Friday, 11 June 2010

The Acceptable Beer Guide

This subject raises its ugly head in the beer blogosphere every now and again. I’m well aware of the arguments and reasons why things happen the way they do. I’ve sat in on pub selection meetings and I know the fears about not nominating the full allocation of pubs, but surely in this electronic age of automated compilation, editing and publishing a bit more flexibility on the number of entries that branches can submit from year to year could prevail. Couldn’t it?

It was my birthday recently and we had a night away close to the North Norfolk coast in a pub called the Lifeboat Inn at a village called Thornham. Several people had said how good the food was and it is in the current issue of the Good Beer Guide. It had also featured in previous issues. On paper it seemed like a good place for a birthday treat. In reality it was a tad disappointing. Our room, whilst clean, was a bit tired around the edges. It was comfortable in an old pair of slippers sort of way. With the merest hint of an effluvia to match. The staff were on the aloof or disinterested side of surly. But the food was indeed very good. None of these things of course are really the focus of the Good Beer Guide. Soon after arriving we decided to head for the bar for a pre-dinner aperitif. Half of this establishment is a dedicated restaurant with table service and the other half is a tradition pub with plenty of tables and chairs. The Pub Curmudgeon amongst others would hate this pub as there were a couple of bar stools and a couple of small tables in a snug close to the bar but on closer inspection the lounge beyond was full of empty tables, all with reserved signs on them. I didn’t like this either. We sat in the garden for a while but retreated to our room as it started to feel chilly. My pre-dinner pint of Woodfordes Wherry was equally disappointing. It wasn’t off; it hadn’t been hanging around for a long time. In fact I suspect they sell loads of Wherry. Really, it wasn’t bad, but it most certainly wasn’t good either. I think I would describe it as outstandingly underwhelming. It just was, "like Mount Everest is and Marilyn Monroe isn’t”. It was beer in a vacuum, without emotion. Now not everybody gets it right all of the time and so I approached a pint of Nethergate Suffolk County with hope and anticipation, only to be dashed again. Again the beer wasn’t off or old it was just okay. I’m not versed in the mystic arts of cellarmanship so I’m not equipped with the necessary technical vocabulary to explain its mediocrity. I’m also not steeped in the language of Protzian beer philosophy used by guilded* beer writers. I’m just an ordinary bloke what knows a good pint when he’s served one. It was beer without love. Beer ‘cared for’ by an automaton. Beer for eunuchs. I don’t know if it says in the cellar-man’s bible, “thought shall't love thy beer with all thy heart”, but it bloody well should. I bet the standard I experienced that night was how it always is. The food is good and they clearly care about that. It just a shame the same care isn’t taken over their beer. I bet The Lifeboat is in the Good Beer Guide just to make up the numbers.

Good Beer Guide 2010

This pub isn’t an isolated case from CAMRA’s flagship publication. I have had other equally frustrating experiences and I know I’m not alone. In the GBG’s defence I would say that most of the time it yields great results. I just think a bit more QC needs to be applied. I don’t care if it’s a mighty tome one year and a slim volume the next, it would just be nice if the Good Beer Guide could be an compendium of real note. I’d like a ‘Good Beer Guide’ and not an ‘It’ll Do and Good Beer Guide’ please.



Tandleman said...

Nice post. “thought shall't love thy beer with all thy heart”

It is in mine and ought to be in everyone's. It what gives me my vry high standards in cask beer. As for making up numbers, I suppose it is possible, but why not drop the branch a note or a link to your blog. You'd be surprised how welcome that is. Well in my brnch it is.

Tandleman said...

Note to self. Use spell checker, but I do have a cup of tea waiting, so was in a hurry. Or is that hrry?

RedNev said...

I don't know how the quotas for each branch are decided, but I've heard of branches:
agonising over which great pubs to leave out;
scrabbling around to fill their quota;
or not using their full quota, as their remaining pubs didn't reach GBG standards.

I'm not sure what can be done about this problem.

Curmudgeon said...

I suppose every pub has its off day - the GBG is judged by beer quality across the year, and 10 good pints will outweigh one indifferent one.

Having said that, it doesn't sound like the kind of place where the wet trade is given a high priority, so you are right to say I might not be too impressed,

Paul Garrard said...

Tandleman I take your point about dropping the branch a line. I think I will do that.

Will said...

Been there and had exactly the same experience. Disappointed wasn't the word as I'd looked forward to going for ages. The price of everything was ridiculous as well - but that's probably just a northern thing!