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A New Old Friend Dropping In....

The 2020 CAMRA Good Beer Guide has just been published and I have been leafing through it, to see what's in, what's not, and assessing what it means to the beer drinker in general. Here are my first impressions...
I received my copy of one of the most eagerly-awaited book releases of the year today, and as ever it brings with it smiles and celebrations for some, but disappointment for others, whilst representing the best guide - albeit a snapshot - to some of the best pubs, clubs, and bars in the country.

Like so many beer drinkers, the Good Beer Guide has had a massive impact on me over the years. It has provided an education and enlightenment about not just beer and pubs, but other things, like the history of the area where they are situated. It has influenced my choice of pubs to visit and beers to try both locally and across the country. I have been to countless towns and villages that I would have been highly unlikely to visit had there not been a pub there listed in the Beer Guide. It has helped when on holiday, on overnight stays with work, and come up with places to visit on football away days that have stayed longer in the memory than the match that took us there in the first place.
The Boot, St Albans...er, what was the score?
When you think the Guide is compiled entirely by volunteers, it is a pretty remarkable publication which is now in its 47th year. It's not perfect - how can it be when the lists from each local CAMRA branch are compiled several months before the Guide is published? - but accepting that, then it generally represents the best local view from people who are visiting most of the pubs on a pretty regular basis. And it doesn't really reflect the growth in craft beer, but then again, that is moving at such a pace and with so many one-off beers that it would be nigh-on impossible to commit some words to print that would still be relevant months down the line. Even in these days of social media and the internet, it provides a focal point every September, a chance to pause and take stock of the beer world around us. It is the Real Ale equivalent of Wisden, whose cover is only a few shades lighter yellow than this year's Beer Guide. And yes, it does have its faults, but like a long-standing old friend, the pleasure of meeting again outweighs their quirky foibles or traits ....

And so, what has changed? Well, a shiny new cover style suggests an overhaul, but essentially the format between the covers remains the same, the chosen 4,500 pubs are listed within their location, followed by the 1,850 breweries there were at the time of going to print. A smiling image of Professor Brian Cox greets you as you turn to the foreward, in which he describes drinking Lees bitter as he was growing up in Oldham, and how he came to help create a beer. There are pieces on Beer Appreciation, beer styles, and several other fascinating articles - and that's before you get to the pub and beer listings!.
Back in... The Market Tavern, Brighouse....
Talking of the pubs, on my first perusal I always look at the local area first, then move on to Greater Manchester and gradually on to regular areas that I visit. Around Calderdale, it is great to see the Market Tavern in Brighouse in again, but sad that long-standing entry the Red Rooster is absent, having closed earlier in the year. In Halifax town centre, it is good to see old favourites The Grayston, the Alexandra, and Victorian safely over the line, although sadly the timing of the demise of the Pump Room came too late to be changed which means there is a wasted slot and someone misses out (Elland Craft & Tap, anyone?). On the plus side, though, well done to the Stod Fold Tap at Dean Clough on getting in for the first time, and for those who make the 10 minute walk from the bus station towards the huge Victorian mill complex, they will be rewarded with a drink in a friendly, modern bar which has worked hard since it first opened back in late 2017.
The Stod Fold, Dean Clough, Halifax - a new addition
Over in Sowerby Bridge, well done to the Blind Pig, housed in a former branch of the Yorkshire Bank, which is also in for the first time, but sorry to see that the Jubilee by the station, run by my friends Andrew and Chris Wright, has failed to make the cut, and with the Hogshead the only other pub representing the town, it is something of a fall from grace from a town that only a few years ago could claim 5 entries. Over in Hebden Bridge, Drink? has unfortunately gone - whether Martin's imminent departure influenced the decision, I don't know, as the beer was always very good - but it is great to see Calan's back. Over in Huddersfield, the usual suspects - the Corner, the Grove, King's Head, Rat & Ratchet, Sportsman, and Vulcan all live to fight another day. Would have been nice if they could have found a space for Arcade Beers....
An absolute classic: The Grove, Huddersfield
Further afield, the Stalybridge Buffet Bar is back in, whilst a newby is the Donkeystones Tap in Greenfield, which as reported the other week has closed until further notice not long after my recent visit. Hope the two events are not connected. In Manchester, old favourites like the Marble and the Smithfield have made the cut, though based on a couple of visits this year I am surprised the Port Street Beer House trumped the nearby Cask Ancoats. And in Newcastle, I am pleased to see favourites like the Free Trade and Cumberland safely over the line, as is with the Crown Posada, along with a quintet of excellent micro pubs - previous entries Split Chimp, The Town Mouse, and Box Social now being joined by The Mean-Eyed Cat and Beer Street.
Cumberland Arms, Byker...OF COURSE IT WOULD BE IN!!!
So, those are my first impressions on the new Good Beer Guide. As usual I am full of ideas of where I need to go when I return to a favourite area, there are places you have missed, places that creep up out of nowhere. I know that some of my beer friends will have already planned out where and when to go to complete the gaps in the areas where they need a some new ticks!

And for the majority of pubs, it is an accolade they cherish. Be selected and you immediately have strangers turning up, local people who have passed by for ages, and the curious. Lose that status and you are cast out in to an uncertain wilderness. Some places though are resolutely nonplussed by what they see as a mere distraction to what they do, but for others, the reaction I have seen on social media shows how much being chosen means to them.

Tomorrow I am off to Nottingham with football, then staying over so we can try some pubs and beer. And guess what, the Good Beer Guide, warts-n-all, will be the starting point from which we will work....

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