A rolling update of news from our branch area and beyond
Perch Beer Festival, Oxford
The annual beer festival will take place on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 April, immediately before but not on the May Day Bank Holiday. Breweries to be represented will include Hook Norton, Little Ox, Loddon, Loose Cannon, North Cotswold, Oxford Brewery (formerly Shotover), Purity, Prescott, Siren, White Horse and XT, with ciders from Cotswold Cider Co and Gwynt y Draig, amongst others. A meet-the-brewer event is planned on 29 April with all these breweries invited to send representatives.
The thatched country pub, in Binsey village and beside the Thames path, has a long-standing relationship with Hook Norton which supplies real ale and most of its kegs including lager, cider, Cotswold Pale and Guinness. Hooky Bitter (3.5%) is usually available on the bar alongside a stronger, darker guest ale, or two when volume allows it – an example being Loose Cannon’s Abingdon Bridge. The festival, held in its extensive garden, has proved highly successful in previous years.
Big Oxford Beer Bash
This annual event is moving to a spring date – Saturday, 20 May – this year, having previously been held in September. Organised by the Oxford Brewers Alliance, it features stalls operated by most local breweries, food and live entertainment. Venue is the TOAD distillery at the top end of South Park, with the entrance on Cheney Lane, Headington, Oxford. Scheduled hours are 12-8pm and tickets can be bought in advance for £12.65: http://www.oxfordbrewers.org/
Royal Blenheim/White Horse Brewery
The take-over of White Horse by South Oxfordshire Brewery, known as SOX, will not affect the cask beer range at the Royal Blenheim in Oxford, it has been confirmed. White Horse used to sub-lease the pub from Everards, but for the last few years it has been run by Titanic Brewery of Stoke-on-Trent, famous for its Plum Porter. Titanic, a long-time collaborator and investor in White Horse, continues to run the pub with a wide range of White Horse and guest beers in addition to its own. SOX has acquired the entire share capital of White Horse, but the two breweries will continue to be run separately – SOX in Cholsey, near Wallingford, and White Horse in Stanford-in-the-Vale.
Killingworth Castle, Wootton
This lovely old coaching inn in Wootton, near Woodstock, re-opened on Tuesdays from February 28 and is now closed on Mondays only. It celebrated 10 years under the ownership of Jim Alexander in December, and has built a reputation for fine food while also stocking two well-kept real ales. These are from Stroud Brewery, whose beers are not usually found around Oxford, with whom Jim has had a long relationship through his previous pub, the Ebrington Arms near Chipping Campden, which was sold in 2021.
It also used to operate a small brewery in conjunction with Stroud Brewery, but now concentrates on Stroud ales including amber bitter Tom Long, and OPA (Organic Pale Ale). The Killingworth Castle, dating from 1637, has two AA rosettes for its food and has eight letting bedrooms, making it a destination pub for people far and wide. “Our vision is to start with the beer and offer a fantastic pint, and then build everything else around that,” said Jim.
Three Horseshoes, Witney
This pub was due to re-open on 17 March under the ownership of a local team including the previous manager, Tom Higgs. It will revert to its previous name of the Three Horseshoes (previously simply Horseshoes), with the emphasis on good value food. It was one of two pubs on Corn Street, Witney whose previous owners moved on in December, leaving them closed. The other pub, the Hollybush, remains shut and is advertised as available for let by Greene King.
Eagle and Child, Oxford
This pub – famous worldwide as a meeting point for writers including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, has now been closed for three years having never re-opened after the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. Hope that it might eventually re-open has been rekindled by owner St John’s College, which is now advertising it as available to let on a free-of-tie basis. A change from its previous plans is that St John’s now wishes to let the ground floor and cellar only, having had hopes that a boutique hotel might operate on the upper floors. Any incoming tenant faces high costs as it is understood that the building was in very poor condition even before closure, and requires a new cellar.
Lamb & Flag, Oxford
St John’s other high-profile property continues to be very busy with a mainly student and academic clientele, having re-opened in October last year. Several local real ales are usually available, but having revamped its small kitchen it announced in February that it would no longer be selling food apart from simple bar snacks.
Closed and re-opened pubs
There continue to be several closed pubs around the county awaiting new tenants, as some breweries and pub companies struggle to attract applicants put off by weak consumer demand and sky-high energy costs. At the time of writing these included the Gardeners Arms in North Parade Avenue, Oxford, although Greene King had started work on a revamp, and the Grapes in George Street, Oxford, owned by the city council but with the lease held by the West Berkshire Brewery administrator. Around the county, closed pubs included the Plough Inn at Appleton, Blacks Head in Bletchingdon, Crown in Marcham, Crown in Stadhampton and Black Horse in Gozzards Ford. Better news is re-opening of the Talbot Inn near Eynsham following a revamp and period of closure, and other re-openings are expected.