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For some years, CAMRA has been running the National Beer Scoring System (NBSS) which allows members to give scores to real ales they drink in various pubs. This provides a beer quality database that can be used in selecting Good Beer Guide entries and also local awards such as Pub of the Year.
Clearly it has its limitations, such as personal subjectivity and patchiness of coverage, which means that it can only ever be used as a guide, not the prime factor, but it’s a lot better than nothing. I remember many years back pubs being put in the GBG (not locally) on the say-so of one member who may not have been there more than a couple of times. Given this, it’s a little worrying that there are still some branches who say they make no use whatsoever of NBSS scores in their GBG selections.
Before the NBSS, several local branches had instigated their own scoring systems, and I believe my own – Stockport & South Manchester – was perhaps the first. When I first joined the branch in 1985 I was struck by the amount of effort put into this, and by the fact that separate listings of Bitter and Mild scores were maintained, something unthinkable nowadays.
In fact we thought our system was superior to the NBSS, as ours was a 0-4 scale, allowing quarter scores, whereas NBSS is a 0-5 scale only allowing halves. Both set a 3 as the yardstick for the standard of beer you would reasonable expect in a GBG, but the NBSS rather stretches out the top end of the range, thus potentially making the averages more susceptible to distortion from the odd over-generous score. However, having used it for a few years now this doesn’t really seem to create a problem in practice.
Despite being a mostly urban branch, and setting a very low bar for the number of scores required for entry into the GBG – a mere six scores from two separate scorers over the course of a year – it is not unknown for well-regarded pubs to fall by the wayside on the grounds of insufficient scores. And it is very noticeable how half the total scores are accounted for by four or five popular multi-beer pubs. The days of CAMRA members spending their leisure time checking out a variety of pubs seem to be long gone.
In the July issue of What’s Brewing there’s a letter about the NBSS – shown on the right – which raises the idea that a score of zero should be given to a pub with no real ale. This seems to me completely wrong-headed. For a start, if the scores are going to be used to calculate averages, surely they should only refer to when a beer is actually bought and tasted. To my mind, a score of zero should represent undrinkable beer where the pub refused to either change it or give a refund.
If intermittent availability of real ale is an issue, then that is better picked up from local knowledge than beer scores. How is the branch meant to know whether a score of zero represents no real ale or dreadful beer? And the principle should be that each beer score relates to an individual beer, not the pub as a whole. It is wrong to say that a zero score should not be given if the pub has other real ales available.
This is something that needs further thought and clarification. The scoring scheme cannot be used for two different and contradictory purposes. And if it is upheld that zero means no real ale, then any zero scores must be excluded from the calculation of averages.