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.
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.