It’s festival time again!

Plenty to look forward to before return of our flagship event at Oxford Town Hall

We may never be able to say with certainty that the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us, but the return of beer festivals both locally and nationally is evidence that we are at least learning to live with it. CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) at London’s Kensington Olympia in August, and our own Oxford Beer and Cider Festival in October, are both scheduled to return for the first time in three years, as are many smaller festivals.

CAMRA is being cautious when planning festivals, working on the basis that the expected attendance will fall short of previous totals. There could also be a shortage of volunteers to run these events, and not the same wide choice of beers as many breweries are still limiting production while some, sadly, have closed down. Further unknowns include the effect on people’s spending as the cost of living crisis intensifies, with further increases in energy and fuel costs likely to dampen demand as the year rolls on.

The White Hart in Headington has a large garden for enjoying the festival on 20-22 May

But let’s put those gloomy thoughts behind us for now and look at what’s coming up. Following the successful Abingdon Beer Festival on 8-10 April (it ran out of beer before the final day), St Aldates Tavern in Oxford is holding an Easter weekend event finishing on Sunday with 15 cask ales. Next up is the return of the Bank Holiday event at the Perch, Binsey from 30 April-2 May, including beer and cider, followed by the festival at the White Hart, Headington which runs from 20-22 May with 40 beers and ciders, pig roast and BBQ.

Charlbury Beer Festival takes place on Saturday 25 June at Charlbury Cricket Club, Oxfordshire from 12 noon to 9pm, and this now claims to be the country’s largest independent one-day beer festival (very close to Charlbury station with hourly trains from Oxford). Back after a two-year Covid-induced hiatus, it will be aiming to attract around 3,000 visitors while raising money for community projects, both in the Charlbury area and overseas. At this year’s event it expects to pass the landmark of having served 10,000 gallons of beer since it started, with around 50 real ales, a variety of craft beers, a range of ciders and perries, wine, gin, and Pimm’s; a great selection of food; live music throughout; the Culture Tent with its varied programme of performances and talks; children’s entertainment; plus high-octane sport with the 10th World Aunt Sally Singles Championships – can Abingdon’s Phil Adams retain his crown?

The Great British Beer Festival, taking place at Kensington Olympia, London from 2-6 August, boasts over 1,000 British and international beers, ciders, perries, wines and a dedicated gin bar. The brewery line-up is a unique feature of the festival where brewers from across the country are invited to bring their beer range to sample, and the first to sign up include big names returning such as Harvey’s, Titanic and Adnams alongside newcomers such as Black Storm, Iron Pier, Ossett, Saltaire and Three Tuns. The festival is open from 12 noon each day, except on Tuesday 2 August when trade visitors only are admitted until 5pm when doors are opened to the public.

The crowds were out at the Big Oxford Beer Bash last September

The Oxford Brewers Alliance returns on Saturday 17 September with the Big Oxford Beer Bash, held successfully for the second time last year but not in 2020. This outdoor event in the grounds of The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) in Cheney Lane, at the top of South Park, features most local brewers who are available to talk through their latest beers, along with food stalls and live music – tickets are already on sale at £10.

And then it’s the one we’ve all been waiting for – the return of the Oxford Beer and Cider Festival at the Town Hall, last held in 2019. This will take place on Thursday-Friday 20-21 October, but opening on Saturday 22 October may not happen as the attendance on previous Saturdays did not cover costs. Further details including opening times will appear nearer the time, but put it in your diaries now especially if you plan to volunteer.

But some festivals are sadly not going ahead, including Reading (planned for 23-26 June) and Wantage, planned for 21-23 July but now reverting to its usual slot in March for 2023. Let’s hope a resurgence of Covid doesn’t put paid to others.