Book review: Good Beer Guide 2013

A thousand uncles on Christmas Day look up from their stocking and say: "Oooh, nice! The Good Beer Guide!" Because someone knows he's partial to the occasional brown bitter. And if he's really unlucky, nephews and nieces will also have bought him bottles of something hilariously labelled like Old Git.

Many copies of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide will be given as presents. Many will be bought for people who don't want to / haven't got access to the interwebs or a smartphone. So for this years review, I've tried to take my beer geek hat off and judge just how useful it is as a papery thing that will live on the parcel shelf of a Skoda Fabia*.

Test #1: find a country pub for lunch that I hadn't been to before. 

The county map for Derbyshire showed up a pub in a village nearby. The postcode and Ordnance Survey references given would have been useful if I'd being GPSing; as it was, Main Street in Milton is easy to find (there aren't really many other streets)**. The Swan Inn was open when it said it would be; it served meals (what used to be the lounge is now a cafe, an interesting diversification), it did have a car park and it did serve Marston's Pedigree. Although I had the 'guest beer' which was Kalika by the vastly-improved Tollgate Brewery.

Wheelchair access? Problematic. Level on the inside, but both entrances we tried had steps. Now, I can shove Mrs Scoop in her chair up and down a fair bit but steps don't equate to 'easy access' as noted in the Guide.

Overall? The review was good and the gen was accurate. And Roger the landlord was a wonderfully bearded happy chappy. So that's a qualified pass.

Test two: find a city pub I've been to before and see how it matches up.

'Award-winning restoration'? Check - there's plaques on the wall.

'Usually four beers from the Thornbridge range'? Check - has been every time I've visited.

Near train, tram and bus? Check times three. Tram stops less than a quarter of a mile away. Bus station is as close. Platform 1b of Sheffield station is right outside.

'Up to six guest beers'. Well, yes. And no. Because there's no mention of the 100+ bottles and twelve keg beers on offer at the Sheffield Tap. Even though some of those world-class bottles are bottle-conditioned. And, dare I suggest, some of the keg beer has more life in in than some brewers' suspiciously bright casks served elsewhere.

Yes, I know the Guide is driven by promoting cask. But to wholly ignore the other methods of dispense that helped establish the Tap as a world-class beer bar? That's airbrushing that Stalin would have been proud of.

Overall? An incomplete truth.

Test three: does it work as a well-thumbed reference book?

Well, I've been using it for three months. It's been in the bottom of a rucksack, it's been used as a tray and it hasn't fallen to bits. The slightly-shiny pages are still OK to read in bright light. The spine is starting to crack, though, mainly from me pulling the front inside cover back to read the symbol key. The two-hundred-plus pages of brewery info obviously omits some developments - always the bugbear of a printed reference source. But as a way of checking a brewery's postcode or phone number when in a 3G dead-zone? Invaluable.

Overall? Useful if occasionally dated.

Test four: does it work as a diverting read?

There's a couple of features that prove to be interesting. Good to see campaigning issues at the forefront of the Guide. Featuring a pub crawl around Norwich - the city which will host CAMRA's Member's Weekend in 2013 - is a good touch albeit let down by a few inaccuracies. There's a decent potted overview of the brewing process courtesy of Pitfield Brewery.

But some other sections seem rather jaded. Shoehorning a Michael Jackson article from 1989 feels awkwardly outdated when it talks of independent brewers whom have now been absorbed by multinationals. A section on beer appreciation is perplexing; I'd love to know which 'leading British artisan brewer' calls hops 'the grapes of beer' and I can categorically prove that it is not the case that "even the strongest beer has 93% water in its make-up".

Overall? Diverting, just not necessarily for the right reasons.

It's a book I loved to learn from when I was first getting to know more about beer. Nowadays I've learned to love it and hate it in equal measures. For a big papery thing it's not bad. It just seems that although it's got 2013 on the cover, it's got 1989 on its mind.

You can buy the Good Beer Guide direct from CAMRA. Thanks to them for the review copy.

* no Skoda Fabia's were harmed in the making of this review

** edited for clarity - thanks to Mudge in the comments below


  1. I know it's nitpicking, but it does give a postcode for the Swan at Milton.

  2. Ah, I need to rephrase. Meant to say I would have found them useful *if* I'd needed to use them. Thanks.

  3. It's no use on the parcel shelf of a Skoda Fabia, but it does fit nicely in the passenger's door.

    And as I don't care how many keg or bottled beers a pub has ignoring such irrelevancies sounds ideal.

  4. "It just seems that although it's got 2013 on the cover, it's got 1989 on its mind."

    BAGS in 'still living in 1980s shock' ;-)

    not bought a GBG since the 1999(?) teletubbies-cover edition... would be interested how many people actually use it as a reference when visiting an unknown place, rather than consulting the interweb...

  5. "It just seems that although it's got 2013 on the cover, it's got 1989 on its mind."

    Lot of truth in that.

  6. It would be a much more useful book if it did what it claimed to do: be a guide to the good BEERS of the UK, listed brewery by brewery, with notes on where to find them. At the moment its basically a poor man's version of "The Good Pub Guide".

  7. pY0 "It would be a much more useful book if it did what it claimed to do: be a guide to the good BEERS of the UK, listed brewery by brewery"

    What? You'd list the beers and under that the places where you'd find them?

    Then Good Pub Guide is a paid for list of pubsand, a I recall, where to find them

    It might be better to have the breweries at the front though.

  8. I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not but yes, I would make the bulk of the book basically a list of all 1,000 UK breweries divided up by region, with a short potted history, descriptions and reviews of their regular and seasonal beers, and a mention of where you might be able to find these beers on draught. You could have features on regional pub of the years and some style cross referencing at the back.

    So the UK good beer guide is actually a guide to good beer in the UK.
    Thats a book I might actually buy.

  9. Pyo

    But whilst such a booh might appeal to you, it wouldn't to many other people. As its job is to sell many copies-which it does-I wouldn't hold your breath for any chnages.

  10. All perfectly fair enough, but if its not going to be a guide to good beer, it should change its name to a more honest title then, something like "Pubs that some CAMRA members quite like Guide".