Sunday, 20 January 2013
Some More Thoughts on CAMRA's Good Beer Guide
Next Sunday sees my local, West Kent CAMRA branch holding its annual Good Beer Guide Selection Meeting. I shan't be attending as we have a family get together on that day, but even if this were not the case I really couldn't face the prospect of sitting through hours of turgid debate on which pubs should be selected and which should be left out. I am not the only member to feel this way as during our social at the Dovecote on Saturday, a friend expressed similar sentiments to me.
However, spare a thought for the army (ok handful) of brave volunteers responsible for carrying out surveys of all the nominated pubs. Amongst my friends and branch colleagues I detect a definite sense of battle-weariness with the whole thing - something I think CAMRA nationally overlooks - there is a limit to the amount of goodwill the campaign should expect from its volunteer members. Even then, once the final selection of pubs has been decided on, some poor so-and-so has to sit down and transfer all the information from the survey forms onto a data-base suitable for use by the guide's compilers/editors. The deadline for completion of this task is a mere eight days after the selection meeting. The guide does not make its appearance in the nation's bookshops until the end of September (in time for the all important Christmas book trade), which begs the question, "What are Mr Protz and his production staff doing during the intervening eight months?", especially as local branch volunteers have done most of the work for them!
An interesting question concerning the GBG surfaced recently; namely what happens when, for whatever reason, a long-standing pub entry finds itself no longer in the guide? This point was brought home by another friend I was talking to at the Dovecote. He had been out surveying all day on Friday (at his expense and time), when he happened to call in at a pub that is on the periphery of our branch area. The purpose of his visit was to check the situation regrading the pub's stock of our local Gateway to Kent Guide, rather than to carry out a survey. He found mine host in a less than jovial mood, and in fact quite bitter about his alleged treatment and neglect by CAMRA.
The pub, without naming it, was a long-standing fixture in the Good Beer Guide; I believe it featured for some 15-16 years before it was dropped several years ago. At one time it may have even been Branch Pub of the Year, although I will have to check to confirm this. The pub in question served a wide and varied selection of cask ales, but probably reached a point where it was stocking one or two too many for the number of real ale drinkers it attracted. Despite a few doubts, it soldiered on with a place in the Good Beer Guide each year until the landlord decided to put the pub up for sale. It is perfectly understandable that after such a lengthy period behind the bar, the licensee felt he deserved a rest, but unfortunately with both the ownership and stewardship of the pub uncertain, the branch had no choice but to exclude it from selection next time around.
That was five years ago and, as my friend discovered the other day, the pub is still on the market. Whilst he was there the landlord complained bitterly that he never saw anyone from CAMRA these days, but to be fair the pub is quite difficult to reach by public transport, and few beer enthusiasts would risk driving there (and back). He was also moaning about some of the other pubs selected for this year's edition of the guide. My friend attempted to explain the uncertainty issues, mentioned above, which had precluded the pub's selection, but these appeared to fall on deaf ears.
I had a similar experience myself a few years ago when during a quick lunchtime drink in a pub close to where I work, I bumped into the former landlord of a now closed pub. This person was also very bitter towards CAMRA, and blamed the demise of his pub on his exclusion from the Good Beer Guide. To put the record straight, his non-selection was a straight forward beer quality (or lack of it) issue, and the pub closure was more down to the landlord having lost interest in the place than anything else. I even wonder whether the tears he was shedding were crocodile ones, as the pub was converted into two private houses, one of which was sold on, presumably at a not inconsiderable profit? Incidentally, the licensee my friend spoke to on Friday was threatening to do the same!
This leads me on to my final point - does inclusion in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide boost the trade of a pub to the extent claimed by the two landlords above? And if, for whatever reason, a pub finds itself excluded, will the subsequent loss of trade be sufficient to spell its death knell? I suspect the answer to both these questions is NO, but I would be interested in learning what other people think.