Get ready, get set and GO! – Oxford Beer Festival opens on Thursday

One hundred real ales and 20 ciders lined up at Town Hall from November 9-11

Final preparations are under way for the 24th CAMRA festival at the city’s showpiece venue, which sees it revert to a three-day format this year with advance booking online available for the first time. Once again there will be a stellar line-up of local breweries and cider makers, and Oxford CAMRA has every hope that the high numbers attending in the pre-pandemic years will be experienced once more.

The final beer list shows that 17 local breweries will be sending their produce, and in most cases they will be supplying two distinct beers. The other breweries represented are from around the country, many seldom if ever seen in Oxford. Local beers only will take part in the Beer of the Festival competition, with an expert tasting panel meeting on Friday November 10 to declare the winners.

Pointing the way at the Town Hall are, from left: Councillor Ed Turner, deputy leader, Oxford City Council; Tony Goulding, Oxford CAMRA chairman; Grahame Allen, festival organiser; and Dave Richardson, Oxford Drinker editor. Photo: Steve Thompson

Oxfordshire breweries represented include Amwell Springs, Barn Owl, Chadlington, Church Hanbrewery, Craftsman, Hook Norton, Little Ox, Loddon, Loose Cannon, LoveBeer, Oxford Brewery, SOX, Tap Social, White Horse and Wriggly Monkey, plus Animal/XT from Buckinghamshire and Renegade from West Berkshire. A notable absentee this year is Wychwood, a past sponsor of festival t-shirts, as the brewery has ceased operations – the latest in a series of breweries owned by Carlsberg Marston’s to be closed.

Many of the breweries from other parts of the country will be unknown to Oxford drinkers, but the better known among them include Bristol Beer Factory, Broadtown, Green Duck, Kinver, Northern Monk, Phipps and Tiny Rebel. Most are providing two beers, and as usual the wide variety of styles will range from the pale and hoppy to rich, dark stouts and porters, plus various bitters and experimental brews.

Local cider makers Hitchcox, from Chalgrove, South Oxfordshire and Tutts Clump, from West Berkshire, are prominent among the cider suppliers. There will again be no keg beer or other kinds of drinks, apart from water, and food will be provided by the Town Hall’s caterers. Entry costs £18 including £10 worth of vouchers and souvenir pint glass, reduced to £15 for CAMRA members. Opening hours are from 4-11pm on Thursday November 9; 11am-11pm on Friday November 10; and 12-11pm (or when supplies run out) on Saturday, November 11. Tickets can be bought on the door or online at Oxford CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival 2023 – Tckty.

Although there has been a small reduction on the number of beers available this year, Oxford CAMRA is confident of attracting a higher number of people than the 2,000 who came last year. This year we return to a three-day format, with the enthusiastic support of the City Council which runs the Town Hall, which is helping promote the festival through its own social media channels. At its height up to 2019 the festival was attracting up to 3,000 people over three days, but the 2020 and 2021 festivals were lost to the pandemic, and in 2022 many older people stayed away due to lingering Covid fears.

Look back at the festival’s origins, what was described as the first CAMRA Oxfordshire Beer Festival was held over two days in 1994 at the Bus Museum in Long Hanborough, between Woodstock and Witney, with admission costing £1. In 1994 the only local beers available were Morrells Oxford Bitter and the stronger Graduate (5.2%), plus Wychwood Shires, Blackwych Stout and, er….. Dog’s Bollocks (6.5%). By 1996, still at the Bus Museum but now called the Oxford Beer Festival, there were still fewer than 40 real ales on offer, with the emphasis again on ales not normally to be found locally.

When the festival lived up to its name by moving to the Town Hall in 1998, the brakes came off with 120 real ales available over three days from May 28-30, with admission costing £2 or £1 before 5pm. It boasted beers from every English county plus Wales, Scotland and some islands, with Morrells, Wychwood, Brakspear and Hook Norton all taking their own stands.

From there on the festival went from strength to strength until Covid hit, with 2022 coming as a reminder that success can’t be taken for granted. So come along this year and support us, and let’s make it one to remember.

Last year’s festival was sparsely attended by recent standards.