Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Limited appeal

The Good Beer Guide is including ever more unconventional outlets such as brewery taps and micropubs that fall well outside the general understanding of a “pub”. Some of them are open for quite startlingly limited hours. Two that have already been visited by Martin Taylor on his GBG-ticking quest are the Rock & Roll Brewhouse in Hockley, Birmingham, and the Well in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire (shown), both of which are open for the grand total of ten hours a week. In fact, since the 2018 edition was published, the former has already changed its name from the Rock & Roll Tap House and reduced its hours from thirteen to ten.

It may well be the case that these are absolutely essential beer destinations that any enthusiast would be a fool to miss, but it has to be questioned exactly how much value they bring to the users of the guide. Its prime purpose is, at the end of the day, as a service to its readers, not as an award scheme to licensees, and you have to consider what people are actually looking for in it. As I said in this blogpost:

Many people use the GBG as a kind of woolly-jumpered version of the Good Pub Guide, and the food-serving pubs in the National Parks and other heavily touristed areas are likely to gain the most benefit. Likewise pubs in the centres of tourist-friendly towns like York and Stratford that don’t tend to be so well represented in the GPG.
I’m a regular buyer of the Guide, and the main purpose for which I use it is to find interesting pubs to visit when I’m away on holiday or out on day trips. One of the key things I’m looking for is pubs to have lunch when out and about. It can be very valuable in taking me to pubs that I wouldn’t otherwise have found. For example, nobody would ever come across the Crown at Churchill in Somerset by chance, but it’s a very worthwhile pub if you do find it. And, last month, it led me to the Anchor in Sevenoaks, Kent, which is a splendid little basic boozer that did me a perfectly serviceable Ploughman’s for just a fiver. Yes, as it’s on a main street, I might have chanced upon it anyway, but the GBG took me straight there.

I will look with interest at the more local entries, and sometimes they might prompt me to revisit a pub I had previously discounted, or to go somewhere that has appeared out of nowhere, but they are generally of less use to me – I already know which are the better pubs in my own area. But a pub that is only open for limited and inconvenient hours, serves no food and has no historic interest is unlikely to tempt me.

CAMRA have produced an internal document reviewing selection policy for the guide, which makes some important points:

  • Users first - not the preferences/politics of CAMRA individuals/branches
  • The range of pubs chosen for the guide has to appeal to a broad spectrum of pub goers, the majority of whom want to visit pubs with not only good beer but a good atmosphere, a warm welcome, good food, family facilities, clean toilets and comfortable surroundings.
  • Beer quality remains the cornerstone of the guide but it cannot be the only consideration in the modern and intensely competitive “leisure industry”.
Clearly, achieving a good standard of beer quality must be the starting point, but beyond that other factors also need to be taken into account. The guide should list the pubs that, if you were welcoming visitors to your area, you would say “You really need to visit the Dog & Duck”. A pub may well justify its entry in terms of being very special in one particular respect, and that’s certainly the case for some of the unspoilt heritage pubs. I certainly wouldn’t want, for example, to impose standards for minimum opening hours. But if the guide has too many entries that are very limited in terms of either their hours or their general offer, it reduces its usefulness to the people who are buying it.

CAMRA branches also should not be including pubs in the Guide as a reward for “showing commitment”. The sole criterion should be whether the entry is of benefit to the people who buy and read it, and there is no room for sentimentality or favouritism – as it says above, “Users first”. And, in my experience, if you argue that a pub should be included in recognition of making an effort, it’s generally a good sign that it shouldn’t be.

10 comments:

  1. I'm unsure here: at the end of the day it's the Good Beer Guide, not the Good Pub Guide, so you end up finding some disappointing pubs (I was not keen on The King Arthur, for example).

    Am I right in thinking the Good Pub Guide was more like the beer guide in times past (i.e: inclusion was by vote/reccomendation, whereas now it's pay to be included?), or do I have that very wrong? If I don't have it wrong, should there be a new publication to fill the gap?

    We use the guide in much the same way as you and have found some cracking places too, but it's not a guarantee of a good pub.

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    1. Of course good beer has to be the starting point, and one of the glories of the GBG is that it includes a much wider range of types of outlet than any other guide. But's operating in a commercial environment, and has to take some account of what people are actually looking for in it, as CAMRA recognise in their document.

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  2. Totally agree about it being the "Good BEER Guide" and not the "Good PUB Guide".
    I use the GBG to find places where my £3.75 will not be wasted on swill. I couldn't care less about whether I can get lunch there - if I'm researching lunch I'll use tripadvisor.

    I wouldn't buy a book named "The Good LUNCH Guide" in order to ascertain which pubs in that location served the best ale.

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  3. I have to say this CAMRA document you refer to has so far escaped my attention and as far as I can see certainly hasn't been formally issued to branches.

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    1. I have sent you a copy by e-mail as I don't think it's in the public domain. Reading the whole thing I doubt whether you would find much to disagree with. Indeed it reflects the approach we take locally where, once eligibility is established through beer scores, members can and do take into account other criteria when voting.

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  4. Is this internal document on the infamous member's website? First time I can recall it being acknowledged official that the criteria to be in the GBG is not simply "good beer". I still think the GBG has a bit of an identity crisis. Is it for die hard beer enthusiasts (if so then listing new novel venues is fine) or is it used as a tourist guide for finding good beer when out and about, driving or travelling for leisure of business?

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    1. The document in question is here - presumably only accessible to anyone logged in to the CAMRA Discourse forum. It's from a GBG Selection Methods Workshop at the 2013 AGM.

      I'd say most users of the GBG in practice fall into the second category - this is something that the current GBG survey should determine.

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  5. It's accessible to anyone who has the link.

    And here is the problem, laid out for all to see:

    'Consider what a beer lover would like and expect. Suggest not just pubs with quality real ale but those with unusual beer and a broad and varied selection.'

    And this encouragement to stock more and more beers, as we've all discussed before, paves the way to poor quality. But further along the document it contradicts that statement with this one: 'It's not produced solely for CAMRA members, let alone "tickers".'

    And this one: 'The range of pubs chosen for the guide has to appeal to a broad spectrum of pub goers, the majority of whom want to visit pubs with not only good beer but a good atmosphere, a warm welcome, good food, family facilities, clean toilets and comfortable surroundings.'

    So which is it? Beer 'lovers', by which I take to mean enthusiasts who want to see more wickets than Lords on the bar, or that broad spectrum, which I take to mean someone who simply wants a consistently good cask pint in decent surroundings, and doesn't really care about a wide range of beers?

    Then there's the finishing touch: 'The primary objective of the Guide is for campaigning and the more people we can reach with the Guide the better.'

    I might be missing something, but I'm fairly sure that the vast majority of GBG buyers don't need campaigning at, as they've already got the message, even if they're not CAMRA members.

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  6. I was in Hartlepool on Tuesday to watch my football team Tranmere Rovers. The GBG is invaluable to discerning footy fans travelling away. I was disappointed to find that the GBG listed Brewery Tap closes at 4 p.m. I'm not sure that a pub that doesn't open any evening should be in the guide. Conversely, the other GBG pub in town, the Rat Race micro pub opens at 4:02 p.m. (not a typo). That is more likely to be of use to users of the guide.

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    1. Well, you could equally argue that pubs that only open in the evening shouldn't be included as they're of little interest to travelling drinkers. I had no problem with Robinson's Brewery Visitor centre being included (although it isn't in 2018) as it's well worth a visit and is open 10-5 Mon-Sat, which is more hours than many micropubs.

      I'm not arguing that pubs with very limited hours and offer shouldn't be included at all, just that if they're over-represented it diminishes the usefulness of the Guide to a lot of the people who actually buy it.

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