Where to find the best beer (and cider)

by Steve Renshaw

Have you noticed the number of celebrities who are plugging books at the moment? This time of year is crucial for the publishing industry. According to Nielsen BookScan figures, one fifth of book sales by value are made in the run-up to Christmas.

Of course, it’s not just autobiographies and cookery books that are packing the shelves. The annual guides to hotels, restaurants and pubs are always popular stocking fillers. And the UK’s best-selling beer and pub guide is CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

But CAMRA members won’t be waiting until Christmas Day to get their hands on their copy of the 2014 edition. The publication date was in September, so lots of copies will already be well thumbed. Oldies like me carry their Guide with them when travelling the country, but there’s a mobile-phone version for the technically adept pub-goer.

The Guide features the best 4,500 real ale pubs from across the UK, with details of food, opening hours, beer gardens, accommodation, transport links, disabled access and family facilities. CAMRA is a proudly independent organisation and, unlike many other guides, pub owners are not charged to appear in the Good Beer Guide.

The entries in most pub guides are chosen either by small editorial teams or by members of the public, whose recommendations are not necessarily checked. On the other hand, every pub that appears in the Good Beer Guide has been visited regularly by CAMRA members. The entire 150,000-plus membership is encouraged to be involved by submitting beer quality information throughout the year via CAMRA’s National Beer Scoring System. The thousands of beer scores help inform the drawing up of shortlists of pubs in each county. When the branches meet to choose their entries from the shortlist, votes are cast and the numbers are reduced to meet the allocations for each part of the country.

And there’s a good spread of pubs. We recognise that most people live in towns and cities, and expect a good selection of pubs in those areas. But we don’t neglect suburban and country pubs. On the contrary, CAMRA campaigns for the survival of rural pubs that are often vital hubs of their isolated communities.

It’s heartening to see that three village locals, all within ten miles of Lincoln, have been recognised in the Good Beer Guide 2014. The Dambusters Inn at Scampton, the Lion and Royal at Navenby and the Green Man at Norton Disney are all first-time entries.

For this month’s beer tasting, I persuaded my wife to navigate the minor roads to the south of the A46 Newark road. The Green Man, formerly known as the St Vincent Arms, was completely refurbished in 2009. Colin and Emma Davies have been in charge since April 2012.

The village is tiny and isn’t on a main route, so they have to work hard to make the pub a destination. It’s popular with walkers and is a regular lunch venue for the local shoot. The food is just as good as the beer.

The pub is LocAle accredited, meaning that it always has at least one real ale from a brewery within 25 miles. When I visited, two of the three handpumps had local ales. And they carry the best selection of real cider and perry in our area

And what about the beer? Steep Hill Reserve (4.3% ABV) from Cathedral Heights Brewery in Bracebridge Heath is matured in an oak whisky cask. It’s a deep ruby bitter that provides an initial burst of raisin fruitiness and a long bitter finish. An excellent example of innovation by a young brewer.

CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2014 is available in all good bookshops.