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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.