Monday 24 September 2012

Cornish contretemps

Snowolf reports some rum goings on about Good Beer Guide selections in Falmouth. Not a place I know well, but reading between the lines I suspect the establishment in question is the Oddfellows Arms, of which the 2012 edition says “Reached via steep steps, this small, unpretentious and basic pub is a real community-focused local, although visitors are quickly made welcome.”


  1. There isn't a single fact in that post. He heard a CAMRA official had been barred, and he has assumed that's the reason for the pub's exclusion from the GBG. Chuck in the fact that he dislikes both Spoons and CAMRA, and you have a conspiracy theory based on no evidence whatsoever, but quite a lot of personal prejudice.

  2. We're not particularly convinced by the GBG ourselves, but it's beginning to amuse us to note how publicans think it's wonderful, rigorous and reliable when their pubs is in it; but complete useless and corrupt when it's not!

  3. Licensees probably overestimate the extent to which it brings in additional business. Unless you are a slightly off-the-beaten track food-serving pub in a tourist area, or a multi-beer pub in a major town centre or near a football ground, overall it probably makes little difference, as I posted here.

  4. Always good to see a CAMRA bashing rant. Let it inspire you to knock up one of your own.

  5. Mudge. Your comment in the thread questioning JDW's alleged policy of buying short dated beer is entirely correct. JDW do not do this as a standard policy. What they do do is have a dedicated team of buyers who dictate their buying price to breweries. A brewery has to agree to this price to get on the JDW buying list and once done, and JDW can buy from this brewery. However this price is almost always a lot lower than they will sell to the free trade.
    I was speaking to a renowned local brewer about whether you can find their beer in JDW, and his reply was,'No, because we are not prepared to sell our beer for £55 a firkin, unlike some others'
    $55 is the highest that JDW will pay for cask ale, I am told. I have spoken to brewers and JDW managers and I don't think that I'm talking out of my arse here.

  6. And to throw my tuppence in regarding the GBG. I think that there is a major problem with the book, by severely limiting the amount of pubs that can be included, especially when the amount of pubs selling quality ale from microbrewers is increasing year by year.
    In this example, allowing at most one in ten pubs in Cornwall entry would seem to be typical of this problem. Any decent guide ought to aspire to be as inclusive as possible, not to be exclusive. Leaving out possibly over half of the pubs that are selling decent LocAle beer suggests to me that the guide urgently needs some revision.
    Despite being widely recognised as one of the top Cask Ale pubs in Bristol (six permanent changing guests, no keg), I have said to my local CAMRA that I am not interested in being included in the guide until I see a shift in the direction of the guide.
    This is partially a protest against the guide and partially because I see little point in being associated with a book which seems determined to be deliberately incomplete. (If I see a change, then I will re-evaluate my position.)
    I will say now that I have nothing against my local CAMRA branch, and in general agree with the limited selection of pubs in the Bristol area.
    But to the 'bods in St Albans, sort your s&%t out. You are becoming increasingly out of touch and less relevant to consumers and landlords alike.

  7. Yes, Spoons achieve their low prices by screwing suppliers, just as Tesco do. No brewer has to sell to Spoons, just as none has to sell to Tesco.

    I have to say that, while I've often had quite decent beer in Spoons, I've very rarely had really good beer. It always gives the impression of having been pulled through a very long line.

  8. Spoons have about half the pubs of Punch, Enterprise at al, and thus half the power of those to screw down suppliers.

  9. Saga, I appreciate that the density of good pubs varies markedly between different areas, and somewhere like Bristol is probably a lot better than average.

    It may seem that your area has lots of pubs selling quality ale from microbrewers, but once you start applying criteria such as expecting the licensee to build up a track record of six months or more, and tracking quality over time, the number that qualify will rapidly diminish.

    My branch of CAMRA, which in national terms is well off for cask beer, with perhaps maybe 175 pubs selling it, has a GBG allocation of 25. We could probably put 35 in, but above that, hand on heart, we would be rather struggling.

    There's also always the perennial problem of getting CAMRA members to survey pubs in the first place, especially the more out of the way ones, and/or the ones that don't have constantly changing guest beers. How many surveys should a pub have to get to qualify for entry?

    In any case, it must be better than the Good Pub Guide charging £200 for an entry.

  10. But given the average size of their pubs (and the fact that they're all managed) Spoons will have much more buying clout than Punch or Enterprise.

  11. In Bristol, we have at least ninety pubs, (excluding JDW's) that sell at least one or more Cask Ale from a local microbrewery. I have counted. I think that we have around 400 pubs ish, and I cannot imagine more than a handfull do not sell any Cask Ale at all. We have an allocation of thirty eight, I think. So, two thirds of our pubs who make an effort to sell quality local ale are excluded every year. That is no the sign of a good guide to me. Perhaps they shoudl be forced to rename it the Mediocre Beer Guide to reflect just how exclusive the book is.
    Of course Mr Protz has a financial stake in the book, and a related interest in it selling as many copies as possible. Perhaps if the book included every pub that sold quality, non-national Cask Ale brands then the list of included pubs would change less every year and less copies would be sold.
    I agree that charging money to be included is not the solution, but that is not the only alternative.

  12. It is off topic to a degree, but I wanted to say I do very much believe there is a way to square the circle between the GBG as it is and the GBG Saga wants to see.

    At the mo, the GBG book hits it about right (sorry if this rankles with some).

    However, the app is a very disappointing piece of kit. Mobile users have apps to tell them specific info relevant *there and then*. The GBG is a big book - I consult it before I go out.

    I want a CAMRA app that I can ask "where, right here right now, is the likeliest, closest decent pint?" The app gives far more room for "honourable mentions" or pubs with an address and a one-line review alongside the star-rated official entries.

    The number of times I've been somewhere, pulled out the app and realied the nearest GBG-approved pub is several miles away...

    ...the app could become a serious resource and fill in the gaps where branches feel they could add pubs to their "official" full entries.

  13. I don't know how many people attended the GBG selection meeting, but I assume the entries were voted on by a fair number of branch members who simply thought the beer waqs better or consistent in the Spoons than the other pub.

    That should be the only criteria for entry. East Lancs (Burnley) CAMRA have recently voted in an excellent Hungry Horse which may have upset advocates for more basic locals, or those selling far too many beers, local or otherwise.

    The GBG is about right size wise. Most local branches can easily direct you to a fair number of decent other pubs.

    I've scored Spoons pubs more highly for beer quality than any other pub chain/brewery. Hasn't Stockport's Spoons improved lately ?

  14. Indeed, the Calvert's Court, the Stockport Spoons, is getting a Pub of the Month award on Thursday of this week, primarily for having made great strides on the beer front.

    It's still physically an utterly characterless, box-like, badly laid out barn of a building, though.

  15. Re: Calverts Court - utterly characterless, but that only goes to show the quality of the Boars Head or the Arden round the corner, though neither of those will serve you a pint at 9am on Sunday of course.


  16. JesusJohn, No the GBG does not get it about right. It gets it very wrong sometimes.

    There are some very shoddy pubs going into the Guide because some areas cannot fill their quota with quality alehouses, and there are some cracking pubs being excluded because other areas have far more excellent alehouses than their quota allows. This is not right.

    When you have a pub that has sells four well-kept, permanent guests from local microbreweries, and has done so for a few years, not getting into the guide, while a pub that sells say Doombar and Bombardier only, getting into the Guide year after year, you can understand why people are saying that the Guide is becoming increasingly out of touch.

    The quotas for each area that need scrutinising yet again.
    The fact that the book seems to be more intent on being exclusive rather than inclusive is one of the problems. It excludes more pubs that serve good ale than it includes. That is not a good guide, that is a crap guide.
    Allocating numbers for each area without taking into account the general health of Cask Ale in that area is a problem. A reason why some people are not recognising this problem is that they only use the GBG to find pubs in unknown areas and therefore rarely if ever get a chance to visit the pubs that never make it into the guide.

    (If you visit Bristol and only use the GBG, then you will miss out on sixty pubs that serve a good range of local, well kept Cask Ale. How can you possibly say that that is about right ? It is wrong. As an example, we have at least three {non JDW} pubs in Bristol that have twelve different Cask Ales on offer. These three pubs do not necessarily make the guide ever year.)

    It’s supposed to be about the quality of the beer only. But it never is of course. Pubs that play ‘bangin tunes’ on a weekend have far less chance of making the guide than pubs with no music, even if the beer they offer is of far superior quality. (In Bristol I consider ourselves lucky in the respect that loud pubs are featured in the guide as well as quiet pubs.)

    But this is not the major problem, in my mind. The problem is that only beer quality is supposed to be judged, not beer range. Of course technically we would all rather drink Doombar in good nick rather than decent beer that is a bit tired, actually most beer afficionados would try to avoid pubs where they know they are only going to get Doombar.
    Considering that 90% of pubs now serve some kind of Cask Ale, and that the GBG is determined to be an exclusive club, isn’t it time to change these criteria to be weighed towards pubs that are actually trying to offer something a bit more quality than the rest. A pint of GK dishwater counts as much as a pint of Dark Star Festival. How is that encouraging pubs the serve the best beer that they can ?
    While the theory is correct, in practice you end up with some excluded pubs which serve far superior Cask Ale than many included pubs.

    It's utter lunacy that a book that some misguided folks still refer to a 'The Bible' constantly excludes pubs that are showcasing the best Locale an area has to offer, while including tired venues that only offer, for example, Greene King, Wells and Young’s and other bland Nationals.
    How is that 'about right' ? Please tell me.
    It's not right, it's a comfort zone that Camra have settled into, and it's my opinion that this is skewing its perspective.


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