A rolling update on what’s happening in our branch and beyond
Future of Wychwood
This has been a subject of speculation since it closed down its shop and tap room and pulled the plug on brewery tours, and with the closure of other breweries owned by the merged Carlberg-Marston Brewing Company including Jennings of Cumbria. Now it has been announced that the Eagle Brewery in Bedford has been sold to Spanish brewing giant Damm, producer of Estrella Damm, and that the ales currently produced there will be transferred to other Carlsberg-Marston sites, which are in Burton-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, Ringwood in Hampshire and Wychwood in Witney. Wychwood brews Hobgoblin beers and also the Brakspear range following transfer of the brewing equipment here following the closure of Brakspear’s Henley-on-Thames brewery 20 years ago, but expansion of the Hobgoblin brand, now a best seller, means some of it is brewed elsewhere including Bedford, where Young’s beers are also produced.
CAMRA has urged Carlsberg-Marston’s to protect historic brands and continue brewing in Cumbria, where Jennings has recently closed. National chairman Nik Antona said of the Eagle Brewery sale: “This latest news highlights a global brewing market which is massively unbalanced, grants too much power to the international brewing giants, and increasingly makes it impossible for independent, British brewers to compete. We believe that the UK beer market, and particularly the on-trade, needs constant monitoring by Competition Authorities, as a result of the continual consolidations that have taken place in the last five or so years.
“It’s small comfort, but at least the Eagle Brewery in Bedford is being sold as a going concern, and the brands which were born and brewed there will find new homes at other Carlsberg-Marston breweries. We’re also optimistic that maximising production at Carlsberg-Marston’s remaining breweries will maintain profitability and dissuade the company from further site closures and job losses.”
In another sign that big brewers are cutting down excess capacity, Fuller’s Japanese owner Asahi has announced closure of the Sussex brewery Dark Star, which was acquired by Fuller’s in 2018 meaning Dark Star beers — especially Hophead — are often found in Fuller’s pubs. Production will switch to the premises of another Asahi-owned brand, Meantime, in Greenwich, London.
New micro-pub for Abingdon?
The former Added Ingredients deli in Stert Street, Abingdon is set to become a micro-pub run by Stuart Fanson, former manager at the Kings Arms, Wantage. A sign in the window of the premises informs former customers and passers-by that Jill, the proprietor of Added Ingredients, had had to give up due to illness but hoped to run events in future. Initial plans were to open as a micro-pub in November, which would seat up to 16 people, serve three cask ales and four keg lines, plus cans and bottles. This would not be the first shop converted into a bar in Abingdon, which has the Tipsy Mercer cocktail bar and had a short-lived conversion called the Old Chemist.
City council-owned the Grapes, on George Street, remains closed but there is some news about possible re-opening. The lease is held by West Berkshire Brewery, which is in financial administration following its failure nearly one year ago although brewing is now under way again under new ownership as Renegade. According to the city council the administrator has agreed terms for someone else to take on the lease, so we await developments.
An ancient Oxford pub owned by a college (Lincoln), the Mitre, is being revamped as the Gusto Italian restaurant with re-opening planned in December. Gusto is spending around £1.4 million on a site covering 10,000 square feet that has been empty since 2019, but it remains to be seen if any of its character as a pub will remain or any of its historical artifacts will be on display.
Pub closures and re-opening
The very difficult trading conditions and looming energy crisis and consumer spending crunch are causing more pubs to call it a day, although some which were closed at the time of writing are expected to re-open.
The Talbot, by Swinford toll bridge on the outskirts of Eynsham, closed in September and remained closed while owner Arkell’s seeks a new tenant. The same fate befell the Prince of Wales in Iffley Village, Oxford, owned by Wadworth. The tenants of Greene King house the Waggon and Horses in Southmoor have announced that they expect to close in the New Year as the business had become unviable.
Better news is the re-opening of the Catherine Wheel at Sandford-on-Thames, which is privately owned, with Sharp’s Doom Bar and Fuller’s London Pride on the bar.
City council lays down marker
Oxford City Council has re-affirmed its support for pubs by refusing planning permission to build of the site of the derelict Crown & Thistle in Headington, closed by Greene King in 2011 and since sold to a developer. While this may never re-open as a pub, it indicates to developers that they have a fight on their hands if they assume they can convert a former pub.
Councillors were concerned that granting planning permission would set “a dangerous precedent” for other pubs, pointing out that successive owners had allowed the Crown & Thistle to become dilapidated. Planning officers thought it was “a significant oversight” that the applicant had not tried to market the property as a freehold pub.
New beers from Vale
Vale has picked up prizes including second place at the St Albans CAMRA Beer Festival for Gravitas in September, and third place at the SIBA Beer Awards for VPA and Red Kite. New beers include Brock’s Den, a 4% dark malted ruby beer with a sweet honey aroma, brewed in partnership with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), with 10p from every pint sold at the tap room or at one of its retailers being donated to the charity. Rock the Kazbek is a 4% Pale Amber beer, while Santa’s Ale is a 4.1% traditional chestnut bitter. Good King is a 4.9% Ruby Brown seasonal bitter.