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!


Curmudgeon said...

Putting on my tin-foil hat, possibly the GBG could save a lot of space in the breweries section by excluding micros which have been in existence for less than a year or only serve a handful of outlets.

Paul Bailey said...

Not only that Curmudgeon, but if you look at the entry for Bartram's Brewery for example, full tasting notes are given for 24 beers, even though the company has a website! I don't suppose for one minute that all these brews are available all year round, so why list them all?

On the other hand, Harvey's who own 48 pubs and supply a further 450 other outlets, have only four of their beers listed, and the reader is directed to the company's website for details of their seasonal ales. Harvey's brew 10 such ales, and supply far more outlets than Bartrams, so where is the logic here?

There are countless other inconsistencies throughout the breweries section. What exactly is Roger Protz being paid for?

Barm said...

Someone's got to copy and paste nonsense into the beer styles section every year.

ChrisM said...

I think the suggestion of a separate Brewery Guide and Pub Guide is an excellent one, Paul; I too would like to see more detail in both the pub entries and the brewery ones. Maybe you could put it to next year's AGM as a motion?

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Chris, will give your suggestion re. the AGM some serious thought. It's a long time since I last visited Shefield!

Paul said...

Knowing Marc Bartram, excluding his seasonal beers, I suspect most of his brews will be available most of the time. He also seems to spend a lot of the time driving a van up and down the country. I don't know how he does it. He also occasionally finds time to play guitar at the local folk club. He's not a bad guitarist.

Richard said...

I didn't even know there was a brewery section at the back! By the time you've picked it up and wafted through those wafer-thin pages looking for the right page, I've not much interest in reading about breweries. This is from the perspective of someone who very occasionally uses it in the car, by the way. I never have and can't imagine I ever would use it anywhere else (at home, for example, I'd just go online).

Paul Bailey said...

Thank-you Richard, I rest my case!