Saturday, 30 June 2018

The British Guild of Beer Writers AGM 2018

Last Wednesday evening I took the train up to London, in order to attend the Annual General Meeting of the British Guild of Beer Writers. This was the third trip I’ve made to the capital in the space of the past two weeks, but much like buses, things often come in threes.

Wednesday evening's AGM was another number three, as it was the third such meeting I have attended, since joining the Guild in the summer of 2015. It’s no surprise that meetings of an organisation for people who write about beer, should take place in a pub, and this year’s venue was the Bishop’s Finger, a Shepherd Neame pub in West Smithfield, just a stone’s throw away from the famous Smithfield Meat Market.

I had a virtually seamless journey up from Tonbridge, courtesy of the enhanced Thameslink service. Just a simple platform change at London Bridge station, now fully operational after years of re-building and re-modelling, and I was hopping onto a sleek new 12 coach,  Thameslink train.

I must say I am really impressed by the investment that has gone into the Thameslink project, and the fact it now offers speedy travel, without having to change trains, across central London for those of us who live in the south. For example, my train, which had come from Brighton, was bound for Bedford, and I understand there are also through services to Cambridge.

I wasn't going that far, as I alighted just three stops later at Farringdon. From there it was a five minute walk to the pub. My route took me through the splendour of the Victorian buildings which make up Smithfield Market, and as I walked under the ornate,  cast-iron canopy, lorries were parking up ready to deliver their meat for the early morning trade.

I think I am correct in saying that the Bishop’s Finger was the first pub which Shepherd Neame owned in London, and for many years it represented the Kent brewery's sole presence in the nation’s capital. It’s probably getting on for 40 years since I last set foot inside the pub, but as our meeting was held in an upstairs room, I didn’t see that much of it. Downstairs there was just one open plan bar, although I’m pretty certain that back in the 70’s, the Bishop’s Finger had two bars.

The British Guild of Beer Writers was formed in 1988 to help spread the word about beers, brewing and pubs. It’s members include the cream of the country’s beer media experts – be they journalists, authors (writers or bloggers), producers, photographers, illustrators or PR people.

The Guild’s wish is for the public to be given every opportunity to learn about beer at first hand from its members, and for the public to be able to read, listen and view how beer is flourishing in Britain today. Supporters of the Guild include brewers, pub companies, and many suppliers associated with the brewing trade.

I was admitted to the Guild, as a full member, back in 2015. I qualified for membership by virtue of having written this blog (at the time), for seven years, and also for having edited, as well as written most of the copy for, two magazines/newsletters, published by local CAMRA branches.

I am proud to be a member, and although I am in illustrious company, I have found everyone I have met so far, to be friendly, engaging and helpful. You can check out the Guild’s many members here, should you wish.

I made my way upstairs, where the 30 or so members present were squeezed into the pub's function room. Fortunately the room had its own bar, and with a choice of Spitfire and Whitstable Bay Pale on hand-pump, and Five Grain Lager on keg, we were unlikely to go thirsty. There was also selection of bottles, chilling away in the fridge. Chilled beer was certainly needed as it was a very warm evening outside, although the rather fierce air-conditioning certainly kept things cool in the room.

The proceedings stuck to the usual AGM format of reports from the various officers, followed by an election for four places on the board. I say board, because a couple of years ago, the Guild changed its status from that of a members club, to that of a company. This was done primarily to place things on a firmer financial footing.

It was also time to say goodbye to Guild Chariman, Tim Hampson who was stepping down  after 12 years in the role. Addressing the assembled members, Tim reflected on his years as chairman.  “The Guild has moved from being a club to a more professional organisation,” he said. “When I took on the role, my priority was to put the Guild on a more stable financial footing and I’m delighted that, thanks to our Treasurer Paul Nunny, we have now achieved that.  This allows us to offer far more to our members  in the way of seminars, events and training.”

He continued, “I am especially proud of our Annual Awards and Dinner, which has become one of the highlights of the drinks industry calendar.”

Members extended their heartfelt thanks to Tim for his unstinting dedication to the Guild, which during his tenure has been transformed into the thriving organisation it is today.  The Guild’s individual membership has passed 300 for the first time, thanks in large part to membership secretary Matthew Curtis.

Former Secretary of the Guild and current Beer Writer of the Year, Adrian Tierney-Jones spoke fondly about the decade he worked alongside Tim Hampson, before presenting him with a bottle of Bass King’s Ale 1902 and an engraved tankard on behalf of the Guild.

In addition to Tim, three other directors stood down from the Guild Board at the meeting and elections were held. It was particularly encouraging to see that three of the four new directors are women, especially as they will be bringing some new ideas to the Guild.

Once the meeting had finished, members tucked into a buffet which went well with the beer. There was just the right amount of food, and the same applied to the beer. With work the next morning, I restricted myself  to three pints; two of Whitstable Bay and one of Five Grain.

It was a highly positive meeting and it was good to catch up with a few familiar faces from past Guild events and also a couple of past European Beer Bloggers' Conferences. I left around 9.30pm, retracing my footsteps back to Farringdon and then my rail journey back to Kent.

After the heat of the city it was rather chilly when I stepped off the train at Tonbridge, but a brisk walk home soon warmed me up.


Russtovich said...

"but much like buses, things often come in threes."


"and with a choice of Spitfire and Whitstable Bay Pale on hand-pump, and Five Grain Lager on keg,"

All Shepherd Neame beers, makes sense. And do they also own Sam Adams?

"The Guild’s individual membership has passed 300 for the first time,"

Congrats on being part of the 300. :)

Sounds like, all in all, it was a nice night out.


Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, as far as I know Shep's don't "own" Samuel Adams, but they do brew the beer under license.

They also brew quite a few other "international lagers" under the same arrangement, including Oranjeboom, Asahi, Holsten and Kingfisher.

Thanks for the link to the New Scientist article. I will have a look at it later.

RedNev said...

I'm sure I'd qualify for membership because, as well as being a beer & music blogger, I was the editor of our local CAMRA mag, Ale & Hearty, for a while and I write the CAMRA column in our local papers (about 150 articles so far), but I tend to side with Groucho Marx in relation to club membership.

One comment that struck me was that you had "edited, as well as written most of the copy for, two magazines/newsletters, published by local CAMRA branches". This was my experience as well, and in fact most CAMRA editors and ex-editors whom I know seem to have the same experience. Branches just dump the job and your doorstep and tell you to get on with it. It's no wonder some editors burn out.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Nev, it's good to know I was not alone, but whilst I can see why CAMRA branches take the easy option (leaving the editor to get on with it, including writing most of the copy), by doing this they are missing out.

Other members surely must have something they can contribute, and by bringing them onboard, it does mean there are other people able to step into the editor's shoes, should something untoward happen.

The former newsletter I wrote, edited and typeset (proper cut & paste in those days), for Maidstone Branch, is still going. "Draught Copy" is now a full-colour magazine and incorporates a couple of neighbouring branches as well.

"Inn View," the magazine for my current branch, was re-incarnated as "Inn View News" following the end of my tenure, but sadly fell by the wayside a couple of decades ago.

I am firmly of the opinion that branch magazines contribute much to the success of local CAMRA branches. I always pick up those I come across on my travels; "Norfolk Nips" being the most recent one.

Tandleman said...

Same here with More Beer magazine. I do get some reular copy but features and something different? That's down to me really.

Sorry for missing the AGM Paul, but with various other things on the go, I just couldn't spare the time.

Hopefully see you in August.

Matthew said...

Enjoyable read Paul.

What was the Sheps beer like ? that place used to be in the Guide (as did quite a few of their pubs).

There is indeed a direct train line from Cambridge to Brighton now. Sadly it only makes sense on Sundays when Super Off Peak kicks in !

Retired Martin

Paul Bailey said...

No problem Peter, it would have been nice to catch up, but I appreciate you've got a lot going on. Unfortunately I can't make GBBF this year as I will be in the US, but there's always another time.

Glad to see you back on your blog again.

The Shep's was on good form, Martin. The Whitstable Bay was on good form and deserved the 3.5 NBSS I gave it. I'm pretty certain we got through a whole cask of it over the course of the evening.

The direct trains to Cambridge from our end, seem worth looking at.