I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: craft keg is not the enemy! If only CAMRA would accept this, then the fastest growing segment of Britain’s craft beer industry could reach a wider audience and the Campaign’s beer festivals would be all the better for it. Take last week’s Oxford event for example…
Within CAMRA LocAle radius of the Dreaming Spires there are at least two well established keg-only craft breweries: Lovibonds Brewery in Henley-on-Thames and Cotswold Brewing Company in Bourton-on-the-Water. Of course, as keg producers, neither of them could participate in the beer festival. In “A Fueled by Beer Field Trip: Henley on Thames” Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer visited Lovibonds Brewery.
In addition to Lovibonds and Cotswold Brewing, as Mr Fueled by Beer has recently mentioned, a number of LocAle cask breweries in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire have started dabbling in keg. Momentum for craft keg is building not just in London anymore but rapidly all across the country.
So far the opportunity to visit Bourton-on-the-Water has not yet presented itself however while planning our trip to Oxford for the Beer Festival we learned that we don’t necessarily have to make the 70 mile trip into deepest Gloucestershire. This is because Oxford’s Jam Factory, a restaurant, arts centre & bar serves as a de facto brewery tap for Cotswold Brewing. And since it is directly across the street from Oxford train station, it is a fantastic Fueled by Beer destination [Map].
The Jam Factory, as its name implies, was originally built to produce Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade. This delicacy, which became the mainstay of every self-respecting Victorian breakfast table, was exported to all corners of the British Empire; well at least until the Union Flags started coming down in the 1960s. It’s still made today but sadly Frank Cooper’s preserves company is long gone. Oxford marmalade is now a Premier Brands product made in – he says aghast – Manchester.
Anyway the original Jam Factory today is very cool in its repurposed guise and it’s as far from a traditional British pub as you can get. There is a distinctly Seattle feel there both inside and out; think repurposed quirkiness in Fremont or Georgetown and you’d be close. And therein lies the appeal of the Jam Factory: the bar has a couple of cask ale hand pulls but they are all about craft keg beer. They prominently feature the Cotswold Brewing lineup and more besides. Here is what we encountered during our visit:
- Brewdog 5am Red Ale (5%)
- Brewdog Punk IPA (5.6%)
- Cotswold Lager (3.8%)
- Cotswold Lager (4.0%)
- Cotswold Premium Lager (5.0%)
- Cotswold Dark Lager (5.5%)
- Cotswold Wheat Beer (4.2%)
- Cotswold Stout (4.3%)
- Cotswold IPA (5.2%)
- Bellarose Blonde Ale (6.5%)
- Westmalle Dubbel Trappist Ale (7%)
- Chimay Blue Strong Trappist Ale (9%)
The food offering is very much in the casual bistro style; nice selection, although a little pricey, but it’s good particularly off the blackboard specials. Just don’t go there expecting a Chicken Tikka Marsala or Bangers & Mash. What does make a pleasant surprise though is the craft beer pricing. While it’s almost unheard of to pay less than £5 for a pint of craft keg, none of the Cotswold lagers we tried were priced higher than £4 per pint (at this price most craft beer bar servings are 2/3 or less).
An observation about the Cotswold lagers: Mr Fueled by Beer has encountered many brewers who try to faithfully reproduce a pale lager like a Czech Pils or Munich Helles with classic continental ingredients like Pilsner or Munich malt and Tettnanger, Saaz or Hersbrucker hops. Cotswold is different in that it creates a very respectable (and respectful) English interpretation of the style using British malt and hops.
Take the Premium Lager for example. According to the recipe information at Cotswold’s website Maris Otter & Optic malts are used then hopped with Liberty & Sovereign – all perfect substitutes for the classic continental varieties. I presume a lager yeast is used for fermentation which when subjected to extended cold conditioning produces the crisp, clean lager we tasted. It was reminiscent of the Premium Lager brewed at the Hofbrauhaus in Pittsburgh that we enjoyed so much. Very nice.
I’m no expert but I’m thinking that if you took the same Cotswold malt and hops, applied a top-fermenting yeast, then conditioned at higher temperature for the typically shorter period before racking to cask, you would end up with a pretty respectable Golden Ale – a real ale.
Cotswold Brewing Company and The Jam Factory: the Fueled by Beer verdict 🙂 🙂 🙂