Considerable Resentment

On Saturday we did something we’ve been putting off for a long time: we submitted a rating to CAMRA’s national beer scoring system (NBSS).

What took us so long? The faff of logging on to the website to submit a score, for one thing, although it was pretty painless once we were in, but also, there was a reluctance to get sucked into robotic ticking-scoring-logging behaviour.

We were prompted to action by the fact that, for the second year in a row, the only Penzance pub in the Good Beer Guide is The Crown — a very decent place in its own way but whose beer isn’t the best in town by a long chalk. Perhaps there aren’t many scores logged down this way, or perhaps those that are recorded come from people who (as is common among older Cornish drinkers) have ongoing beef with St Austell, or with particular publicans. Whatever the reason we suspect, or hope, our scores might actually make a difference.

Getting used to the system might take a while, though. We’ve chuckled over the NBSS scale before, when we saw it reproduced in a local CAMRA magazine, but were amused anew when we refreshed our memories in the pub at the weekend:

0. No cask ale available.
1. Poor. Beer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
2. Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but doesn’t inspire in any way, not worth moving to another pub but you drink the beer without really noticing.
3. Good. Good beer in good form. You may cancel plans to move to the next pub. You want to stay for another pint and may seek out the beer again. 
4. Very Good. Excellent beer in excellent condition.
5. Perfect. Probably the best you are ever likely to find. A seasoned drinker will award this score very rarely. 

Our favourite is number 1 which conjures an image of a hard-done-by Albert Steptoe figure grumbling into a pint, too nervous to take it back but too tight-fisted to walk away. But, of course, we’ve all been there, and the same goes for the more positive number 3.

Exactly how rarely will a ‘seasoned drinker’ give a perfect score? We’re probably fairly well salted and peppered these days and, unfortunately, have become quite fussy — it sometimes feels as if all we do is moan. Nonetheless, we regularly come across pints of St Austell Proper Job — a beer we know very well — in absolute peak condition. It would seem daft to hold off awarding 5 just in case there’s an even better, magically wonderful pint to be found somewhere down the line.

What we won’t be doing is using NBSS scores to communicate our experiences here on the blog. No, sorry, but you’re stuck with ‘like licking Kia Ora off a pot plant’ and all that for the time being.

12 replies on “Considerable Resentment”

I don’t think I’ve ever given a 5 since the new system has been in operation, although I vaguely recall giving a 4½. The main point is to sort out the 2½s, 3s and 3½s. though.

Also some branches still completely ignore NBSS when making GBG selections. Yes, it can only ever be used as a guide, not as Holy Writ, but that is just sticking your head in the sand.

It’s always struck me that the CAMRA scale is logarithmic, in that even though 2/5 doesn’t sound a good score at all, a 2 (according to the description) is actually a fine, acceptable beer, but a 3 is a huge jump in quality, worthy of changing your plans for the rest of the evening. I think of 4 as the best that mortal men can expect to achieve, and 5 is what the beer is like in Valhalla.

Seems like “0” is actually a better circumstance than “1,” but I’m not skilled in CAMRA hermeneutics.

“We were prompted to action by the fact that, for the second year in a row, the only Penzance pub in the Good Beer Guide is The Crown — a very decent place in its own way but whose beer isn’t the best in town by a long chalk.”

Judging by the contents of the beer guide for the 3-4 cities I know well, the relationship between entrance in the Good Beer Guide and the quality of the beer, let alone the quality of the pub, is almost entirely arbitrary.

It would be interesting to hear about Cornish drinkers’ ongoing beef with St Austell. Do tell.

We’ve written about it a few times here and there. The gist is, the beer used to be pretty rotten until about 1998-9 which some people still aren’t over, hence the nickname ‘St Awful’. Then there’s the problem with their dominance of the pubs — something like 200 tied houses, none of which ever have guest ales, which makes it really tough for Cornish breweries to get their beer into Cornish pubs and contributes to an overall sense of stagnation.

No guest ales is a terribly short-sighted policy. If their best is as good as you say it is (I haven’t drank Proper Job in years, and don’t recall it being a transcendent experience), surely having some of the best of the rest alongside it would only serve to increase footfall rather than reduce their slice of a fixed-size pie.

Depends where the footfall is coming from – the geography of Cornwall and Snozzle’s dominance means that they’d likely only be cannibalising sales from another of their pubs, whilst handing brewing margin to someone else. I had a chat with the Rebel guys a few months ago and they claimed there were <20 free-of-tie pubs in the whole of Cornwall – in fact there's more breweries than FOT pubs. Not sure how true that is but it sounded plausible.

It's tricky – the geography is very different to somewhere like Derby, where competition can come in from all sides from well-funded companies. Kent might be a partial comparison being surrounded by sea on two sides, it's no coincidence that it was home to the micropub movement given the dominance of Sheps. But again it's a bit different as there's more money in Kent and lots of microbreweries within direct delivery distance, whereas Cornish micropubs would probably rely more on distributors, which add cost and don't necessarily do anything for beer quality. I'd guess the seasonality of the Cornish trade probably doesn't make it easy for the average micropub either, they don't have the cash reserves to weather the winter.

Where’s better than the Crown, then? Will be back down that way in a few weeks, and although the beer isn’t that interesting, it’s not bad, and it’s a nice pub. Where do you recommend?

Most pubs in town serve beer at least as good as The Crown (in terms of condition, if not variety) – the standard is generally good. A notch above is the consistently great Stuff Austell Proper Job at The Yacht, and Broadside at The Pirate. The Dock, though it’s lost a little magic under new management, has decent Spingo, and Penzance Brewing Co Potion 9.

Thanks. I’m very fond of Proper Job, but we stay in Sennen Cove for a week so that’s normally what I drink most of in The Old Success. Penzance drinking has mostly been confined to The Crown, The Admiral Benbow and The Turk’s Head, so will give The Dock a go this time. The Pirate is a bit far out of town.

I submitted a score for a pun in Kendal for the same reason. Been for times in last year and beer is superb but not in GBG for some years. Not unique situation as others state. One thing my local branch does well is to not use the national scoring system but score from 0 to 10.

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