Good Beer Guiding

Britain’s top pub guide turns 40 this week. Dave Woodhall celebrates.

While the Black Country has long been recognised as a Mecca for real ale and quality pubs, the situation in Birmingham has been somewhat different. The Quaker influence and the effect of the M&B/Ansells duopoly which owned most of the city’s pubs meant that for many years Brummies were restricted in their choice of quality beers and where to drink them. However, the city has recently been showing signs of a real ale revival and further evidence of this comes with the 2013 edition of the Good Beer Guide, published by long-running consumer group the Campaign for Real Ale. The 40th anniversary edition of the Guide, which goes on sale today, lists 1,500 of the best drinking venues in the country, including over 80 in the West Midlands, featuring such places as social clubs and upmarket hotel bars as well as more traditional pubs.

Black Eagle Pub HockleyRegulars such as the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley (CAMRA’s West Midlands Pub of the Year 2012) and the Black Eagle in Hockley (my World Pub of the Century) gain their usual recognition but there is also a healthy showing in Birmingham city centre, including a debut listing for the Post Office Vaults on New Street, opened in December of last year. Owner Nigel Barker, whose other pub the Wellington on Bennetts Hill has been a Guide regular since he took it over in 2004, told us, “The situation in the city centre is certainly improving. Ten years ago it was very difficult to find decent beer, but now there’s a wide choice.”

However, Nigel does agree that there is still room for improvement. “We need more breweries in Birmingham,” he says.  “Compared to elsewhere there is still very little beer brewed in the city. Derby, for example, has ten breweries. Birmingham needs to be more like that.”

And although areas such as the Jewellery Quarter are becoming known for their selection of real ales there remains little choice further afield in the city. “There’s a historical problem whereby many of the pubs in the outer suburbs were large roadhouses owned by M&B, which became unviable and were sold off. This means there are large areas of the city without any pubs at all.”

The Good Beer Guide 2013 is published by the Campaign for Real Ale Ltd. It’s 944 pages long and apart from the peerless pub guide there are features about beers, brewing and brewers. If you have any interest in pubs or drinking in them it’s an essential purchase. The Guide has an RRP of £15.99 but it’s usually available from many pubs – including the Wellington – at a discount.