Friday 6 November 2009

The Guest House & Good Beer Guide

I borrowed the pub copy of the new Good Beer Guide [GBG] in the Guest House recently and turned first to the entries for pubs where I live, like most people do. I wasn’t surprised to see the Guest House listed, but I was at the wording, which stated that the licensee was doing her best despite PubCo restrictions. As this sounded like damning with faint praise to me, I had a word with Gail the licensee and - as I expected - found that she was rather unhappy with the entry (that’s something of an understatement, by the way).

For those who don’t know Southport pubs, the Guest House has had the best range of beers ever since Gail took it over several years ago, routinely having up to 10 cask beers on at any time. Granted, the PubCo limits the range, but Gail stretches those limits as far as she can. She supports small local breweries whenever possible, and the beer is always well kept.

Other pubs, such as the Falstaff and the Windmill, don’t try to stretch PubCo restrictions and concentrate on limited ranges of beers, to which the GBG makes no adverse reference. No disrespect intended to those pubs as they provide what their own customers want; I was simply contrasting their treatment in the GBG with the Guest House’s. The choice of words in CAMRA’s flagship publication implying a very restricted range when the opposite is true could discourage visitors to Southport (a destination for holidays, day trips and conferences) from visiting the pub.

Following from the error that excluded the pub from the GBG a couple of years ago, even though it had been voted in, and the initial failure to nominate it for an award at this year’s Sandgrounder Beer Festival, this is yet another faux pas by the local CAMRA branch in relation to this pub. As a CAMRA member, I have even been asked by Guest House regulars to explain what they see as a campaign against their pub, and my assertion that there is no conspiracy is sounding increasingly hollow.

CAMRA branches consist of unpaid volunteers who generally do their best to decide GBG entries, make local awards, put on a beer festival and publish both a magazine (Ale & Hearty) and a website. With those activities goes a responsibility to bear in mind how the public will perceive our actions, especially in relation to local pubs. After all, what we say or do could have a real impact upon people’s livelihoods, especially at a time of recession and punitive tax on beer.

As a footnote, I know the popular Baron’s Bar also has a good range of beer, but as it's a hotel bar rather than a pub, it has no PubCo tie. Although I do like going to the Baron’s sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a pub.


  1. This seems very odd and almost as if the local branch DOES have a grudge against the place.I'm not surprised the licensee is less than happy.Surely whoever wrote the entry should have checked it with the pub?

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  3. In terms of checking with the pub, I suppose CAMRA would say that they must be seen to be independent, although I can't see any harm in an informal chat to prevent possible unforeseen consequences, as has happened in Southport before. In the 1980s, the GBG described the extremely busy Old Ship in Southport as a "bikers' haunt." The brewery immediately banned all bikers, even though they did not constitute all the clientele and never caused problems anyway, and drastically refurbished the pub. Some of us feel it was never the same again. And all because of a thoughtless GBG entry.

  4. In relation to the specific recent issue - I do wonder if the branch were actually (though cack-handedly!) trying to support the pub - i.e. saying "she's doing a great job, despite the constraints of an unhelpful pubco"?

    But I totally accept that as it stands, it sounds like a back-handed compliment!

    Local CAMRA mags, the GBG, etc should I feel do their best to get the input of licensees & brewers, etc. where possible, not in order to be censored by them, but just to get their opinions on the subject at hand.

    I used to work at a brewpub which had a very unusual beer dispense set-up, that to the untrained eye could appear to be contrary to CAMRA's definition of 'real ale'. In fact it met the criteria perfectly, unlike many other apparently 'real' pubs & brewpubs (i.e. those that use CO2 tank or cask-breathers).

    GBG sniffily gave us a very brief listing us as a "keg-only" brewery, yet ignored our letter explaining the situation, which included an invitation to come and see us.

  5. Anon: I too wondered whether they were trying, and failing, to be complimentary, but in the end it's how it reads that counts. Your own experience illustrates how CAMRA can be quite arrogant; the problem is that all members are then tarred with the same brush. Bad news spreads the quickest.

  6. Could it have anything to do with certain Camra members being barred over the years by Gail for whinging, scrounging or outrageous behaviour? The Guestie is the best pub for miles and I love Gail.

  7. You might say that ~ I couldn't possibly comment...


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