'Good Beer Guide' revamped

CAMRA's annual publication lists tops pubs, takes on pressing issues

Oct 17, 2001 - The Good Beer Guide, the flagship publication of the Campaign for Real Ale, has been given a complete overhaul for its 29th edition. It's part of the drive by CAMRA to shed the "beards-and-anorak" image beloved by satirists, and to prove that real ale is the smart drink for young people.


The guide still includes 5,000 of the best pubs serving cask-conditioned beer but 4,000 of them now have much longer descriptions. "The old GBG descriptions, such as 'friendly back-street boozer', will no longer do for today's more sophisticated drinkers," notes editor Roger Protz. "They want to know more about the history, the architecture, the welcome, the food, and facilities for families when they choose which pub to visit.

As always, the guide not only directs readers to places to find good beer but addresses other issues important to CAMRA.

For instance, Protz points out that many of Britain's regional brewers face takeover and closure unless the government intervenes to support them. "Eight out of 10 pints of beer brewed in Britain today come from three global giants -- Interbrew, which includes Bass and Whitbread, Scottish Courage, and Carlsberg-Tetley. Interbrew owns Stella Artois, the leading premium lager brand, ScotCo owns the French and Belgian lager brands Kronenbourg and Alken Maes, while C-T brews the Carlsberg range in Northampton," he said.

Protz says the government must have an action plan to save independent brewing in Britain. Without such a plan, more and more breweries that own estates of pubs will become vulnerable to predator pub groups whose only interest lies in owning pubs and stocking them with heavily-discounted national beer brands.

He makes the following demands of the government:

- Stop all further takeovers that are against the public interest.
- Give advice and financial help to management who want to save threatened breweries by organising buy-outs.
- Investigate the scandal of back-door discounts between giant brewers and pub companies that excludes small brewers from thousands of pubs.
- Encourage the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to protect historic breweries by listing buildings and contents to deter predatory takeovers by pub groups interested only in brewery retail estate. For example, only small parts of Marston's brewery are listed: the entire site, including the 'Union Rooms', should be listed as a matter of urgency.
- A government strategy for the independent brewery section.

Also, Nick Stafford -- chairman of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) -- writes that small craft brewers are excluded from 73% of the country's pubs. Stafford, who brews prize-winning beers at Hambleton Ales in Yorkshire, argues that the main reason why craft brewers cannot get on to the bars of pubs owned by giant pub companies and national brewers is because they can't afford the vast discounts demanded by retailers.

He notes that in 2001 SIBA, which represents most of the 400 British small craft breweries, has negotiated supply deals with two pub companies, Unique and Enterprise Inns, which will take the small brewers' beers in selected pubs.

"But no other national pub group, such as Punch or Pubmaster, have made similar commitments to small brewers' products," he writes. "The consumer does not know what he or she is missing when it comes to the real ale being produced by Britain's smallest brewers. Pub groups control 58% of the pubs in Britain. Add to that the big brewers' national and tenanted pubs, and the percentage of pubs closed to small brewers rises to 73%. Don't think for a moment that the inroads with Unique or Enterprise are going to change that: these two groups are making less than 10% of their estates available -- a mere drop in the ocean."

Stafford claims the result of the stranglehold exercised by pub groups and national brewers means that the price of a pint for the consumer continues to rise.

"Pub groups' tenants and lessees have to buy from their pub groups. The pub groups negotiate with national brewers to get the lowest priced beer, and actively encourage the brewers to push up wholesale prices as far as they can.

"The licensee buys at these inflated prices and, in order to make any significant margin -- of say 45% -- has to charge a retail price that consumers think is too high. To put it simply and crudely, the big brewers are having to offer the pub groups 120 discounts on a barrel of beer selling to the licensee at 240. Half of what the licensee pays goes into the pub groups' profits. The retailer will never be able to buy at a discounted wholesale price until the pub groups start taking less profit."

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