Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A Guide of two halves

In the 1977 edition of the Good Beer Guide, the breweries section amounted to 11 pages. By 2014, with the enormous growth in new breweries and beers, it had swollen to 220 pages, albeit in slightly less dense type, making it virtually a book in its own right. The opinion has sometimes been expressed in the comments on here that it is time for CAMRA to split the book into two separate publications, listing pubs and beers, and indeed people have gone so far as to say they aren’t really interested in one half or the other.

On the one hand, the argument is that in most parts of the country there is now little difficulty in finding pubs offering a wide range of beers, so what is important is finding out what the beers you encounter are going to be like. On the other hand, and the view that I would incline more to, is that random pub choice can still be very hit and miss, but there are so many seasonal and one-off beers and new breweries that the beer listing is of little practical use. Gone are the days when an enthusiastic beer drinker could gain a reasonable impression of the character of all the brews they were likely to come across in their local area.

So I thought I would ask blog readers whether they thought it would be a good idea for CAMRA to split the Guide in two. While the pub enthusiasts almost equal the number of beer enthusiasts and those wanting both combined, it isn’t really hugely conclusive and so I doubt whether any changes are likely to be made. In practice, I suspect the non-CAMRA purchasers are overwhelmingly interested in the pubs side and so the beer-only volume would prove a slow seller.

You often read that online pub sites are going to spell the death-knell for printed guides, but there is a crucial difference, that the websites basically just offer a database while the guides provide a moderated selection. If you’re visiting, say, Chester, and look on WhatPub?, you will be presented with a list of 124 pubs, and that’s only in the city centre. The Good Beer Guide, in contrast, lists just 8, which, even if they’re not all to everyone’s taste, will probably be a lot better on average than the 124.

Even if you went through all the 124 entries to find some that sounded congenial, you might not find it too easy. Understandably, online pub guides tend to avoid needlessly antagonising pubs with negative comments, so the descriptions tend to be rather anodyne, making it hard to tell the sheep from the goats. In the past year I’ve visited at least two pubs that from online descriptions sounded at least worth investigating, but turned out to be extremely disappointing. So, until the online sites offer trustworthy ratings against various criteria, there will still be a role for the likes of the Good Beer Guide and Good Pub Guide. Positive recommendations from other people are still extremely valuable.


  1. Alewife Brewster4 June 2014 at 21:54

    Install Untappd on your phone and you can get a list of nearby pubs and see what people are drinking there (well, maybe the young hoodlums wot use smart phones anyway), and then identify the place that serves beer you are most likely to enjoy. That's enough for me. Beats lugging around the beer equivalent of Wisden.

  2. never got the nearby pubs thing to work well enough for me on untappd (damn thing struggles to work out where I am to begin with half the time) though Ive always assumed its still not hit monster volumes of UK users outside of most city areas at least :)

    so as for the beery equivalent of Wisden, well I just use the mobile app version anyway its a lot simpler to cope with,even if archivists will bemoan the lack of historical records in years to come because of it.

    but Id agree books/apps like the gbg still have a place, not so sure on the good pub guide based on its operating model,that the online lists cant really compete with. even my craft beer of london app which is the nearest so far to a specifically craft pubs only guide still doesnt give you that kind of trustable ratings model

  3. There's plenty more to pubs than just beer, though.

    I'd bet one of the main practical uses of the Good Beer Guide is to find pub meals when on holiday.

  4. I've given up on Untappd, Stono. I've a limited data package with my Smartphone package, so unless there's free Wi-Fi available, the thing is worse than useless. Not only that, it needs another App (Foursquare) in order to work out where you are, and it doesn't always manage that very well either.

    ps. I've also given up on the Good Beer Guide, prefering a bit of careful online research prior to visiting new places.

  5. the winner of the poll, the largest group, are the "neither"

    As you'd expect. is there any need for anything other that the spoons app on your smartphone? Once in the spoons the deadlegs will tell you of any other cheap grog meccas in the vicinity.

  6. I stopped buying the GBG at least 10 years ago when, having bought the latest edition, I realised I hadn't used the one I'd bought 12 months earlier.

  7. Alewife Brewster6 June 2014 at 09:56

    Fair points re: Untappd, it's definitely best used in big cities. But I just got back from Boston (USA not Lincs) and it was a god send there, stumbled across a couple of great bars that I likely would never have found without it.


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