Simon Everitt has recently ventured to the outer reaches of Doncaster in his quest to visit every pub in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. It must be said that Simon’s blog is well worth following, not least for his no-punches-pulled assessment of pubs.
A noticeable point about these pub visits is that in two of the four pubs he went to he was given a cloudy pint. Now, every pub will have its off day, and I’ve occasionally had to return pints in some of the nailed-on GBG favourites. But two out of four on a single day suggests a problem, and surely the probability of being given a cloudy pint when walking into a GBG pub should be far less than 50%.
On Twitter, Martin Taylor suggested that in some areas with little real ale, CAMRA branches were putting pubs into the GBG on the grounds of making an effort to serve it. I’m sure he’s right, and in a way you can’t really blame them, but overall it undermines the Guide. It’s rather like giving struggling pubs an award to “show support”.
My local branch recently held its GBG selection meeting. Out of maybe 200 pubs in the area, we had 69 that met the criterion of having an average score of above the 3 (i.e. good) on CAMRA’s National Beer Scoring System. Some were debarred for various reasons, but we could easily have chosen 40 pubs rather than our allocation of 25 which would not have disgraced the Guide.
If you go in a GBG pub at a slack time, you should still have a reasonable expectation of a good pint. Cloudy beer is something you should only encounter extremely rarely. If a pub can’t meet the requirement of consistently providing a good pint it really shouldn’t be included, even if it results in large empty spaces on the map.
Turnover is a key issue – if most of your customers drink lager or smooth, then you will struggle with selling real ale. That has been a long-standing problem in areas such as the West Country, Wales and Scotland where, in many locations, the locals drink keg and real ale is something for the tourists. You can normally tell within a few minutes whether or not it’s a pub where the ale shifts. Perhaps we need another Guide to real ale oases in areas where most pubs only offer keg.
Obviously it’s not a realistic option, but it might be a good idea if selection was entirely dependent on the quality of beer encountered at the first opening time on Tuesdays, whether lunchtime or early evening.