Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Ticking All The Right Boxes?
I know it's sad, but over the Easter weekend I finally found time to update my Good Beer Guide 2010. By update I mean I went through the breweries section at the rear, and marked off all the beers I've sampled with a high-lighter pen. I didn't do this from memory, instead I laboriously copied the entries over from the 2009 edition. I go through this ritual every year, but not normally quite as late as this. I don't really like doing it which is why I had been putting it off, but having done so for the past 35 years it would be a shame to stop now!
Before we go any further, I must state that I am NOT a ticker, well certainly not in the established sense of the word. By this I mean that I do not go all out to tick off as many beers as I can find. Instead I just continue to record those beers I have sampled over the course of nearly 40 years drinking. Obviously more beers get added to the list each year; but beers are also dropped from the list when breweries close, or certain brews are discontinued. If I was a serious ticker I would maintain a list that is separate to the current GBG, but I can't be arsed to do this. Neither can I be bothered to count up how many cask beers I have sampled. I doubt that the figure would even approach 500*, yet I know several serious and dedicated tickers that have knocked off 5,000 beers, and one who claims to have sampled over 10,000!
Why am I telling you this? Do I wish to leave myself open to ridicule? and are my attempts to deny a penchant for ticking to be believed? The answer to these questions is a point that several CAMRA members have asked in the past, namely is it now time for the Campaign to publish a guide to the Breweries of Britain that is completely separate from the Good Beer Guide?
I think there is a compelling case for this to happen. The current GBG contains nearly 900 pages, of which almost 200 are given over to the Breweries Section. In order for the guide to remain at a reasonable thickness (and weight), the paper used is so thin and light-weight as to be almost transparent. CAMRA claims, with justification, that when choosing pubs for the Guide "It's the beer quality that counts." That is obviously true, and it is why the Campaign insists it is essential to include the Breweries Section at the back of the Guide. However, a glance through many of the pub entries will not always tell you much about the beers on sale at these outlets. "Guest Beers", is a common entry, leaving the reader none the wiser as to what might be on offer. (See sample entry above.) Even when one refers to the section at the rear, more often than not one is instructed to check the brewery's website for details of seasonal, or special beers.
Splitting the Breweries Section off into a separate publication would allow more space to be devoted to breweries, and would allow a much more detailed listing of each company's products than at present. Both the Good Beer Guide and the Guide to the Breweries of Britain could then be printed on thicker, higher quality paper, giving a much more appealing product than the current "telephone directory" style publication. I don't even think that separating the pub and brewery sections in this manner would dilute sales, as there are two completely different markets here.
The Good Beer Guide appeals, in the main, to people who travel around the country, for business or pleasure, and often a combination of both, whereas the Breweries Guide would have a particular appeal to CAMRA members, independent of whether they are dedicated tickers or not! Purchase of the Guide in its current format, by the general public, as opposed to CAMRA members, already makes up the bulk of the sales, and I am fairly confident most of these people buy the Guide for its pub listings, rather than the Breweries Section at the rear.
There is in my view a golden opportunity for CAMRA to break with tradition, do something a bit different and come up with two separate guides that will appeal to related, but still different audiences, and which by heading off down a new path will enhance, rather than detract from a format that has grown increasingly tired and repetitive over the years. I wonder whether the Campaign will be bold enough to grasp the nettle?
* 586 to be precise!