Old and new win places in Good Beer Guide

Tile Shop and White Hart, Wolvercote are among new entries for 2023

The Tile Shop Ale House in Headington, Oxford has made it into the 2023 edition of the Good Beer Guide, while eight pubs are back in including the Community-Owned White Hart in Wolvercote, last featured in 1982.

The 50th edition of the Good Beer Guide includes 4,500 pubs all over the UK and an alphabetical listing of all breweries and pubs in each county, this being an innovation as previously the guide listed breweries alphabetically nationwide. The quality of cask beer is the decisive factor for inclusion although a range of other factors are considered including family and disabled facilities, and special events. CAMRA volunteers score pubs for the quality of their beer throughout the year, and there is no charge for inclusion.

CAMRA’s Oxford branch – also covering Abingdon, Witney, Kidlington and nearby villages – has 24 pubs in the guide again this year, including some regular performers. Among those back in for 2023, in addition to the White Hart in Wolvercote, are the Harcourt Arms in Jericho, Oxford (last featured in 2011), the Morris Clown in Bampton (2015) and the King’s Arms in Kidlington (2017). Returning to the guide after a brief absence are the Cricketers Arms in Littleworth, the Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon and the Old Bookbinders in Oxford.

The Tile Shop’s Theo Shaw (Left) and Ian Langford (right) with CAMRA’s Tony Goulding

All pubs making it into the Good Beer Guide should be congratulated, as this is a very competitive process and many good pubs don’t make it because of the limit on numbers imposed on every CAMRA branch. It is particularly pleasing to see the Tile Shop come in, as micro-pubs are a trend nationwide. It only opened in April 2021, but the people running it have shown they know all about keeping and serving real ale. It’s the first micro-pub converted from a shop in Oxford, although there were already several others around the county, and also a bar converted from a market stall in Oxford. The Tile Shop generally serves two real ales from Tring Brewery, plus a third guest beer.

It is also very pleasing to see some very traditional pubs back in the guide. The White Hart in Wolvercote has come on in leaps and bounds since the lease was acquired by a Community-Owned group, and landlady Amanda Jones and her team serve a great range of mainly local ales. On the bar during a tour of Community-Owned pubs this month were Coolbreak Kid by Loose Cannon, Tumbling Jack by North Cotswold and Brock’s Den by Vale. The Harcourt Arms is often regarded as the most traditional pub in Jericho, where some of the atmosphere of “Old Jericho” lives on – this being a Fuller’s house with up to three real ales. A few streets away is the Old Bookbinders, a Greene King pub making full use of its guest beer allowance and with a menu devised by its French leaseholder, including crepes.

Harcourt Arms publican Ian Stuart (left) celebrates with CAMRA’s Tony Goulding

Also very traditional is the King’s Arms in Kidlington, a genuine free house with ever-changing real ales that also sells good value food. The traditional free house theme continues at the Cricketers Arms in Littleworth, with regular themed food nights as well. It is also great to see the Morris Clown in Bampton back in the guide, this being a rare example of a non-food pub in a country town but one with a dedicated local following. The King’s Arms is a no-nonsense pub with good value food, while the Morris Clown is a rare example of a pub in a country town that doesn’t serve food, but has a loyal following.

With 24 entries awarded to our branch, one new entry and several re-entries, then unfortunately some have had to drop out and this is based on their beer scores. Non-inclusion in the guide does not mean their real ale is necessarily lacking in quality, and they will no doubt be competing to get into the 2024 guide. Drop-outs for 2023 include St Aldates Tavern, the Plough at 38 and the Fir Tree in Oxford, while the Grapes has closed. Also out are the Nag’s Head and King’s Head and Bell in Abingdon, Wychwood Brewery Tap in Witney (closed), and the Siege of Orleans in Carterton which no longer sells real ale.

We should also pay tribute to pubs that appear in the guide year after year, such as the Masons Arms in Headington Quarry (in every year since 2005) and the Rose & Crown in North Oxford (every year bar one since 1997).  We expect the re-opened Lamb & Flag to be in contention for 2024, as it has eight hand pumps and a big reputation to live up to.

CAMRA’s Dave Richardson (left) with White Hart, Wolvercote landlady Amanda Jones and bar manager Billy O’Brien

The Good Beer Guide 2023 includes a foreword by HRH the Prince of Wales, written before he became King Charles III. The listing of 1,864 breweries includes 28 in Oxfordshire, while throughout the county there are 69 pubs included out of a nationwide total of about 4,500. By contrast the first edition of the guide in 1974 listed only 1,500 pubs and 105 breweries around the country, showing how traditional real ale has been revived since then.

Nik Antona, national chairman of CAMRA, added: “What makes the guide unique is that all the entries are compiled and vetted by a huge volunteer team based around the country. We work hard to ensure that all areas of the country are covered and, unlike some competitor titles, inclusion in this book is dependent on merit — not on payment. The last few years have been an incredibly difficult time for the industry, and we need more support than ever before to keep our nation’s pubs open and thriving.”

To buy the guide, click here.