2024 guide launched today reveals the best real ale pubs nationwide
Two highly contrasting watering holes in Oxford make their first appearance in next year’s Good Beer Guide, indicative of the wide range and diversity of the city’s hostelries. Teardrop is a tiny bar converted from a stall in Oxford’s Covered Market, while the Jolly Farmers is a historic, traditional pub whose main client base is the LGBTQ+ community.
Teardrop was the first bar to open in the market but has since been joined by Tap Social’s Market Tap, opened in May, while bookshop Gulp Fiction also sells beer. Teardrop is the only one selling cask ale with two beers poured directly from the barrel, with a further seven keg lines. It is operated by Christian and Luciana Gyuricza who own Church Hanbrewery, and their market interests have since expanded to include a wine and deli shop in the next unit, and Sartorelli’s pizzas in the former Nash’s bakery stall.
Church Hanbrewery’s often unusual beers, all unfined, account for most of its beer sales but it also sells the products of some other local independent breweries, plus other artisan drinks suppliers such as Hitchcox cider. Beer is sold in one-third or two-thirds of a pint measures, and the cask selection on a recent visit included Ale X, a 4.5% IPA. Any of its beers can be turned out in cask and the range includes porters, wheat beers, and beers made with wild berries, raspberries or beetroot.
Inclusion in the GBG gives a boost to Teardrop at a time of increased competition. Sales of beer have fallen off since the Market Tap opened, but sales of wine have increased. It has decided not to open late as at the Market Tap, its hours being 11-5.30pm Mondays to Wednesdays, 11-7pm Thursdays to Saturdays, and 11-4pm on Sundays.
Teardrop might represent a new breed of beer bars opening up in shops or market stalls, whereas the Jolly Farmers is in some ways thoroughly traditional being first recorded as a pub in 1829, although the building is at least 100 years older. But the clientele are not necessarily traditional, as it is mainly LGBTQ+ but with other locals, students and tourists ensuring a good mix so that no-one feels out of place.
The pub is owned by the city council but on long-term lease to Spike Greenwood and his husband Rob Jordan, and it is a free house. Two hand pumps are available with Otter Ale from Devon being the regular beer, and the other pump often taken by a local independent brewery such as LoveBeer, which recently supplied a golden beer named after the pub’s Bassett Hound, Sherlocked – “ale of the Baskervilles”. A third hand pump may be added, possibly for cider.
The Jolly Farmers – who once congregated at a market outside on Paradise Street – is a cosy pub with a large garden where performing artists are often to be seen. It doesn’t sell food but invites customers to order in food to eat on the premises, and it certainly has a sense of humour – “not even the walls are straight”! Oxford CAMRA’s next branch meeting will be held here on Monday, October 2.
Apart from these two additions there is little change to the GBG entries in our branch area, although returning to the guide for the first time in over 20 years is Greene King pub the White Horse in Ock Street, Abingdon. However, two of the pubs selected have sadly closed down after the guide went to print, and have been removed from the electronic version that many members have on their phones: Drummers Bar in Witney, and the Cricketers Arms in Littleworth.
Dropping out of the 2024 guide, in each case because of a change of management, are the Butchers Arms in Headington, King’s Arms in Kidlington and Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon. These are likely to be contenders for the 2025 guide, as will the Lamb & Flag and the Grapes in Oxford, which hadn’t re-opened long enough to be considered for the 2024 guide.
A few pubs appear in the guide year after year without fail, and Oxford CAMRA intends to honour them in the weeks ahead. First and foremost is the Rose and Crown in Oxford, appearing in the guide for the 32nd time, while the Masons Arms in Headington Quarry has appeared in every edition since 2005.
The 2024 guide is fronted by legendary rock star Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, whose own personal journey through the world of beer has also highlighted the importance of pubs, both in providing an early platform for success and as a welcome respite from the huge amount of work and energy that goes into being one of the most successful bands to come out of the UK.