Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Good Guide Guide

Prompted by this post on Mark Dredge’s blog, I ran a poll asking whether people bought the Good Beer Guide. There were 77 responses, broken down as follows:

Every year: 17 (22%)
Every two or three years: 7 (9%)
Occasionally: 3 (4%)
I have an old copy I still use: 5 (6%)
I once bought one but have long since lost it: 6 (8%)
Never bought one: 39 (51%)

Obviously quite a lot of readers of this blog aren’t real ale drinkers, so you would expect “never bought one” to be the biggest category. However, the second highest is those who buy one every year. Although far from CAMRA’s cheerleader-in-chief, I have in fact bought every single copy since 1978, and I always regret throwing away the 1978 edition, which was the last to use “blobs” to identify beers rather than actually naming them in the pub entries.

I was a little surprised that Mark didn’t see much point in buying it. However, the main reason people buy it, I suspect, is not that they are fanatical beer geeks or tickers, but they uses it as a guide to pubs worth visiting when on holiday, away on business or out on day trips. It is, in effect, not so much a beer guide as a more down-to-earth version of the Good Pub Guide. To this end, from a personal point of view it always seems a waste of entries to include working men’s clubs, and some branches do have a habit of including too many pubs in obscure suburban locations that in practice, in comparison with town-centre or rural pubs, very few Guide users are likely to visit.

I have a 2006 copy of the Good Pub Guide which I bought off eBay, but I have to say that, while it does list some of what I would regard as “good” pubs, to a large extent it is for me a guide to establishments to avoid.

And, while I accept that some Wetherspoons do serve very good beer in terms of both quality and choice, it always seems something of an admission of defeat when the only pub listed in a town is the local Spoons, which in the 2011 Guide is the case, for example, in both my twin home towns of Runcorn and Widnes. The menu and general pubgoing experience are always much the same, and you can easily find them on Spoons’ website.

Really, I want it to unearth places that I might not come across by chance – such as the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano which no tourist would ever find unless they already knew it was there. Some years ago I was staying in Taunton, which is a very poor town for pubs, and the Guide led me to the Masons Arms, a characterful independently-run free house tucked away behind the main street, sadly now closed. Another excellent Somerset pub you would never find by chance is the Crown at Churchill just off the A38. It’s coming across places like that that make it worth paying the cover price for.

11 comments:

  1. To this end, from a personal point of view it always seems a waste of entries to include working men’s clubs, and some branches do have a habit of including too many pubs in obscure suburban locations that in practice, in comparison with town-centre or rural pubs, very few Guide users are likely to visit.

    I know from personal experience that our Chairman (when I was in CAMRA) would always try to spread pubs around, which meant some not-especially-good pubs getting in because the Northern part of town was a bit of a real ale desert. And yes, it's silly because they're basically locals pubs. No-one in the town travels to them, so why would you want to point a visitor to them.

    That said, it's still the best guide because it's written by local people who know the pubs, not some inspector popping in for 1 visit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cheers Mudgie,
    Thanks for tipping us off about
    Widnes and Runcorn only having
    a Spoons cafe worthy of mention.
    Definitely cross those two
    graveyads of the list.

    PS Nice to see Commissar Ed Milliband elected as Labour's
    new Fuhrer,he has a real down on pubs and clubs,places like drinking
    joints have no place at all in his vision of a Brave New World.

    Ex Bon Viveur

    ReplyDelete
  3. the last to use “blobs” to identify beers rather than actually naming them

    ???

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hard to explain without having access to the graphics, but bitters were denoted by an open O, milds by a dark filled O, old ales by an O inside a square. If a brewery produced more than one of any type, the blobs would have little numbers inside them - 1, 2 etc.

    So a Holts pub serving bitter and mild would say Holt (light blob) (dark blob).

    To obtain the names of the beers, you had to look them up in the brewery section at the back. When most brewers just produced mild and bitter, or at the very most two grades of bitter, it wasn't too hard to follow.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Time for a stupid question.
    Is there a on-line version of this guide or does anyone know of a similar thing?
    I am not a real ale fan but I am a fan of finding good pubs.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting results. I've now bought my 2011 copy and look forward to flicking through it. It'll also be interesting to see how much and exactly how I use it. For example, if I'm going somewhere new then will I go to GBG first or online? Will I use GBG to back-up online suggestions? Will I ever just get the book out and turn to the page of the town I'm in and just trust the book?

    I guess we'll find out!

    ReplyDelete
  7. The 'blob' system sounds rather good - it would certainly stop a lot of space being taken up with repetition of the word 'bitter' - although you can see how it could fall down once specials and short-run brews started to become the norm.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Really, I want it to unearth places that I might not come across by chance". I agree that if there is a tie in terms of beer quality you'd put the interesting pub in but it is the Good Beer Guide, not the Good Pub Guide.

    Can't always square that circle.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In practice, though, to some extent branches decide which are the pubs that merit inclusion on beer quality, and then select between them taking other factors into account as well. Geographical spread is often a factor too.

    As I said on Mark's thread, different people use the Guide in different ways. To me, regardless of the intentions of the people selecting the pubs, it tells me where in an area I will be able to find a decent pint of beer in congenial surroundings.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Is there a on-line version of this guide or does anyone know of a similar thing?"

    According to Mark's post (linked above), "you can also buy a version for certain mobile phones and SatNavs and these are only £5 each."

    Obviously the GBG as a whole is not online as that would be giving away for free something you hope to charge for.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I bought the mobile app version which is actually really useful for finding (usually) decent pubs in unexplored areas; because it links to google maps you can find pubs hidden down side streets or off the beaten track, it beats going in the local 'spoons because that is all you can find.

    ReplyDelete

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