Thursday, 30 August 2018

The cask crisis

I’m a regular follower of Martin Taylor’s blog which records his travels around the country in his Sisyphean quest to tick off every pub in the Good Beer Guide. One thing that is very noticeable is that, although he encounters plenty of excellent beer, he also comes across a surprising amount that varies between disappointing and totally undrinkable, and sometimes ends up being disposed of into a convenient plant pot. You may say that he’s often going in pubs at opening time in the morning, or at other slack times, and realistically you have to expect the first one out to be bit sub-par. But this is the Good Beer Guide, not a random selection of pubs, and it shouldn’t be happening anywhere near as frequently as it does.

He also records many pub visits where there are more handpumps on the bar than customers, or when not a single pint of cask is pulled in half an hour, sometimes when the Peroni and Prosecco are flowing like water. Clearly, despite all the efforts of CAMRA, all is not well in the realm of cask beer. In recent months there have been a number of articles seeking to analyse the problem and sometimes to try to suggest what could be done about it.

One such appeared recently on “Good Beer Hunting” entitled Critical Drinking – State of the Burton Union. Now, I certainly don’t agree with everything in this piece, and in particular it is yet another attempt to argue that cask’s woes will be helped by charging more for it, which comes across as a touch arse-about-face. Many of the points raised are rebutted here by Ed Wray. However, it is right to point out that, after a period when it seemed to be bucking the trend of declining on-trade beer volumes, it saw a 3.8% fall in 2016, which was more than the overall market. It’s clear that there is some kind of malaise; that cask is no longer seen as a happening thing.

It’s not as though cask is in imminent danger of disappearing or anything like it. Nor was it, if truth be told, in the early 1970s, despite what some mythmakers would have you believe. I visit plenty of pubs that clearly have a very healthy cask trade and where the quality is consistently good. However, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where there was a perfect storm leading to a substantial decline in availability, with a pincer movement of high-end craft bars seeing no need to stock it, while working-class locals find there’s no demand. A few ordinary boozers in Stockport have dropped it in the past few years despite having sold it consistently for a long time beforehand. In fact, much of its resilience has been due to the biggest developers of new pubs, Greene King and Marston’s, both of whom are also brewers, seeing it as a key part of their offer. But if a substantial operator of mainstream pubs decided that their business could manage perfectly well without it, it’s conceivable that the floodgates could open, especially if they could point to the presence of “craft kegs” like Punk IPA as providing something for the beer enthusiast.

A key problem that cask suffers from is that, while at its best it’s wonderful, it’s too often rather lacklustre. During the recent few days I spent in and around Carlisle, I had fourteen pints of cask in twelve different pubs. All but two were decent enough, but there was only one where you would turn to your drinking companion and say “Taste this! This is what cask’s all about!” There does seem to have been a general erosion of standards of cellarmanship following the break-up of the Big Six national brewers, but the central issue is surely the ever-increasing proliferation of handpump numbers.

The 1978 Good Beer Guide lists six pubs for Stockport. Five of them have just two beers, while the Midway, a prototype of the multi-beer free house, has seven. On the whole of the page on which it appears, there are only a couple of other pubs stocking more than two, both Tetley pubs with Draught Bass alongside Bitter and Mild. Since then, the total amount of beer sold in pubs has fallen by almost two-thirds, while the market share of lager has more than doubled. That means that the volume of cask beer sales is only a quarter of what it once was, if that. It’s hard to do a comparison with 2018, because so many pubs are just “beer range varies”, but the Magnet alone must stock more different beers than all the six 1978 pubs put together. Even with smaller cask sizes, if you keep increasing the range in a declining market something’s got to give.

The problem isn’t simply “too many beers”, though, as just decommissioning a few handpumps wouldn’t really make much difference apart from causing some to complain about reduction of choice. It’s more that cask has been held out as something that can provide infinite variety, which is something it is fundamentally ill-suited to do. By its very nature, it is a highly perishable product. It has to sell, and sell in volume, to justify its presence. It can’t just be an optional niche product on the end of the bar to satisfy a handful of enthusiasts. So it needs to play to its strengths rather than trying to compensate for its weaknesses.

Pubs should see their cask offer as central to their business model rather than being just one amongst a range of products. In a sense selling cask represents a whole system of running a pub. There’s not much you can do about lager sales, but if your best-selling ale isn’t cask you’re doing something wrong. Think carefully about which beers will appeal to your customers and draw people in. Try to stock something that has a connection to the area or the history and traditions of the pub, rather than a brand from the other end of the country that was never seen locally until a few years ago. In a sense this is what the pubs in the East Midlands serving Bass and Pedigree that Britainbeermat blogs about are doing – they are stocking a beer with a clear local identity that has loyal supporters amongst their customers in a way that Doom Bar or Wainwright in the same pubs never would.

Regard three days’ serving time as an absolute maximum, not a target. Beer may still be acceptable then, but it won’t be at its best. And seek to make your cask offer something that defines you as a pub and makes you stand out from the crowd, rather than just the apparently random selection of beers that often crops up today. That doesn’t mean that no pub should sell a range of constantly changing guest beers, but if you want to do that have some kind of theme to it rather than just accepting what turns up. Make it so that people will say “You really need to go to the Jolly Plover – they sell a great pint of XXXX – or, maybe, they have a great range of YYYY” rather than an anodyne “they have lots of real ales”. Whatever else you do, your cask beer should be part of your USP, not just something you happen to have on the bar. But if you’re half-hearted about it, best not to bother and leave it to those who can summon up some enthusiasm.

The article I linked to above suggested that CAMRA needs to take a lead in improving standards, but that’s making too much of its role. It is, at the end of the day, a pressure group, not the custodian of cask beer, which is a commercial product made by a large and variegated collection of breweries. It shouldn’t be CAMRA’s job to run training courses on cellarmanship. And asking CAMRA to call for smaller beer ranges would be rather like asking your dog to voluntarily go on a diet. But it could take the issue of quality more seriously, rather than simply paying lip service to it and often giving a free pass to new breweries and bars that are felt to need encouragement. And it should recognise that, in a declining market where consumers demand ever more choice, there are some venues that simply are never going to have the turnover, or indeed the commitment, to do cask justice. It’s not something you just dabble with, it needs to be taken seriously. And if the bottom 20% of marginal outlets took it out, it would probably make it a stronger and more valued product overall.

59 comments:

  1. Sadly I think a large proportion of the cask consumers want range even at the expense of quality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OK. If there's a range - whatever its width - then within that, what should be the mix of conventional to craft cask? IME the latter are over-favoured.

      Delete
    2. How do you draw the distinction? More a case of striking a balance between regular beers and rotating guests, and also having beers that people might have actually heard of.

      Delete
    3. Aye, that puts it better. In relation to the topic, if you're going to restrict sale to three or four beers, then I'd say that a limited rotation of the conventional, drawn from such as Bass, Pedigree, Youngs, Adnams and the like, set against the more modern and less well-known styles, in about a fifty-fifty mix, would hit that spot for me. As we've agreed, real ale is largely a middle-class preference, and it is the older and the retired in that class who often have the brass to burn. Plenty of pubs seem not to grasp this.

      Delete
  2. Tbhis is another of those complex problems. I don't see that the number of cask ales on offer is the direct problem, more that if you don't have sufficient demand for 4 pumps then you shouldn't try. You've nailed it with "but if your best-selling ale isn’t cask you’re doing something wrong" and "Think carefully about which beers will appeal to your customers and draw people in". If you stock beer people want to drink, and serve it well, it gets drunk, so you don't end up pouring it away. The problem with specialising on one ale is what if it's GK or Doom Bar ;-) ?

    The pricing thing, within margins, is irrelevant. I frequent a few pubs near home, and currently cask vaires between £2.60 and £3.25 in my two favourites. Price does not feature in choosing which one I go to- I'm unlikely to drink more than 5 pints, so I reckon I can stand the extra £3.25 cost over an evening. The factors that do influence it are:

    Beer choice/quality (I avoid 1 local because it's GK, and not even well-kept GK)
    Noise Level/Music choice
    Expected customers

    A landlord has to get people through the door: the best beer in the world won't sell if no-one comes in. To get people in, you probably need good word of mouth, as you've said above- this could be a bit chicken-and-egg, and of course, in the opposite direction, it could become a vicious cycle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This links back to my comments on the previous post I suppose. I was in the Hogs Head Brewhouse, Sowerby Bridge a couple of nights back, and I think that they're getting it right. The solid, ex-industrial, stripped-out stone building is timeless and reassuring to all ages. The smart bar, pleasant lighting, and comfortable furnishing is attractive, particularly to the young, including ladies. There are no gaming machines, sport TVs, nor annoying music (nor any pickled eggs or a dartboard for that matter). I didn't see any dogs or children. There were about five own-brewed beers, but they were not stupidly craft in style, and I had a crisp conventional bitter at 3.9% abv. Good on 'em.

      Delete
    2. Agree with most of that, but actually Doom Bar often sells quickly and satisfies the needs of people who drink it (IPA much more variable). Problem I see is many PubCo places have Doom Bar + 2/3/4, and those other beers rotate far too much, as Mudgie notes.

      Lack of consistency of beer range is a real bugbear of mine. If you have confidence in a beer, keep it on all the time.

      Delete
    3. My reservations about Doom Bar being stocked in pubs two hundred miles from Cornwall are:

      1. It is not from the same region as the pub
      2. The pub has no heritage of selling that beer
      3. It is something that is imposed from above rather than being demanded by customers.

      It would be interesting to do a survey on how many pubs stocked Doom Bar that didn't have Sky TV and/or Carling.

      I also, despite several efforts, have struggled to find much character at all in it.

      Delete
  3. Good stuff Mudgie and more or less entirely what I think too. CAMRA should call out poor quality. I always check Martin and others to see what happens in my Branch area should they feature any. If I had some of the feedback some get I'd be bringing it up at a Branch Meeting for action.

    CAMRA can't solve the problems of the trade but should always be honest in what it does. If you get duff pints in a GBG pub - and we've all had them - it should be a rare event and should be monitored.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beer choice is a big thing for me, but never at the expense of quality.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really top read, captures what I try to convey in my posts.

    Actually, pubgoing is as enjoyable as ever, but the number of times I go "mmm, this is great" have reduced. Don't think its ageing taste buds either, beer in Petersgate, Railway and Magnet on Stockport this year WAS great.

    ReplyDelete
  6. CAMRA do have quite a lot to answer for when it comes to beer quality.

    There are branches in London with a history of actively championing pubs where the cask is of dubious quality - Bree Louise, Market Porter, various scratty Youngs pubs - simply because they happened to be someones local, or give discounts, or put regular advertising in the LD etc.

    I'm not convinced the average CAMRA member even knows what superbly conditioned cask is supposed to taste like...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You missed the word "London" out in a lot of this Ben.

      Delete
  7. but Ive mentioned this on Martins blog before, alot of those issues on quality are down to the selection (or curation if you are craft) of the beers on the bar, and they are often too similar, so you split what people are after, across 4 barrels of the same thing instead of 1 or 2 and having 1 or 2 other choices, unsurprisingly the 4 similar beers sell much more slowly which increases the risk of picking the bad pint and often in very rural area pubs you have to think what would the locals drink first, not what do I want to drink first.

    And I do think timing is key, Ive been in plenty of pubs at lunchtime opening and wondered why I bothered going, and I dont agree a one off visit tells you that much, you can pick up indicators absolutely, but I would never rate any pub I visited outstanding or bad after just one visit. Plus I know there are pubs in Ipswich you can visit at a particular time and wonder why you are the only person there, 2hrs later its standing room only, 3hrs later its entirely different again, and even in the best cask pubs we have, you will actually find, its Bitburger,carlsberg, aspalls that are rattling through their tills,not cask ale, yet they might still have lots of cask ales on, that are still selling but unless you are there 24/7 you arent seeing the whole picture.

    its wrong to take a snapshot imo as a trend or marker of decline. I went to the Bree Louise multiple times, I only had 2 bad beers there in a summer when everyone seemed to be struggling keeping good beer. Ive been to the Harp near Covent garden, a Camra pub of the year no less, at least as many times, and Ive still yet to come away thinking Ive had a decent beer there, its just timing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One the key things I'm suggesting is that pubs should think more seriously about what they're offering. For example, I was recently in a well-known Peak District pub that nowadays mainly concentrates on the dining trade. It had five cask beers on, all of which were pale beers from local microbreweries between 4.0% and 4.2%. It's probably two too many for the level of trade anyway, but what is achieved by having all the beers virtually the same? I suspect to some extent the landlord is doing a favour for local brewers he knows. The one I had, incidentally, was fine.

      Delete
    2. I agree that one visit isn't enough to form a view on quality, so I'd never say "That shouldn't be in the Guide" based on a half on a February Thursday. The Bree Louise example is a good one; had wonderful beer at Christmas after inconsistent pints over the years.

      Delete
    3. There's a huge weight of anecdotal evidence about poor beer in the Bree Louise, though. It's not just isolated examples.

      Delete
  8. The Stafford Mudgie31 August 2018 at 05:13

    Another very pertinent article.
    Maybe my four nearest pubs could be taken as "a random selection of pubs". In three "disappointing" is as likely as "good" and "undrinkable" is possible - and I'm sure the England's Pride in one last Tuesday was the same cask as the previous Thursday. The one where I've never found the beer less than good is a new build Marstons family dining pub.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was in one of those - The Sand Martin - I think it was, near the Stoke ground a while back. Yes, it was a decent pint. I've seen a few springing up, often near hotels etc., and they seem to be given bird names.

      Delete
    2. The Stafford Mudgie31 August 2018 at 10:38

      Yes, Marston's new one in Aberystwyth is the Starling Cloud.

      Delete
    3. Another, in God's Own County and all, is the House Martin near Donc. Do we have a new hobby? Seems harmless enough.

      Delete
  9. I think in Stockport you have a number of pretty reliable cask beer pubs. Though if you go off the CAMRA beaten track you discover some god awful crap.

    Other areas are bit more variable. Over the past few weeks I discovered many of the CAMRA recommended oubs of Birmingham are mediocre with one or two worth having a pint in.

    CAMRA recommended means GBG or awards and pubs are rewarded as much for having many pub clips as they are having a decent pint. It is what it is. I don't know how you change that. Most active CAMRA members that vote on these matters are people who would walk past a pub selling regional trad bitter to go in a place with 10 pump clips. On a friday night the beer will be good. On a tuesday night less so. Maybe just accept it's not a "Good" beer guide but a guide to the type of pubs the beer interested and curious might want to check out.

    As for the state of cask beer in general. I'm not being a miserablist but I think overall during my shorter than most you you lot drinking life choice has expanded, quality has fallen and it is a product I would only touch in certain select outlets. In many mainstream chain pubs I'd swerve it. I'd trust Spoons before most other chain pubs. I would trust a CAMRA recommendation less than I would trust the sight of people in the establishment actually drinking it.

    I think the error many beer commentators make is not understanding that being enthusiasts about something gives you a different perspective to those who are not enthusiasts and thus most fail to appreciate how and why most people use pubs. That they are social spaces, not beer outlets, and a pubs with a cold pint of mainstream keg beer and a glass of wine that isn't stale meets the needs of many.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can talk a lot of sense when you put your sensible head on, Cookie :-)

      Delete
    2. When you say "they are social spaces, not beer outlets", then you have indeed nailed it, I think, and you open up a whole world of considerations, often ignored by the beer fanatics, Cookie. The failure to consider, to what type(s) you might best offer this space, and what would make it appealing to them, is, for me, one of the main factors in pub closures.

      Delete
    3. One thing you can generally say about 'spoons is that the beer is well kept.

      Delete
    4. You rarely get bad beer, although I have taken back cloudy and vinegary pints in Spoons. However, I'd say you rarely get brilliant beer either. I've observed before that cask ale in Spoons often tastes as though it's been drawn through a very long pipe, and is rather lacking in condition.

      Delete
    5. Aye, well-kept, end-of-life beer. Could be worse though, tha knowst.

      Delete
    6. Wetherspoon pubs often do have long lines since they are conversions from other buildings which had no need for cellars (my nearest used to be a gym). Hence they use gas assistance to get the beer to the bar and if the gas system fails (which is extremely rare) then there will be no cask until it can be repaired.

      Delete
    7. Wetherspoon pubs are often conversions from buildings never meant to be pubs, and so without 'proper' cellars. This means that the pipes can be quite long, and gas assistance is used to get the beer to the bar. I've been told by a barman that there is a device just before the pump to vent the gas off but otherwise I can't claim to know how this system works. Twice in the last few years I've been told that there was no cask that day because the gas was 'off'. This isn't something only used by Wetherspoon and is advertised on dispense equipment manufacturers' websites.

      Delete
    8. I think they're called Flojets, but AIUI all it is is a gas-assisted pump to assist the pull of the handpump, and the gas doesn't actually come into contact with the beer. But it's very rare to get a pint in Spoons with that prickle on the tongue you get from the very best cask beer.

      Delete
    9. 'Mudge? What exactly is the change of taste when a beer is drawn through a long pipe? Is the difference related to the length of line so that you can tell the length of pipe by the taste of the beer? :-)

      Delete
    10. Sorry for the duplicate posting but my internet went down in the middle - it's happened four times today (thanks BT). Certainly agree that Wetherspoons tends to be average rather than the best but equally is rarely bad and (at least in my local) beer gets changed without question if there is a problem. For the price it's good value (£2.19 in East London for most guests although I was charged £2.79 in the Paramount in Manchester last week) and I suppose that in their area of retail it's a case of "You pays your money....". I do remember being at the bar once when someone next to me was outlining how his steak wasn't quite up to his standards - after he had gone the barman turned to me and said "what do you expect for a £7 steak?".

      Delete
    11. Well, David, some daft beggars say that they can tell how long and thick the wires are to loudspeakers, by the quality of the sound, don't they? We can kid ussens sometimes, but I think that Mudge might be onto a bit more than the aforesaid clowns.

      Delete
    12. "What exactly is the change of taste when a beer is drawn through a long pipe?"

      Maybe it's similar to the saying that says Guinness doesn't travel well. The farther it goes, the worse it tastes. :)

      Delete
    13. The Stafford Mudgie3 September 2018 at 08:03

      Russ,
      The pipe is likely to be much warmer than the cask in a cellar - and several hours, or more, too warm is bad for the beer.

      Delete
    14. You can get chiller-wrapped pipes now, Staffo. How many pubs use them I don't know, but a local here does. While I'm on though, is "crisis" maybe too strong a word, or does 'Mudge genuinely think that this is an existential threat to the future of cask beer? (I'm minded of the over-use of the word "fury", to describe a few rolled eyes skywards, when, say, a school bans sugary fizzy drinks in lunch boxes.) Personally I'd say that it's a significant problem, but likely not critical.

      Delete
    15. Also drawing beer through an excessively long pipe will knock the condition out of it.

      Delete
    16. I'm not saying there is a "crisis", but the term has certainly been bandied about. No, I don't think there's an existential threat to the extire survival of cask ale, but it certainly is suffering at present from a combination of frequently indiffeent quality and a perceived fuddy-duddy image. Even the people who are supposedly championing it are too often pointing out poor examples. It's entirely possible, as I said in the post, that circumstances could combine to lead to a significant reduction in its availability.

      I'm always a bit doubtful about arguments that drawing in your horns can make you stronger, but that could be the case with cask if it disappeared from many of the outlets that aren't really bothered about it, or don't have the turnover to support it. If it was a bit rarer it might be more valued.

      Delete
    17. Spot on.

      Incidentally, there's a huge variation in quality across regions, often reflecting the take-up of craft/Prosecco/flavoured ciders etc among the young in urban areas.

      Even busy pubs in Bristol suffer if cask is 10%'of your business (and I often hardly seem a pint pulled).

      Delete
  10. A really interesting read. I guess I'm lucky with my locals; one does 80% cask and another does cask and bottles only - both of them serve reliably good to excellent beer.

    I think I read somewhere that the new GBG has 900 new entries! It really makes me wonder if all of those pubs are selling 'good' beer or if average cask is now the threshold.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That may have been a joke by me on Twitter. I think the turnover is normally about 500, and some of the new ones are previous entries making a return.

      Delete
  11. Good read including all comments. One of the problems is established and consistent regulars in the GBG coming under pressure from newbies,not only micros. Some branches do have long debates on who to leave out. It seems the brewery section in the GBG is to remain so some that deserve to be in will continue to miss out. We take note of beer scores but some venues with a couple of regular beers don’t get on the radar too often....

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great stuff Mudgie...lots of pedigree and bass drinkers by me so agree with your comments...but more my age and older so be interesting to see how it looks in 20 years...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you got there in the end :-)

      An important question - most regular cask drinkers seem to be our age or older. Where are the new generation going to come from? But to attract new drinkers you have to stress why it is different from "craft keg" rather than trying to ape it.

      Delete
    2. From what I've seen it's a chequered picture. Rugby Union enthusiasts appear to drink cask whatever their ages, but football followers seem to favour lager. Foodies, whatever else you might say about them, also appear to like real ale too. If you fancied taking this people-watching lark up as a serious hobby, then you might spot a general trend in time, I'd hazard.

      Delete
    3. We are entirely reliant on historical precedent holding true - that as young people get a bit older they will largely switch over to cask (and to the Conservative party, Radio 2, the Anglican Communion etc.)

      Personally I don't think this is reliable any more. Craft keg, rather than cask, might well become the destination for keg lager switchers once they reach the age of 36. But then we've written off these other institutions which have nonetheless ensures...

      Delete
    4. Without putting too fine a point on it, among the young (and plenty of the not-so-young) it seems to me to divide up along lines of, well, er, y'know...educational standing. I have faith, that those representatives of the full shilling will stick with cask. The craft keg factor does muddy the water a bit though, as Ben says.

      Delete
    5. @Ben - although that does happen, I'm not sure how general it is. Don't forget that Bitter was only the most popular drink in British pubs for a window of about 20 years. There are plenty of people my age who have drunk lager all their lives.

      Timbo is right that cask has become increasingly a middle-class drink. Yes, there are some pockets of working-class cask drinking, such as many of the East Midlands pubs that Britainbeermat blogs about, but in much of the country working-class people overwhelmingly drink lager.

      You will see some under-40s drinking cask in specialist beer pubs, but in mainstream pubs it's virtually unknown now. From my observation a big recent trend has been drinking fruit cider - look how popular Strongbow Dark Fruits has become.

      I have anecdotally heard of several examples of confirmed lager drinkers being converted by heavily-hopped craft (keg) IPAs like Punk - but they want something cold and fizzy.

      Delete
    6. "Under-40s drinking cask...virtually unknown". Not so sure. In my old local (Haven't been there since May, moved away) there were several 20-somethings on the cask, in a five BBB pub. Thing was, they they didn't drink cask exclusively. Lager on a hot day or after football, cider occasionally, even Guinness once in a while. However, they would usually go back to cask.

      Delete
  13. An excellent article Mudge, and there's little I would disagree with, but just coming in at the end, lengthy pipe-runs do seem to be a feature of quite a few Wetherspoon's outlets. It definitely must have something to do with the fact that many JDW pubs are buildings which have been converted from other uses. There certainly must be an appreciable volume of beer that has sat in the pipes overnight, in these places.

    With regard to the problem of too many beers, I've recently returned from a two week holiday in the USA, where many bars try to outdo each other with the number of beers they stock. It was not unusual to find 20 or even 30 different beers on tap, and whilst nearly all of them are keg, there must still be quality issues with some of the slower moving styles.

    Basically it's the age old issue of too much choice meaning less, and at the end of the day what are these pub and bar owners trying to achieve?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Cracking article and spot on. There's far too much dodgy cask around. Only last week I had a GK manager tell me that they aim to sell a firkin in... a week. Needless to say that pub has far too many cask beers on sale so even their main seller - Black Sheep Bitter - is rarely drinkable. Re long beer lines, with flojet assistance long lines are much narrower than the half inch pipes that used to be installed, and they're usually run through the outside of the cooling python that chilled keg beer lines run through so it's rarely an issue these days. A common problem that affects quality is cask being kept in uncooled cellars and relying on being run through a cooler so it's cold enough to serve but obviously it goes off much quicker.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Another great article, I also regularly read and admire Martin Taylor's efforts to visit all the pubs in the Good beer guide, I do however have a problem with the guide, whilst all the pubs are indeed good, I don't trust it as a reliable guide to ALL the good pubs in a local area, as the entries are limited by branch, If I do a crawl of somewhere unfamiliar, I would feel I maybe missing out on some great pubs if I only used the guide, while the quality of cask ale is important, it isn't the definitive factor for me in choosing where I drink, I am currently in a spoons, the beer choice is good and my beer is well kept. I also visited a freehouse a couple of minutes away earlier, the beer choice was not as good and also on this occasion not as well kept, but I would choose the freehouse as the better pub, down to atmosphere, clientele, decor etc, although the spoons is considerably cheaper it is poorer in other ways, the question is how much beer quality would you sacrifice against the other qualities a pub is measured on.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Aren't branches instructed to change a %age of entries each year? That doesn't guarantee that the best pubs are always included. No one on this thread mentions the crap breweries hawking poor beer at rock bottom prices forcing the good guys off the bar. I agree that it is rare to find a really good pint of cask. The remaining small independents are usually the best best. I wish I lived in Holden's/Batham's land.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not aware of any such instruction/recommendation, and I'm sure it would be mentioned in our selection process if it existed. All they say is not to recycle the exact same descriptions. We tend to nod through the top 50% of previous entries based on NBSS scores, provided they are still eligible, but give people the opportunity to object and then have a vote on it.

      Delete
    2. The GBG certainly has a few flaws, how many branch members have visited all the pubs in their area? Just once, let alone more frequently,if they mostly visit the same tried and tested safe havens, not only could they be missing out on better pubs and quality beers,than they have now in the guide, but so will everyone who buys it as well.

      Delete
    3. The Stafford Mudgie7 September 2018 at 12:22

      Birkonian,
      No, branches aren't instructed to change a %age of entries each year - although a branch with 'too many' good pubs might choose such a policy.
      Long ago there was a policy that limited percentage changes each year to cut typesetting costs.

      Delete
    4. Interesting post ... No, branches are not instructed to do anything re GBG and selection procedures vary across branches from meticulous process to simply nominate and vote. The sad thing, like many things today, is that only a very few active members participate in this process whilst the majority do nothing apart from becoming disgruntled and vociferous after the facts.

      Delete
    5. Indeed. One prolific forum contributor complained about his local branch's GBG entries, but when pressed admitted he had never actually attended a selection meeting. Most branches now allow some form of remote voting too, although in the case of mine reasonably enough restrict it to those who have a valid reason for non-attendance.

      Delete

Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments will probably be deleted unless I recognise the author.