Festival a success but some left disappointed

Dave Richardson looks back at the 24th CAMRA festival at Oxford Town Hall

When the many volunteers gathered just before opening of the festival at 4pm on Thursday November 9, no-one really had any idea what to expect. Would we get back to the high number of nearly 3,000 visitors who used to crowd out the Town Hall, mainly on Thursday and Friday evenings? Or would we again have the more modest attendance figures of 2022, our first year back after the pandemic?

Final figures have yet to be totted up, mainly because people were able to book online in advance for the first time, but we did see an increase in numbers and a lot more beer was drunk. So much so, in fact, that the festival had to close early having run out of beer by mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Councillor Ed Turner (front row, third left) joins volunteers prior to opening

Predicting the attendance, and how much beer and cider to order, has become very much more difficult since the pandemic, with some older or more vulnerable people put off crowded gatherings, possibly for good. The availability of volunteers is also of some concern, although this year that didn’t turn out to be a problem.

This year we had a reduced beer order of 100 barrels from about 60 breweries, and also a reduction in cider to about 20 mainly local casks. We were fairly confident of having enough although we opened for three days rather than two days as last year, with the encouragement of the Town Hall. We erred on the side of caution, as last year we had to pour a lot of beer away and came close to making a loss, which would have put the future of the festival in doubt.

But although we could still pour beer from over 40 barrels when we opened on Saturday, it was all gone by mid-afternoon and people had to be turned away at the front desk or by security personnel at the St Aldates entrance. For this we apologise, but those who booked in advance can claim refunds by emailing contact@oxford.camra.org.uk quoting their reference number from ticketing portal Tckty.

Beer of the Festival judging in progress. Picture by judging organiser Pete Flynn

Despite this early end to the festival, it’s fair to say that a good time was had by all and that our many volunteers turned up as usual not only to serve beer and cider and perform many other tasks, but also to do the heavy work of setting up the festival on Wednesday and taking it down on Sunday.

The Beer of the Festival judging panel met on Friday to consider the best local beers, with the winner declared as Maharajah IPA from Renegade. Runners-up were Trinity from Oxford Brewery, Konic from White Horse and Ambassador from Wriggly Monkey.

Thoughts are now turning to the 2024 festival, which might have to be held at an earlier date due to availability of the Town Hall. We thank them and in particular Councillor Ed Turner for their assistance.