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.