Inadvertently or otherwise, I owe quite a lot to CAMRA.
I joined CAMRA just over 30 years ago, in the years following my Damascene conversion – from Carlsberg to Cask – as a direct consequence of a pre gig pint of Wilsons Bitter in Peverel Of The Peak. (Pigbag February 1982 at Tropicana on Oxford Road, seeing as you’re asking….)
I used to be a branch activist and attended branch meetings – until I got totally pissed off with the sheer cliqueyness (new word alert!) of the group. This was North Manchester Branch. Now history, but not before they rejected the idea of helping to organise a beer festival for a small Community Centre. In 2014.
And we all know how THAT turned out.
It was through attending those Branch meetings that I got drunk in The Marble Arch one night in 1990 and got to hassle Jo & Andy Davies – the owners of The Crescent – with a Salfordian tweak on the Yosser Hughes riff “Gizza Job!”.
And that’s how I came to work in the best freehouse in the North West (at that time). A job that I adored. And that started my love affair with bar work.
At that time – and for many years after – The Good Beer Guide was an essential companion. Especially in the late 90s, when my role changed and I started to travel around the country more frequently. It pointed me to pubs in strange towns that would have (generally) consistently good beer.
When promotion could only be attained by transferring to London (leaving The Lovely One with two kids and a newborn in Bolton), the GBG helped me discover some gems that I periodically return to. The Jerusalem Tavern in Farringdon, The Old Fountain near Old Street, The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street and The Royal Oak on Tabard Street. Pubs I would never have travelled to, without “The Guide”.
Without “The Guide”, I may never have drunk in the splendour of Whitelocks in Leeds, The Crown Posada in Newcastle, The Post Office Vaults in Birmingham. Pubs I return to. Time and again.
The best hotel I’ve stayed in in London is The Mad Hatter on Stamford Street. I wouldn’t have found that without “The Guide”.
But I haven’t bought the Good Beer Guide for over 5 years now. Pretty much from the time I started blogging.
In the first of those years, I downloaded the GBG app on my smartphone. But, to be honest, it was a bit…. pants. Elasticated pants in fact. Glitches, lack of detail. It disappointed. Made me yearn for the breeze block that the paper version had become.
When the Year was up (12 months subscription) I didn’t renew.
What decided that, was the building Social Network I was becoming part of – via the blog.
Beer – by this point – had moved on from the simplicity that the GBG embodied. I was learning to appreciate (for want of a better word) “craft”. A word I still struggle with. But my taste buds were changing. Not all carbonation was evil. There was some simply magnificent keg beer coming through.
In my first blogging year, my favourite beer was Human Cannonball. Keg. In Brew Dog in Manchester.
THAT bar wasn’t in the GBG. My world was changing. The beer world was changing.
If I travelled to a new city, say…. Bristol, I’d put a tweet out
“In Bristol tonight. Recommendations?”
And I would be inundated with fabulous pubs and bars.
The same goes for any city/town in the UK. And I haven’t been let down yet – I trust local drinkers. The people who follow me/I follow know their locality. They know their beer. And frequently, that won’t be “Real Ale”.
And The Good Beer Guide is focused on pubs that sell “Real Ale”.
Don’t misunderstand me. I adore excellent cask conditioned beer. Show me the same dark beer on cask and keg and I’ll go cask every single time. On Pale beers, I can swing either way, the more assertively hoppy, the more likely I am to favour the keg.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, there was a time when The Good Beer Guide was the be all. An essential yearly purchase. Always perched on top of my holdall before it went in the boot.
It works for some. And I wouldn’t ridicule them for buying it. Good luck to them.
But for me? Not any more. Now I tweet that question.
And – for the record – I am still a CAMRA member.