Guidelines on how to Score the Quality of Beer

version 2 – March 2023

The National Beer Scoring System (NBSS) is used to identify those pubs that serve the very best beer. Beer scores are used to inform decisions on which pubs are nominated. by the Branch for the Good Beer Guide.

What are you assessing?
We are scoring for the Good Beer Guide and hence the scoring is undertaken on the beer quality in front of us. However, what we are scoring is how the beer is presented to us by the publican not the brewery, so we have to have an understanding of what is controlled by the publican (cellarmanship) and not those controlled by the brewery (the beer itself). Hence it is perfectly possible to give a high score to a beer you don’t like. Factors you should assess are temperature, condition (CO2 level), clarity (where appropriate) degree of oxidation and service.

What should I consider when evaluating an ale?

  1. Look: Assess the clarity and the persistency of the head of the pint, be aware if the beer is supposed to be hazy. Has the beer been pulled through sufficiently before the beer is served, this is important for the first beer served in a day.
  2. Smell: Take a short sniff of your drink to assess the aroma. It should encourage you to drink the beer and have no hint that the beer might be stale or inappropriately sour.
  3. Taste: Take a sip and let it flow around your mouth before swallowing. Beers can reflect many taste sensations. The intensity of the flavours and the finish (the ‘aftertaste’) make up the whole taste. Give your taste buds a few seconds to register all the differing sensations. Has the publican kept the beer well enough to allow the flavour to come through fully or kept it too long and it’s become stale?
  4. Mouthfeel: How does it ‘feel’ in the mouth? Most well-kept ales will have a light carbonation and not be flat. They should be served at cellar temperature – that means cool, not too cold.
  5. Knowledge: Does the staff know about the beers being served and how it should be served including the size of head? If you have a problem with the beer, has it been dealt with professionally?

    With thousands of ales to choose from, everyone has their own personal favourites and things that they don’t like, but please try to give an honest and objective account of how well-kept a particular beer is. If you aren’t sure, then try to do your scoring based on beers that you know that you normally like when they are in good condition.

What is the National Beer Scoring System?
The NBSS rates the quality of the beer based on a marking system that runs from a 0 to 5, including half-marks.
CAMRA introduced the NBSS with the intention of:

a) Providing a more objective beer scoring system that could be used throughout the year.
b) Providing a common system that could be used by all branches.
c) Moving branches away from the once-a-year subjective voting system.
What do the NBSS numbers mean?.

0 No real ale availableThis can be because the pub never has it or it’s run out.
0.5 UndrinkableNo cask ale available or so poor you have to take it back or can’t finish it.
1 PoorBeer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
2 AverageCompetently kept, drinkable pint but doesn’t inspire in anyway, not worth moving to another pub but you drink the beer without really noticing.
3 GoodGood beer in good form. You may cancel plans to move to the next pub. You want to stay for another pint and may seek out the beer again.
4 Very GoodExcellent beer in excellent condition.
5 PerfectProbably the best you are ever likely to find. A seasoned drinker will award this score very rarely.

Guidance on the Definitions
Sometimes the above descriptions, provided by CAMRA, are not sufficient to help select the appropriate score. This section provides some additional guidance about using the scoring system. Half scores are available and often used.

Beer ScoreDescriptive wordsTypical Reaction
0No real ale! Move to another pub
Surely the bar staff should have smelt the state of this beer as it was poured
This beer looks awful
You’d have to pay me to drink this beer
Run of the mill
A little tired
It was OK but nothing to write home about
I’d be looking forward to finishing the pint so I
can try a different beer.
I wouldn’t recommend this beer to my friends
Not bad
I’d be reasonably happy to drink this beer all
I would recommend this to my friends
4Very Good
Hmmm, I wonder if I have time for another pint or two?
I’d strongly encourage my friends to try this beer
This beer is the nectar of the Gods!
Wild horses wouldn’t be able to drag me away
from this beer
I’d practically force my friends to have a pint
The beer was so good I just have to pop back to
the pub for some more

Additional Notes
Here are some thoughts about using the NBSS to score the quality of beer.

  • Concentrate on the quality of the beer. This can be difficult if you do not like a particular style of beer.
  • If you can’t decide between two scores, say a 2 and a 3, don’t forget you can mark in halves as well. If you can decide between a 3 and a 3.5 then use the lower score.
  • If you do score a beer as 0.5 you should take the beer back to the bar and ask for a replacement, which the landlord should do without any quibble. Please indicate whether this happened in the Comments field of your report. All pubs and landlords have the occasional undrinkable pint and shouldn’t be penalised as long as they took appropriate steps to correct it.
  • Expect to see the majority of scores hovering between 3.0 and 3.5 for a pub known for its beer. The average scores for pubs and clubs in Halifax and Calderdale range between 2 and 4, the top 30 pubs in the branch averages out at typically 3.6. A GBG-quality pub should be scoring around 3.5 and above on average.
  • How to award a 5. Simple. Before you have even finished swallowing your first sip you’re already holding the pint out to the rest of the pub as a shining example of the perfect beer. You’ve also started to wonder whether you can squeeze in another couple of pints of this ‘nectar of the gods’ before you have to go home. Note: Experienced beer scorers usually only award one or two 5s each year.
  • People who score a wide range of pubs and clubs in Calderdale should expect their average score for the year to range between 3.2 and 3.5.

    Where can I submit NBSS Scores?
    Through WhatPub when logged in as a member either on a smartphone or a PC when you get home.

    Through the CAMRA GBG App downloadable from the CAMRA website for Android or Apple phones, costs around £6 but also includes all the data from the printed Good Beer Guide.

    There is also a web page version of the GBG App:

    Scores can be viewed and edited:

Have fun. Beer scoring shouldn’t be seen as a chore and certainly, shouldn’t stop you enjoying your beers!