Plough at 38 makes debut while back in are the Grapes and the Abingdon Arms in Beckley
Despite the huge challenges facing the pubs industry over the last 20 months, the Good Beer Guide 2022 aims to give people all over the country a list of the top pubs selling real ale based primarily on the quality of the beer. The guide, published two months later than usual but still in good time for the Christmas gifts trade, also includes an alphabetical listing of all known breweries.
Finalising entries for the guide has to be done by each CAMRA branch several months ahead of publication, which was particularly challenging this year bearing in mind that all pubs had faced long periods of total enforced closure starting in March 2020, and restrictions such as outside trading only or table service only for periods when they were permitted to open. Only in July 2021 were all restrictions caused by the pandemic lifted in England, hopefully never to be re-imposed.
Some have questioned why there was any need to publish a Good Beer Guide edition for 2022, but it is an important part of CAMRA’s general activities. Many branches, including Oxford, have decided to make only minimal changes, meaning our selection is much the same as it was for the 2021 guide. Pubs that remain closed have been dropped, the only one in this category being the Lamb & Flag in Oxford, which will hopefully return after it has re-opened. Also dropping out are the Castle in Oxford and the Narrows in Abingdon.
The Plough at 38, on Oxford’s Cornmarket Street, makes its debut in the guide for 2022. Coming back in are the Grapes in George Street, Oxford (last featured in the guide for 2016) and the Abingdon Arms in Beckley, dropped for 2021 due to a change in management. As a general rule, pubs that change ownership or management must drop out of the guide but can be reconsidered after six months. One anomaly for 2022 is that the Wychwood Brewery Tap in Witney is in the guide, although it has not re-opened since the pandemic forced closure early in 2020. Branches normally get the opportunity to see the proofs of the guide before it goes to print, but due to an administrative error this didn’t happen for 2022. The Wychwood Brewery Tap is listed, but does not appear on the Good Beer Guide app which can be updated at any time. In total the published version for 2022 lists 13 pubs in Oxford, four in Abingdon, four in Witney plus the Abingdon Arms, the Red Lion in Northmoor and the Siege of Orleans in Carterton, making a total of 24 in our branch area.
The Plough at 38 is a particularly welcome addition to the guide because it is a relatively new yet historic pub, which had been trading for little over a year before the first closure enforced by the pandemic in March 2020. But in that time it won a reputation for quality beer from XT brewery and XT’s Animal subsidiary, so was well placed to build on that when re-opening was permitted from July last year. The addition of outside seating on Cornmarket Street and St Michael’s Street helped it to trade through the difficult times and the restrictions which followed, and outside space is still available today for those who prefer it. Chris Mulhall and his team have done a great job at the Plough at 38 in very difficult circumstances, and it is great to welcome his pub to the Good Beer Guide. Originally a pub for about 300 years but then becoming a shop in the 1920s, it is a great addition to the Oxford drinking scene.
It is also great to see the Grapes, on George Street, back in the guide. This small, characterful Victorian pub is the only traditional hostelry on a street full of large bars, restaurants and take-aways, and West Berkshire Brewery has done a good job since taking it over. Welcome back also to the Abingdon Arms in the village of Beckley, which had to drop out for a year due to a change in management. A couple of pubs have had to drop out for 2022 for the same reason, but if the new managers or owners prove themselves, they will be under consideration again for 2023.
And let’s not overlook the fine achievement of pubs that appear in the guide year after year, because of the consistently good quality of their traditional cask ales. We sometimes take for granted the achievement of pubs such as the Masons Arms in Headington (in every edition of the guide since 2005) and the Rose & Crown in North Oxford, which has been included every year except one since 1999. All pubs that have made it into the guide for 2022 should be congratulated, after keeping up the quality of their beer and trading their way through the most difficult circumstances imaginable in 2020-21.
The Good Beer Guide 2022, with an introduction by singer and pub owner James Blunt, includes about 4,500 pubs all over the country and also a full listing of breweries, with the number of breweries – up from 1,816 in 2020 to 1,902 in 2021 – at a new record despite the pandemic. There were 138 mainly small new breweries opened this year but 75 closures, as the craft beer movement continued. Overall the picture for pubs and breweries is one of resilience, which is very much reflected on a local level.
The full listing of GBG 2022 pubs in Oxford branch is as follows:
|King’s Head & Bell||Abingdon|
|Nag’s Head on the Thames||Abingdon|
|Siege of Orleans||Carterton|
|Wychwood Brewery Tap (closed)||Witney|
|Plough at 38||Oxford|
|St Aldates Tavern||Oxford|
|Mason’s Arms||Headington Quarry|
|Rose & Crown||North Oxford|
|Gardener’s Arms||Walton Manor|