Published on October 16th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour0
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What has 976 pages, weighs more than a kilo, features 4,542 pubs, 1,285 breweries and causes a stir?
Alastair Gilmour finds out
The Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) Good Beer Guide is regarded as a barometer of the health of the nation’s beer and pub industry. The annual publication – which sees the light of day every September – is often referred to as “the beer bible” by its devotees. Like anything else of that size of undertaking though, it has its faults.
The new 2015 edition reports that in the North East, five new breweries opened in the last 12 months and 42 new pubs are included (with a similar number turfed out from the 2014 guide for varying reasons that include beer quality).
A quick glance reveals that new pub entries include The Lambton Worm in Chester le Street; The Dyvels, Corbridge; The Blackbird, Ponteland; Bishop Langley, Durham; The Bridge Tavern, Newcastle; Low Lights, North Shields, and the Ivy House in Sunderland, along with emerging breweries Crafty Pint, Leazes Lane and Olde Potting Shed.
So, let’s celebrate the entirely new entries and the “returners” who have been voted back by Camra inspectors, all volunteers.
The region’s best pub has also been named – The John Bull in Alnwick, Northumberland – which goes forward with 15 others across the country in a quest to find Camra’s best in Britain. North East club of the year is the delightful Darlington Snooker Club, so both of them carry our best wishes for the eventual announcement in February 2015.
Pub and club were judged against numerous other local branch winners with atmosphere, décor, welcome, service, value for money, customer mix, and most importantly, quality of beer taken into consideration.
In total the North East has 184 pubs listed in The Good Beer Guide which features a unique section that lists every brewery currently operating in the UK – an essential resource.
Gino Vella took over the reins at The Dyvels in Corbridge in mid-April and his efforts straight away have been rewarded with an entry (which came as news to him a fortnight after the guide’s launch). The pub used to be a Good Beer Guide regular but the good reviews tailed off somehow.
“Really? The Good Beer Guide? I didn’t know,” Gino told Cheers North East. “I take care of the beers as much as I can myself. The cellar temperature is right, I clean the lines every single time I change a beer and I’m passionate about it all – everything. The comments from drinkers who like good beer are always ‘your beer is very, very good’.”
A snapshot of what’s on The Dyvels’ counter reveals Big Lamp Bitter, Wylam Dognobbler, Deuchars IPA and Black Sheep Bitter – not a bad hand to play by any standards.
The Duke of Wellington on High Bridge in Newcastle has improved so much it would have been a shame not to reward it with inclusion. Manager Simon Holland has overseen a transformation in décor, ambience and beer quality that just has to be admired.
“We’re back to where we belong,” he says. “It’s validation of all the work that’s been put in by the staff.”
David Brazier, Camra’s North East regional director explains that while the four branches that come under his remit – Tyneside & Northumberland, Sunderland & South Tyneside, Durham, and Darlington – each have slightly different selection processes, it mainly boils down to quality of ale.
He says: “It’s great that this year there are 24 new entries in the 2015 Good Beer Guide and that the North East can celebrate the addition of five new breweries compared to last year.
“Each branch has an allocation for the guide and decides which ones they will put forward based on their own members’ experiences in these pubs.”
Therein lies a conundrum. Beer is a highly sensitive and subjective sector. One man’s mild is another man’s bitter (so to speak) and certainly in Newcastle alone there are several glaring omissions from the book – perhaps not all to do with beer quality on the day that one volunteer observer came to visit. But that argument is for another day, so let’s concentrate on the positives.
A completely new entrant is The Schooner in Gateshead, rescued from anonymity 20 months ago by Dave and Julie Campbell. Dave’s “previous” is impressive – Head of Steam and The Cluny in Newcastle and The Central in Gateshead all thrived under his stewardship.
“It’s always great to be recognised by Camra and the Good Beer Guide,” says Dave. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have had such recognition in the last three pubs I’ve managed. However, this time the pleasure is even greater because we own the place. We’re chuffed to bits.
“Me, Julie and all of our staff have worked extremely hard to get The Schooner on the map as a place to go for good beer and all that goes with it. Let’s raise a glass for the independent pub.”
Let’s raise a glass indeed.