17th Oxford Beer & Cider Festival

On the surface Oxford’s annual beer & cider festival appears to follow the now familiar CAMRA format but it has an interesting twist. To find out what that is Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer recently attended the 2014 event at Oxford’s magnificent Town Hall…

logoA common challenge facing all CAMRA branches is how to maintain adequate stocks of beer to the last day of a multi-day beer festival. We have seen various strategies employed:

Cambridge partners with local breweries who set up and man their own bars, and top up their stocks as needed. Ealing also partners with local breweries, but in their case it is to provide additional beer to the festival bars as needed.

Oxford CAMRA has a very different approach: in reality it actually runs two separate festivals. The branch orders 140 different beers for the Thursday and Friday sessions then based on past experience they make an educated guess as to which will be festival favorites. They order 40 duplicate casks of the predicted favorites and set them aside specifically for the Saturday session.

The way it works in practice is two separate areas of cask stillage are set up within the magnificent Town Hall venue. In the middle of the space two rows each containing 70 casks are set up back to back with bars running in front of each row. This creates an island of 140 beer casks with room for customers to circulate around the outside. It’s somewhat similar to the way Earls Court is set up for the GBBF albeit on a much smaller scale.

Meanwhile, off to one side beneath the overhanging gallery, another row containing the 40 duplicate casks is setup but remains closed off during the Thursday and Friday sessions. By the time the Saturday session rolls around the massive beer ‘island’ of 140 casks is essentially drained of beer and the new bar area takes over with a completely fresh supply. OK, it may be 40 casks instead of 140 but they generally represent the best of fest.

After talking with some of the bar volunteers we learned, for example, that Turpin Brewery’s Golden Citrus was the first to sell out – and in record time too: during the first 4 hours of Thursday’s opening session. Friday attendees were therefore out of luck. And yet, in our experience, had this been any other festival that would have been it for everyone. However, because the festival organizers did such a good job anticipating the festival favorites the Turpin brew was one of the 40 duplicate casks made available for the Saturday session.

Anyway Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer were not spoiled for choice during their Saturday session. The 40 beers on offer covered the full spectrum: light to dark; standard styles, seasonals, and specials; and ABVs from 3.7% to 7.0%. A total of 19 beers were sampled with 14 selected forΒ β…“ pint servings. Here they are with favorites denoted, as usual, by smiley faces…

Mrs Fueled by Beer

  • Atlantic Brewery, Newquay, Cornwall: Atlantic Blue Porter (4.8% ABV) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
  • Bellinger’s Brewery, Wantage, Berkshire: Gallipoli Centenary Stout (5.3% ABV) πŸ™‚
  • Compass Brewery, Carterton, Oxfordshire: Baltic Night Stout (4.8% ABV)
  • Gun Dog Ales, Wood Halse, Northamptonshire: Bad To The Bone ESB (4.5% ABV)
  • Totally Brewed, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire: Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout (4.5% ABV)
  • Vale Brewery, Brill, Buckinghamshire: Bandwagon India Black Ale (4.9% ABV) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Mr Fueled by Beer

  • Bondgate Brewery, Hexham, Northumberland: Storm Crow Cascadian Dark Ale (5.5% ABV) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
  • Crystalbrew, Brough, East Riding: Limonite Bitter ( 3.8% ABV)
  • Henley Brewhouse, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire: Harvest American Red Ale (4.0% ABV)
  • Malt The Brewery, Prestwood, Buckinghamshire: Malt Dark Mild (3.9% ABV)
  • Shindigger Brewing, Manchester, Lancashire: West Coast Pale Ale (5.0% ABV) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
  • Silver Street Brewery, Bury, Lancashire: Silver Street Porter (5.0% ABV)
  • Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire: Pumpking Ruby Ale with Pumpkin & Mace (3.8% ABV) πŸ™‚
  • XT Brewing, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire: XT13 Pacific Red Ale (4.5% ABV)

Sampled but not Selected

  • Binghams Brewery, Ruscombe, Berkshire: Minstrel Extra Pale Ale (4.5% ABV)
  • Bondgate Brewery, Hexham, Northumberland: Waterloo (recreating Whitbread’s 1815) Porter (5.5% ABV)
  • Firebrick Brewery, Blaydon-on-Tyne, Co. Durham: Trade Star NZ Hopped Amber Ale (4.2% ABV)
  • Small World Beers, Shelley, West Riding: Twin Falls American Pale Ale (5.2% ABV)
  • Turpin Brewery, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire: Golden Citrus Ale (4.2% ABV)

Here’s a little puzzle: since 1974 Mr Fueled by Beer has stubbornly refused to accept the boundary changes imposed on many of England’s ancient counties. The most obvious example is close to home: Berkshire’s loss to Oxfordshire of the expansive Vale of White Horse including the Berkshire Downs. OK, so we gained Slough from Buckinghamshire. However since Berkshire already had its fair share of good curry houses the loss of such glorious open countryside was not a fair trade. I want it back!

Anyway, in the breweries listed above, can you spot where I have deliberately placed them in their pre-1974 ancient counties rather than their abominable modern equivilents? Answers in the comments section please.

And now, some photos from our visit to the Oxford Beer Festival:

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