In my Review of 2022, I mentioned that I had visited 128 different pubs during the year. This was considerably more than in the two years of lockdowns, but still quite a bit less than in the four preceding years, which is as long as I have been keeping a record. For information, for 2016-19 the numbers were 154, 188, 203 and 207. In fact, during 2022 I had to cancel a planned holiday due to unforeseen circumstances, which would probably have bumped up the total to over 140.
However, I was struck by this review of the year by Matthew Thompson, who I know from the local CAMRA branch, who said he had only been to about half a dozen pubs. Now, I have no knowledge of his circumstances, but that obviously indicates a very different mindset. So I thought I would run a Twitter poll on how many different pubs people had visited over the year, producing the following results from an impressive turnout of 511 votes:
Obviously my followers are likely to be much keener on pubgoing than the population at large, but this produced a wide and fairly even spread of results, with the largest share going to the top category of “Over 50”. That must indicate people who are consciously seeking out pubs rather than just visiting them in the normal run of their daily life. GBG ticker Martin Taylor responded that he had been to 877 in 2022, and over 1000 in 2019, which rather puts my efforts in the shade, although I’m not really looking to visit pubs in pursuit of any specific objective.
POLL: How many different pubs have you visited in the past year? (Assuming you are someone who visits pubs regularly in the first place)— Pub Curmudgeon 🌸🍻 (@oldmudgie) December 29, 2022
Ever since I reached legal drinking age I’ve been fascinated by pubs. I would go out and visit various pubs with my dad, and with former school friends in the university holidays. At university in Birmingham, armed with a student railcard, I travelled as far afield as Bath and York. Remember in those days that lunchtime closing was 2.30 pm in most places in the South and Midlands, so trips had to be planned much more carefully than now. Apart from the two years of lockdown, and possibly 2001, which was something of an annus horribilis in which I spent six weeks in hospital with a shattered ankle, and was later made redundant, I would say I’ve visited at least 100 different pubs in every year of my adult life.
In the early years, a major factor was sampling different beers that I had never encountered before. At this time, the tied house system still held sway, and there were only a handful of national-distributed beers, meaning you had to travel to find particular beers. I often sought out obscure pubs just because they had a rare brew for the area. I wrote about this in detail here.
Nowadays, the situation is very much changed, with far fewer pub-owning breweries with a distinctive offer on the bar, and far more beers distributed across the country. Very often, you will walk into a free house or pubco outlet with no idea what you are likely to find, which to my mind somewhat detracts from the experience. However, I will seek out family brewer tied houses when away from my local area, and indeed in the 2010s had two mini-holidays with the partial motivation of visiting Donnington and Hook Norton pubs.
However, I increasingly found that it was the pubs themselves were the attraction, not the beers themselves. As I wrote back in 2010 in a post entitled Wooden Wombs:
At heart I have to conclude I’m more fascinated by pubs than beer – by the variation in layout and architecture, the fittings from many different eras, the ebb and flow of trade, the little rituals and quirks of pub life, the mix of customers, their interaction with the bar staff and each other, the way their clientele and atmosphere reflect the varied strands of society. Every pub is different and has its own character and its own story to tell.And there are still plenty of pubs to explore that haven’t had the soul sucked out of them by corporate makeovers. I will also make an effort to seek out pubs on CAMRA’s National Inventory when I’m outside my local area.
I’m not setting any targets or making any predictions for 2023, but I would hope that, if all goes well, I can manage at least 150 during the year. I’ve already visited 12 in the first three weeks of the year, which would indicate an annual total over 200, but of course some of those are ones on my regular rounds which I will visit again over the course of the year.