So, how does Cambridge Branch select its entries for the ale drinkers’ bible? Firstly, like every Branch, we have a strict quota of entries – 26 in our case. We could argue that we have more than 26 pubs of GBG standard but so would most other Branches. The selection process begins in the autumn when Branch members are asked to think about which pubs to put forward for consideration; the closing date for nominations is the branch AGM in the third week of November. This results in a “long list” of 60 or so pubs. Between then and the actual selection meeting in January, members are asked to inspect as many of these pubs as they can to check the current beer quality. At the meeting itself Members are handed a voting sheet and asked to score the pubs out of ten; however you can only vote for a pub if you’ve been there in the past six months.

The first problem we have is the pitifully small number of people who take part, especially given that the Branch has over 2000 members. Secondly the voting is always very tight; the Blue Ball only just missed out this year in scoring terms but so did quite a few others. Thirdly, and let’s be frank about this, the lack of participants does mean that a low score from one person can have a major impact for a particular pub.

What we desperately need to do is find ways to get more branch members taking part in GBG selection without reducing the rigorousness of the process (the six month rule must stay, for instance). We’ll be discussing this at the branch AGM on 23 November but if anyone out there, Member or not, has ideas on this please let me know (contact details).

Returning to the Blue Ball, I confess that in my own case, I managed to visit most of the 58 nominees before the selection meeting but the Blue Ball wasn’t one of them so I couldn’t vote on it. I’ve no reason to think that the beer there isn’t as good as it has always been under the present regime and, by any standards, it’s a superb little community pub of the kind CAMRA should be most supporting. The key question now is how do we ensure that this pub, and the other 243 real ale pubs in the Branch area, all get a fair crack of the whip at GBG selection time.