The latest Good Beer Guide successfully reflects the world of licensed premises and real ale producers. My nerdy counting of GBG entries in England shows a combined total of some 13,800 changing beers. I realise that there will be duplications but it illustrates the point that for many entries you will not have a clue as to the full extent of what you’re going to be drinking before you turn up. Is that what folks want, I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s time for a cheeky microbrewery to start producing a beer called Changing.
When the large number of Changing beers is combined with the low number of NBSS beer scores in many CAMRA branch areas it must be likely that most beers are not scored to any meaningful extent.
Increasingly I’m bemused by the beers available when I look at the array of beers in a new pub, and tasting a spoonful doesn’t help. With few exceptions, I’m unconvinced that the new breweries, that have emerged following the introduction of Progressive Beer Relief, have been worthwhile in terms of their brews.
We now have too many micro breweries chasing listings in too few pubs, and a taxation system that discriminates against larger breweries and larger pubs i.e. progresssive beer relief and small business rate relief. The comments on beer quality by Mark Tranter of Burning Sky on a “crowded and demanding market place” highlight issues that will only get worse.
In part the new GBG reflects this world. There are ever larger numbers of micropubs, unsustainable numbers of beers per entry and strange places hardly ever open (with a changing beer or two from somebody’s garden shed).
Every GBG brings disappointments about missing pubs but this year’s seems particularly poignant as it signals the end for traditional pubs serving a small choice of real ale in good condition. The sort of place that the GBG of old helped to ensure the survival of.
My missing favourites of the New Inn at Pegg’s Green, the Devonshire in Burton and the Boltmakers in Keighley are traditional pubs worthy of our support. We’ll be sorry when their like is gone. Well I will. I suspect my dream of walking into a city centre back street pub and being offered only Bass from a jug will never come to fruition any longer and it certainly wouldn’t get in the GBG.
My counts show only 10 GBG pubs in England with only one real ale and some 110 pubs with only two. (Not including clubs and other non-pubs.) Without Bathams and Sam Smith’s it would be much lower. Is this the new reality or is it just very difficult to gain an entry in some branches unless you have three beers minimum with at least one Changing? The almost apologetic entry for the Red Cat Hotel at North Wootton is revealing, “…well-kept beer, albeit in a limited range.”, for the riches of two real ales through my rose-tinted glasses of the 1980s.
The differences across counties are revealing. Lincolnshire, still 30 years behind the times, has 15 pubs with two or less real ales whilst London and Greater Manchester have only 9 pubs of that ilk between them.
Anyway that’s enough of my free-market nostalgic ramblings and time for praise that we still have listings of decent pubs and volunteers to make it all happen. The occasional entry does make me think I’m reading the Good Pub Guide, “note the chandeliers and the butcher’s block high tables”. However, I know I’m in good company when I come across, “there is no food, but pickled eggs are available.” All praise the writer of the entry for the Beehive in Staines.