Sunday, 28 July 2013

Beer Guides

I suppose "The Belgian Good Beer
Guide" wasn't dramatic enough.
I received an e-mail from CAMRA yesterday inviting me to buy CAMRA books, such as London Pub Walks, the Good Bottled Beer Guide and another book by Roger Protz on the cheery theme of another few hundred beers to drink before you die. As a member, I can buy the Good Beer Guide (GBG) for £10, thus saving £5.99, but I really can't be bothered; I last bought the GBG in 2006. I stopped buying it when I realised that I had hardly opened, let alone used, the editions that I did own.

With the internet and Branch websites, it's not hard to find out the decent pubs if you're going to a town you don't know, plus for CAMRA members only there is the What Pub website that is currently being developed. In addition, the GBG is scarcely a pocket reference book: with the ever-increasing number of microbrewers listed, the book is getting bigger and bigger and it isn't particularly convenient. It is the biggest-selling book published by the Campaign, and I think it is a bit of a con. Many of the sales are for presents for a relative, often Dad, who likes to go to the pub; the fact that Dad generally goes to the same pub most of the time and really isn't interested in a list of pubs in places he will never visit is neither here nor there - a sale is a sale.

All the information about pubs in the GBG is compiled entirely by local branches, and it takes a lot of work all done by unpaid volunteers in their own time. The CAMRA conference passed a motion a few years ago that branches could not list all of the pubs that they put forward for the GBG in any of their publications or websites. They do all the work but are not allowed to use that information locally in case (the ludicrous argument goes) it damages the sales of the GBG. I spoke against this, but the conference were, I'm afraid, taken in by visions of tumbling sales of the campaign's best seller if they happened to print in their local magazine a simple list of GBG pubs in their own area, although the motion did kindly permit branches to publish incomplete lists as "tasters". The argument (propounded by Roger Protz, GBG editor) is stupid because people don't buy the guide just to find out the pubs in their local area, which they probably already know about - you buy it to see what pubs there are in other areas. In this instance, commercial considerations outweighed common sense. I'm surprised that there hasn't been opposition to the What Pub website on the grounds that it may affect GBG sales.

As for local guides, one problem is that few branches have the time or resources to update them when they get out of date. While it might be nice to buy a local guide for a town or city, if you go there infrequently, it will be out of date before you can get any significant use out it.

I wouldn't want a good bottled beer guide because, compared to draught real ale, bottled beers are always a compromise and sometimes a disappointment. I can't think of one bottled beer that compares favourably to a decent, well-kept pint of real ale.

So I don't buy beer guides any more. They get out of date so quickly, much more quickly than they used to with the turnover of licensees being noticeably higher than in the past. But if you want to buy one for Dad because he goes to the Dog and Duck every weekend so he can peruse a list of thousands of pubs he'll never visit, go ahead. At least it will be another sale to keep the GBG editor happy.


  1. Like you, I haven't had a copy of the GBG for a few years, and that was a present. It can be handy to look at when you're going somewhere else in this country but as you say not really for local pubs. I've also picked up cheap secondhand GBG's from the 80's and 90's online which are an interesting historical resource - probably the main reason why CAMRA should keep publishing it is that for beer it's a bit like Wisden is for cricket, a record of that year in brewing.

    On bottle-conditioned beer, I think the bigger brewers (Fuller's, Youngs) tend to do a better job than the micros and beers like 1845 and London Special are comparable to a draught cask pint.

    1. I agree about old guides, Matt. Last year I found my old copy of a guide covering Merseyside and surrounding districts published in 1990, just before the beer orders had kicked in. It was a glimpse back to the days before pub companies had hoovered up so many of our pubs, most of which were still at that time brewery-owned. I wrote about it at greater length here.

  2. The Belgian guide pictured is actually one that I'd say is worth getting -- tasting notes that are a cut above the usual standard, and some very evocative descriptions of breweries and bars. Probably a bit out of date now, though.

  3. Having short arms and deep pockets, I usually buy the previous year guide from eBay. The 2012 guide is approx £2.70 including postage.


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