The 45th edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide hits the bookshelves today, with contributors reflecting on the massive changes to the beer industry since it started in 1974.
It also recognises just five pubs across the country that have been in every single edition of the guide: the Star Tavern and the Buckingham Arms in London, the Roscoe Head in Liverpool, the Square &and Compass in Dorset, and the Queen’s Head in Cambridge.
The first edition of the Good Beer Guide was just 96 pages in length and listed around 1,500 pubs. Its brewery section listed just 105 brewing companies. Today, this number tops 1,700.
The beer range available in 1974 was primarily composed of milds and bitters, with a smattering of winter and Christmas ales. The contrast with today could not be sharper, with the latest guide listing 1,704 breweries producing more than 7,500 beers (as part of their core range) in more than 14 styles.
In 1974 pubs serving real ale were thin on the ground. Leeds had just five pubs that served real ale, Liverpool and Manchester had nine and 13 respectively. The entire county of Norfolk had just eight.
The guide explores the contrast to today’s beer scene, in which a growing number of pubs vie to offer the best possible range of beers. Many pubs present these with social events, such as mini-beer festivals, beer tastings and matching food with beer. Initiatives such as Cask Ale Week (September 21 to October 1), which encourages pubs to celebrate cask ale, helps to drive this trend.
Paul Nunny, instigator of Cask Ale Week, said: “There’s plenty to celebrate. There are now 1,700 breweries across the country, nearly all producing natural, cask-conditioned ale. With brewers becoming more and more adventurous in the style and flavour of beers they produce, choice has never been better.
“With over 10,000 different real ales produced each year, there is a beer to suit every palate. Cask Ale Week reminds people to go to the pub and try some of them! ”
The guide reports that breweries are continuing to open to meet the insatiable demand for real ale, with 261 new breweries in the latest edition.
Editor, Roger Protz, who is stepping down after 24 editions, said: “The first edition of the Good Beer Guide was a call to arms for beer lovers at a time when the brewing industry was in dire trouble after a frenzy of mergers which created six large national brewing groups. These breweries owned more than half of the country’s pubs and flooded them with pressurised keg beer, which was of a quality that would be laughable today.
“How the beer world has changed! Today, in spite of closures, a growing number of pubs clamber to offer the best possible range of real ales and we are still seeing remarkable growth in the brewing sector.”
He added: “It’s been a great honour to contribute to the Good Beer Guide, which has played such as pivotal role in shaping the brewing industry over the last 45 years. I look forward to the story that will be told about the next 45 years of beer.”
• The Good Beer Guide is available in good book shops now and from the online CAMRA shop