A contributor to the CAMRA forum who goes by the name of “curMUDGEon” (although it’s not me, it’s actually a chap from Stafford whose real name is Paul Mudge) has now produced a very interesting analysis of the representation of some of the small established breweries:
The 2014 GBG listings of Independent brewers owning less than thirty pubs are:(there is actually one factual error in this – according to the 2014 GBG, Timothy Taylor’s actually have 26 pubs, reducing their proportion to 8%)
Bathams – 8 of 11 pubs (72%)
Holdens – 7 of 20 pubs (35%)
Timothy Taylor – 2 of 19 pubs (11%)
Donnington – 1 of 17 pubs (6%).
Looking at the larger Independent brewers, Harvey’s, quite deservedly, probably has the highest proportion of their pubs as 2014 GBG entries, 20 of their 47 pubs (which is about 43%).
A few larger Independent brewers have though fared as badly as, or worse than, Donnington, namely:
Felinfoel – None of their 84 tied houses included in the 325 pubs listed for Wales,
McMullen – None of their tied houses included in the 66 Hertfordshire pubs listed,
Hall & Woodhouse – Only one of their tied houses included in the 66 Dorset pubs listed,
Arkells – Only 3 of their 99 pubs listed (3%),
Sam Smiths – Only two of their tied houses included in the 394 Yorkshire pubs listed, this despite beer from the wood at “very competitive” prices, and with this year paying £1.80 in their Yorkshire pubs and £2.90 in London I well realise such a company doesn’t need 50p vouchers.
Looking through the 73 entries for Cheshire, there are only two family brewer tied houses, both White Lions, Robinson’s at Alvanley and Thwaites’ at Childer Thornton. There are two Marston’s, three Wetherspoon’s and four Brunning & Price. There’s even one with a declared beer range of Bombardier and Old Speckled Hen, and no mention of guests at all. In contrast, if we go back to 1984, there are seven Donnington pubs listed in Gloucestershire alone, and 13 Robinson’s in Cheshire, which illustrates just how far the balance has shifted. To be fair, the family brewers are considerably better represented in my local area.
The point was made in reply that some brewers’ pubs are excluded because they have a declared policy of using cask breathers, but is anyone really bothered about that apart from a handful of pedants? And, given that the vast majority of GBG entries are decided upon without a cellar inspection, can we be sure that none of the multi-beer pubs are using them too but just keeping quiet about it?
Obviously I am not privy to the precise factors behind the selection of every single pub, but the very low representation of many well-respected family brewers suggests systematic bias, not just a random outcome. More and more, local branches are going for an approach of quantity over quality, and making the publication essentially a Guest Beer Guide, not a Good Beer Guide.
In 1984, it overall gave a pretty decent representation of the best cask ale pubs in each county. That is no longer the case now, and thus makes the publication much less useful to the general pubgoer, many of whom, as I said in the earlier post, will be primarily looking for a good pint, combined with decent food and/or congenial surroundings, rather than the widest absolute choice of beer. I have a mental map of what to me are the best pubs across large swathes of Cheshire which bears little relation to those that appear in the GBG.
You also have to wonder whether some of the family brewers will start to question whether there is much point in cultivating good relations with CAMRA when they get so little support in return.