The nights drawing in, the leaf fall season in full swing, a chill in the air, the clocks going back….. it can only mean one thing – the Oxford Beer and Cider Festival!
Except this year, of course, there is no festival – one of so many events, locally and nationally, cancelled due to Covid-19. Oxford Beer Week in May was another casualty, so local brewers have missed two important events to showcase their beers in addition to all the other challenges they face. But don’t despair – if there is one positive outcome for drinkers due to the crisis, it is that most of these brewers now offer collection or delivery services which not all did before. See below for a list of brewers in Oxfordshire, and a couple in Buckinghamshire, who supported last year’s festival.
Traditionally held towards the end of October, the Oxford Beer and Cider Festival is an important date in the calendar not just for locals but a large number of people travelling from afar. The hard work starts long before opening day, of course, and by the summer preparations are well advanced.
The three or four days before opening are hectic, as the Victorian splendour of Oxford Town Hall is adapted for racks of barrels and all the associated paraphernalia of scaffolding and wiring. The back-breaking work starts as deliveries are ramped up, and over the three days of the festival about 3,000 people are usually served by an army of around 100 volunteers. Around 170 ales from 90 breweries throughout the country were available last year, and as many gallons of beer and cider are drunk, friendships are made or rekindled, and a good time is had by all. The cancellation of this year’s event means a blank space in the diary for many, many people.
What of the future? Oxford Town Hall remains closed to the public as it has been since March, and it’s simply impossible to say when or indeed if a festival like this can be held again. While there have been a few low-key, socially distanced festivals in various places, mainly in pubs and pub gardens, it could be a long time before things are back to normal.
Before raising a glass of beer or cider to support our local suppliers, let’s also thank the six key organisers of the festival, most of whom have been closely involved for years and are probably at a loose end right now – or getting on with the DIY!
The main organiser and face of the festival, who rarely strays from the entrance desk over the three days, is Grahame Allen from Abingdon. Matt Bullock, Oxford CAMRA’s chair, does a lot of work behind the scenes, while Graham Baker orders the beers and Sam French orders the cider and runs the cider bar. Steve Lawrence is the staffing officer recruiting the volunteers, while Pete Flynn organises the tasting competition to name the local Beers of the Festival. Hook Norton was the winner last year for its experimental brew What the Fox, runners-up being White Horse for Stable Genius and Loddon for Citra Quad.
So cheers to them, to volunteer bar manager Mark Geeson who supplied some pictures from last year, and to everyone missing this year’s festival. Let’s hope it’s back for 2021, and in the meantime, support these breweries: