CAMRA Good Beer Guide

The latest edition of the Good Beer Guide was launched yesterday. I managed to head over to both the East and West Midlands’ launch events, thanks to a quick hop on Cross Country Trains.

Established in 1972, the Guide is widely respected as the authoritative source for the lowdown on the best pubs and beers in the country. This year the featured articles include words by the celebrated British Guild of Beer Writer’s Beer Writer of the Year 2018, Emma Inch.

Good Beer Guide 2020

The vast bulk of the not-insubstantial volume contains the precious listings of pubs and breweries that offer the finest real ale in the country. Over 4500 pubs are recommended within. Information about the facilities available at those venues and occasional quirky details are listed as well. It’s a fabulous resource for planning a trip to somewhere new, although it’s gone well beyond the realms of a portable volume at this point. Best to use the paper guide along with the downloadable app for convenience.

The West Midlands Launch

It’s just a short hop from New Street Station, or Grand Central as it now appears to be called, to the Head of Steam in Birmingham. I took the opportunity, being a few minutes early, to swing by Buffalo & Rye for a fortifying cheeseburger before the celebrations began.

cheeseburger at Buffalo & Rye

£6 on their lunch menu with a pound extra for some house fries, it certainly lined the stomach. I was pleased to have a juicy, near medium burger that was full of flavour. I will be noting that place to return to in the future for a sniff of their brisket as I imagine that is the one on that particular smokehouse menu.

Strolling around the corner to the Head of Steam, I noted how full of life the streets of Birmingham are in the post-work hours. Much in contrast to the quiet pavements of Leicester, which is greatly maligned by small business owners in the city. Most pubs and bars I passed seemed to be bustling with suited and booted patrons, loosening their ties and taking a moment to shake off the travails of the day.

The Head of Steam

The Head of Steam was no different. A large, airy building full of gleaming copper pipework and bright colour, it is a cathedral to beer. The West Midlands region CAMRA team and members had assembled on the mezzanine, with new copies of the Guide being thumbed through eagerly.

Welcome was given by Ash Corbett-Collins, the CAMRA National Director who lives in Birmingham. He handed over to Cy Day who is the West Midlands Regional Co-ordinator. Both were enthusiastic about their home region’s place in the Guide this year. The West Midlands – made up of 6 counties – has spawned 99 new pub entries and 17 new breweries in the last year that are now recognised in the Guide. A formidable achievement which suggests perhaps the tide can be turned against pub closures and a despondent financial climate for SMEs.

A copy of the Guide was thrust into my hands, and after some very interesting and amiable conversation, I pootled back to the station and returned to Leicester. During my absence, the East Midlands launch had begun with gusto.

The East Midlands Launch

Back on home turf, the Leicester CAMRA branch had been treating guests to a tour of some of the newest and oldest entries into the Guide. Why have a party in one pub when you can go to five?

Starting at the Parcel Yard they went on to the Ale Wagon and the Rutland & Derby. The Ale Wagon is celebrating its 20th birthday currently and I understand that there is a fine selection of beers to be had there at the moment as a consequence.

The Two Tailed Lion

I intercepted them at my usual stomping ground, The Two Tailed Lion, where I enjoyed a pint of Shiny’s Adventure while I caught up on the escapades I had missed. Many faces were familiar, but a few were not. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Ms Gillian Hough, She is a fellow member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, a cider & perry aficionado and CAMRA’s current Head of Books. And all round amazing lady.

The Blue Boar

After the Two Tailed Lion, we moseyed just a few doors up Millstone Lane to The Blue Boar, twice Leicester branch’s pub of the year. Standing room only as usual at this time of night at the bar, I enjoyed the XT Brewing Company’s Number 8 porter – a rich, thick ale with a pleasing coffee taste.

Talk in Leicester inevitably turned to the places we had lost. Broood, The Criterion and the Swan and Rushes are all sad losses to our city. However, having entries like the Two Tailed Lion getting their place in the GBG does go some way to making up for it. The number of quality breweries in the region is also notable, who often show strongly at the national CAMRA competitions. There is much for us to be proud of here.

And then the time had come to say our goodbyes. The last bus was departing, other guests were ushered to the train station to return home. I think we gave this year’s Guide and excellent welcome and look forward to my already well thumbed copy taking its rightful place on the shelf.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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