Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Good Beer Guide 2018 - from a different angle

The Good Beer Guide 2018, was officially launched last Thursday, and is celebrating its 45th edition. Unlike last year’s disastrous press-launch, which saw the MSM latching on to the “story” about the use of fish-derived finings as a means of clarifying cask beer, this year’s press releases saw CAMRA playing it safe.

The main focus was a reflection on the massive changes which have occurred within the beer industry, since the first guide was published in 1974, and contrasting them with the situation today. The most significant change  has been huge rise in the number of breweries and the massive increase in  the range of beers now available to today’s beer drinkers.

I still have a well-thumbed, and rather dog-eared, copy of that first edition Good Beer Guide. It was just 96 pages in length and listed around 1,500 pubs. The brewery section, covered just two pages at the rear and listed a mere 105 brewing companies. The beer range available in 1974 primarily consisted of milds and bitters, with the occasional smattering of winter and Christmas ales. This is in sharp contrast to today’s Guide which lists 1704 breweries, producing more than 7,500 beers (as part of their core range) in more than 14 styles.

Another news worthy item is the highlighting of  the five pubs which have appeared in every edition of the Guide, thereby demonstrating a consistent high standard of quality beers served in a fantastic setting. As I intend to write a separate post on this, I won’t go into too much detail here, but for the curious, this link will tell all you need to know. For my part, having visited three of these survivors, I want to write a more personal piece, based on my own experiences.

The 2018 edition also sees the departure of  long-serving editor Roger Protz, who is standing down this year after editing 24 editions of the Good Beer Guide . Roger served two stints in the editor’s chair, from 1978 to 1983 and more recently from 2000 to the present day, and helped the Guide become the leading “go-to” publication for anyone interested in good beer and good places in which to drink it. In short, the Guide remains an indispensable travelling companion for anyone journeying around the UK.

I haven’t rushed out to buy a copy, certainly not in physical form; in fact the last GBG I bought was the 40th edition, which appeared in 2013. Up until then I had a full set, but 40 year’s worth of guides gathering dust on the shelves was enough for me to call it a day, and I have not bought a copy since.

The Breweries Section 1974
The Guide has grown in size since that first 96 page edition it’s is not the easiest thing to carry around. For many years I have been saying it is time to drop the Breweries Section which, in the 2013 edition, took up 250 pages, equivalent to 27% of the total guide. Whilst this section was certainly relevant 45 years ago, today it is almost totally superfluous, as anyone interested in discovering more about a particular brewery and its beers, can easily find the information they are looking for on line. Perhaps this will happen, now that Roger is stepping down; it would certainly make sense.

Instead, we could either have a slimmer and much more user friendly guide, or the number of pubs could be expanded. If CAMRA feel there is still a market for what is effectively a list of breweries and their beers, they could publish a separate book, spice it up a bit with photos, illustrations, detailed tasting notes and more details of brewery taps, take out etc. However, given the numerous changes which occur each year, within the brewing industry, the chances of this happening are realistically, zero.

One way round the weight/size problem is to purchase the electronic version. I am not normally a fan of digital books,  as I much prefer the printed  “real thing.” However, as someone who is only likely to refer to the Guide on odd occasions, buying it in electronic form may be the best option for me.

The electronic version is said to come with regular updates, but looking on the Google Play Store there seem to be a couple of conflicting Apps, with poor ratings. CAMRA’s own website seems to indicate that the Good Beer Guide is only available as an App for iPhone users, which is very puzzling.

If this is correct then it is bad form from an organisation which has been trying, for some time now, to switch members away from traditional printed paper forms of “What’s Brewing” and “Beer” magazine, and onto electronic, downloadable versions.

The fact this switch is being pushed through in order “to save CAMRA money,” does make me wonder whether the printed Good Beer Guide generates far more dosh than an App-based version does.

If so, CAMRA needs to make its mind up as to whether it wants to keep its publications in traditional print form, or whether it wants to ditch paper, in favour of downloadable electronic versions. At the moment it appears to be cherry-picking, and this is unacceptable whichever side of the paper versus digital debate you happen to be on.


Stono said...

ideally in terms of an electronic version of the guide youd want an e-book/Kindle version,which doesnt seem to be yet available for the 2018 guide, I dont know if that will change or not.

the version of the guide in the Google Play store/Apple store is an app, so its techically not a direct electronic copy of the guide, it uses the data (pubs/locations and so on) of the guide but mashes it up so you search for a location and it will tell you the nearest guide pubs,show you maps, let you mark youve been there. the app itself is free to download, and free access lets you only a limited distance from your current present location. To get hold of all the data, you can "subscribe" to the access the data for a year, and that lets you search any location.

and Ive used that app version for at least 6 years as I got fed up of carrying around something that weighed as much as a dictionary, and it was handy because you could use its mapping, and your location so in an area you had no idea where the place was, you could navigate to it, it was simple but it worked effectively

now to coincide with the launch of the GBG (book) CAMRA launched a new version of this GBG (app), they tried before to update it last year but only for Iphones,but it was so disastrously received they had to pull it. But because its a new app, rather than just an update from the old GBG (app) its considered to be a totally new app by Google/Apple, hence why there are now seemingly two CAMRA GBG apps competing with each other, but only the new (app) will accept "subscriptions" going forward.

so the new GBG app what theyve done is created a kind of WhatPub app instead, that lets you filter down to GBG data, but if you search for a location (and when it decides its working) youll get all the WhatPub data including pictures and lots more clicks to get key info like actually whats the opening times for tomorrow, so its gone from a simple textual database that was stored on your phone so you could search offline and get the data you wanted easily, to an app that now needs network connection to download a bunch of data most people searching just for GBG pubs wont want, and the GBG data itself seems limited to return pubs only within a set mileage from a location. so to plan visits to GBG pubs say in Yorkshire or London if you were visiting, you would probably spend hours trying to find the right search locations for you want.

consequently Ill be going back to carrying the book around I think. as the new app in its current state no longer works for me at all.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for enlightening me, Stono. When I first started looking into this it seemed something of a minefield and from what you are saying the situation, if anything, has got worse. An app that only works when you’re actually at, or close to the location your searching on, is no use to man or beast; especially those of us who like to do a bit of forward planning.

As a consequence, I will stick to WhatPub, but backed up by research from other sources. I’m starting to think this is a conspiracy by CAMRA, to keep sales of the book version GBG, buoyant. Strange that this is the exact opposite of what they are doing with “Beer Magazine” and “What’s Brewing.”