is important. And I like Sneck Lifter too.

NeilC said...

The branch I was Chairman of for a while had a limited number of pubs to place. Only the activists turned up at the nomination meeting and they voted for their favorite pubs by and large. I would like to see the National Beer Scoring system play some part so that more members can take part.

Unknown said...

I think our branch is suggesting that consulting the National Beer Scoring System would help. The advantage of this is that some notice would be taken of people who have travelled into the area.