Supplementing the 2020 Good Beer Guide: some Bristol tips

It’s new CAMRA Good Beer Guide season and across the land can be heard the familiar cries of “I can’t believe X is/isn’t in!”

Most people who are into beer know that the Good Beer Guide is not the be all and end all – it doesn’t claim to be.

It’s an assessment on the quality and consistency of cask beer, so pubs without cask beer will not get in, no matter how stunning the keg selection.

Selection processes vary from district to district, as we understand it, but the Bristol branch has clearly documented processes which seem to be about as thorough and democratic as is possible to be, but obviously will still favour pubs that are popular with active CAMRA members.

We’re not really sociable enough to contribute to this sort of thing so of course we don’t get to complain if we don’t like the entries. And actually, in Bristol, there isn’t much to grumble about from our perspective.

(Unlike in Penzance where to our eternal bafflement The Cornish Crown got in year after year, sometimes as the only entry; it’s fine but we could think of three or four consistently better cask ale pubs in town.)

In the two and a bit years we’ve been here, the Bristol selections have generally been a good representation of quality beer and also reflected a range of different pubs and other drinking establishments to suit all tastes.

There are a couple whose inclusion we might question based on our visits but the main issue is the omission of some particular favourite pubs, probably down to the space allocated to some degree.

With that in mind, we’d like to suggest a couple of supplementary entries for 2020.

The Highbury Vaults
This is a veteran GBG entry but not included this year. It has a multi-room layout, including a snug and a toy train, and can’t help but be cosy. The garden, or yard rather, has an oddly good atmosphere. There are Young’s beers, including Winter Warmer in season, and a selection of bottles. It has good old-fashioned pub snacks (pork pies, baps) as well as homely homemade food.

The Good Measure
We assume this didn’t make the GBG as it only opened in December 2018. The team at Good Chemistry are behind this so their beers obviously feature but also several guests, usually from the north, which makes a refreshing change in Bristol. Timothy Taylor Landlord is often on, for example. There are keg beers, too. We particularly love the contemporary yet classic feel of the interior.

The Canteen (AKA Hamilton House)
This was in the guide in 2019 but isn’t anymore. It’s not really a pub, more a community cafe with an emphasis on all things local, which is perhaps why it’s not in our main Bristol pub guide, but regularly has four or five cask ales from Bristol Beer Factory, New Bristol and others. Being round the corner from Jess’s most recent job, it’s also somewhere she got to know well and found the beer to be in consistently good condition.

In coming up with the above list, we’ve kept to GBG criteria and haven’t included keg bars, cider houses and so on.

We’ve also left out a couple of pubs we really like but we haven’t visited enough to judge the consistency of the ale – maybe we’ll suggest them for 2021.

For more on our overall recommendations see our Bristol pub guide and also our analysis of our visits in the first two years of living here.

It would be interesting to read similar supplementary guides to other cities and regions from other bloggers. How well does the GBG represent your town, city or region?

Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Early CAMRA member, and first editor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked proper beer but the problem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Companion but that was all about the breweries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trading areas. And the brewers… The brewers wouldn’t give me any information! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold proper beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whitbread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hardman
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brewery] was championing cask ale in a very serious way, and had been holding out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of himself as the only one left. Young’s had never been a particularly profitable company. They had some pretty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bitter’ bitter that was going out of fashion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Peebles, a former naval officer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR campaign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put together the first ever comprehensive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubtedly an influence, very much so. With Young’s you could guarantee that all their pubs would have proper beer. John Young deserves a lot of credit.

Continue reading “Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 September 2017: Beavertown, Burials, Biggsy

Here’s everything beer- and pub-related that caught our eye in the last week, from viking funerals to mysterious pressure groups.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 September 2017: Beavertown, Burials, Biggsy”

The Cream of Manchester: the decline and fall of Boddingtons cask bitter 1974-2012

This is a guest post by John Robinson who joined CAMRA c.1973 and was inspired by our writing about the decline of Boddington’s Bitter to undertake some research of his own. He asked us to share this post on his behalf. We’ve undertaken some light editing for readability and house style but otherwise this is John’s own work.

* * *

Recently, on social media, there has been nostalgic discussion about Boddington’s Bitter — how good it was, what colour it was, how bitter it was and crucially, when it started to decline in quality. Focus in the debate has been, so far, largely subjective. What follows is a more objective analysis.

There has been renewed interest in the Boddington’s cask-conditioned bitter that was produced in the 1960s to the 1980s. It was widely regarded as one of the finest examples of its genre in Britain. In 2012 it ceased to exist completely in cask form although there appear to be two versions still available in keg/can form. Much of the discussion that has occurred centres around when the decline in quality occurred, with a variety of dates being mentioned, spanning the 1970s/80s. The aim of this research is to try and make an objective judgement about the decline and pinpoint when it commenced via Boddington’s tied house postings in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide (GBG).

My approach was to collate GBG entries for Boddington’s tied houses for the period 1974-1994, with Boddington’s tied houses are defined as the 256 listed in the guidebook Boddington’s published c.1973. Analysis of the results identifies four periods in the life of Boddingtons’ tied houses in the GBG.

Boddington's tied houses graph.
SOURCE: John Robinson/CAMRA Good Beer Guides 1974-1994.
Period 1: 1974-1983

The first Good Beer Guide, 1974, is fairly widely acknowledged, not least by its editor, as an imperfect document. There were few branches in existence during the previous 18 months when the Guide was put together. It was not, then, unsurprising that only a small number of Boddington’s Pubs were represented. This number grew rapidly over the next three years to 79, the height of Boddington’s popularity, with 31 per cent of their tied house estate represented. There was a fall to 66 by 1979 and down to 53 by 1983. This can be seen to be the period where Boddington’s was at its peak.

Period 2: 1984-1990

Pubs listed fell from 53 in 1983 to 33 in 1984. There are generally acknowledged to be three reasons why a pub is deleted from the GBG: when a tenant/manager changes; when a pub closes; and when the beer quality is perceived to have fallen. Pubs are not deleted from the GBG lightly and the decision often involves passionate debate at Branch Meetings. This 37 per cent fall is, I feel, significant and does accord with what some felt to be a decline in quality during that period. The GBGs over the whole period do not comment adversely regarding the Bitter so it cannot be said that GBG comments were leading the decisions. Boddington’s did take over Oldham Brewery in 1982 but kept the brewery open for some years and there does not seem to be a geographical pattern to the deletions. For example, in Preston and north of same, 7 pubs were deleted from a total of 18 (39 per cent) by comparison with 37 per cent over the whole area of the GBG. At least three different CAMRA branches were involved (Blackpool, Fylde & Wire; Lunesdale; and Central Lancashire) in the posting of Boddington’s pubs in this area.

Period 3: 1991-1994

A period when the number of Boddingtons’ pubs in the GBG varied between 27 and 35 ending the period 2 higher than at the beginning. Perhaps there was no discernible further decline in quality but only 35 from 255 pubs is a pretty miserable proportion — less than 14 per cent.

Period 4: 1991-1994

Endgame. There were 14 pubs listed in 1991; 8 pubs listed in 1993; and no pubs listed in 1994. Perhaps most interesting is how 14 pubs managed to remain listed for so long.

On the basis of this research quality probably declined at two points: 1983 and again in 1990.

Sources

boakandbailey.com
Boddington’s, c.1973, J.Burrow & Co. Ltd
CAMRA Good Beer Guide, various editions 1974-1994
Local Brew, Mike Dunn, 1986 (referred to at boakandbailey.com)

Life on the margins

From the 1974 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

One of the best things about old books is finding inserts — scribbled notes, bus tickets, clippings — and annotations.

Recently, Boak’s uncle very kindly let us borrow several early editions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. They are well used and, like many copies of the GBG we’ve seen, feature ‘ticks’ against the names of pubs and breweries in Biro ink. There are also numerous scraps of paper containing detailed handwritten updates — a sign, perhaps, of the speed with which new breweries and ‘real ale’ pubs were appearing between editions in the mid- to late seventies?

The annotation pictured above, from the 1974 GBG, caught our eye, though, because it tells a story in three words: LIKE THE PLAGUE.

This was the first commercial edition of the GBG which, at the last minute, was censored by its publishers, Waddington’s, who feared a legal challenge from Watney’s. After some angry exchanges, CAMRA agreed to rewrite the text to read ‘at all costs’, but, clearly, members on the ground were annoyed at the idea of being bullied by the loathed Red Empire, and some preferred the text as intended.

The word PUKE written across the entire entry is Uncle’s own contribution, and is a fair summary of how ‘serious drinkers’ felt about Watney’s at the time.