Pub, Brewery and Festival News

A round-up of recent news and upcoming events around the county

Change is Brewing festival returns – with cask

Tap Social Movement will stage its third annual Change is Brewing craft beer festival on Saturday, June 22, from 2-11pm at its taproom in Botley – with cask ale featuring for the first time. This is in line with Tap Social’s willingness to try some of its brews on cask, both at the White House pub in Oxford and at other specialist real ale pubs.

The festival features 15 of the UK’s best and brightest craft breweries, who are invited to bring small batch cask ales in addition to keg, including four breweries rated on Untappd amongst the top 50 in England: Verdant Brewing Co (#7), Cloudwater Brew Co (#24), Gravity Well Brewing Co (#26), and Bluntrock Brewery (#50).

Enjoying last year’s festival. Image: Tap Social

“I would sell my first-born child to go to this,” says Tap Social marketing manager Brian Spencer. “Wait, don’t tell him that; don’t publish that. Love you son!

“No, but seriously, supporting independent breweries and small businesses is more important today than ever – and, thankfully, easier than ever to do. The incredible breweries that will be here represent a small, yet substantial slice of the UK’s exciting, innovative craft beer industry, and collectively are a shining example of small businesses doing their very best to do things the right way.”

The full line-up includes:

– Attic Brew Co (Birmingham)

– Bluntrock Brewing (Cornwall)

– BMAN Brewery (Oxford)

– Cloudwater Brew Co (Manchester)

– Drop Project Brewing (London)

– Elusive Brewing (Finchampstead)

– Howling Hops (London)

– Mysterious Brewing Co (Reading)

– Orbit Beers Brewery (London)

– Phantom Brewing Co (Reading)

– Pretty Decent Beer Co (London)

– Siren Craft Brew (Finchampstead)

– Tap Social Movement (Oxford)

– Verdant Brewing (Cornwall)

Early bird tickets are available for £10 from:

Hook Norton

Celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of what is now Oxfordshire’s largest brewery continue, with collaboration brews, free “Hooky on Tour” beer offers, and a beer with managing director and head brewer James Clarke’s face on the pump clip.

It has teamed up with fellow family breweries Everards and Joseph Holt to brew three unique beers in March, May and September, with the head brewers coming up with unique recipes. All the beers feature hops from Charles Faram, which has donated them from the existing range and hop development programme.

Established in 1849 by John Harris, a farmer and a maltster, Hook Norton now has his great, great grandson James Clarke at the helm. Its Victorian Tower Brewery still uses original machinery to brew, and shire horses and dray are still used to deliver beer the traditional way in Hook Norton village. The first of these unique beers, Tower Ale (3.8%), was brewed at Hook Norton with the brewers from Everards and Joseph Holt on hand to help.

“Whilst we have collaborated with other breweries before, working with our fellow family breweries who are also celebrating 175 years of beer and brewing makes these beers extra special and we are very excited to get brewing,” said James.

The latest beer is a Hook Norton special which celebrates James’s 33 years at the brewery, available only at its pubs and brewery tap. “I decided to brew a dark mild style beer, a nod to the style of beer that was our mainstay from the early 1900s to the 1980s,” he said.

Called XXXIII, appropriately at 3.3%, it is a dark mild-style cask ale, brewed with Crystal, Chocolate, Enzymic and Maris Otter Pale Ale malts, and hopped with Fuggles and Bramling Cross. It was launched on April 1 as James took the brewery’s shire horse Brigadier to the Pear Tree Inn, Sun Inn and the Gate Hangs High in Hook Norton, with free pints of XXXIII offered courtesy of the brewery. 

“Hooky on Tour” will see the brewery visiting all its pubs using different modes of transport – walk, cycle, motorcycle, Land Rover and shire horse. Whilst they are in the pub, Hook Norton beers will be free of charge and the brewers will be on hand to talk all things beer and give away prizes in a “quick fire, extremely easy” pub quiz.

Next up are visits to Ye Olde Reindeer Inn and the Coach & Horses, Banbury on May 6, and the Fox and Red Lion, Chipping Norton on May 27 – check online for times.

“As a brewery, we would obviously be nothing without our pubs who look after and serve our beer at its best quality. We wanted to visit them all to say thank you and celebrate everything that is great about the local pub,” James added.

Charlbury Beer Festival

The 26th festival will take place on Saturday June 29 – a day of fun, festivity and fundraising for all the family taking place at Charlbury Cricket Club, Oxfordshire from 12-9pm. 

The festival will offer around 60 real ales, a variety of craft beers, a range of ciders and perries, wine, gin, and Pimm’s. There will also be a great selection of food, live music throughout, the Culture Tent with performances and talks, and children’s entertainment. It will also feature the 12th World Aunt Sally Singles Championships, when Rob Bradford could win the crown for the third year running.

It will be raising money for community projects, both in the Charlbury area and overseas, with the last festival taking the total funds raised for good causes over the years to around £300,000. Last year it awarded grants to Charlbury’s Baby and Toddler Group, Community Centre, Community Workshop, Cricket Club, Exhibition Foundation, Girl Guides, Pre-School, Primary School, Scout Group, Wildlife Society, Youth Football Club, and Chipping Norton Theatre. It also supported an overseas project supporting education for children and young women in Afghanistan. 

Charlbury Cricket Club is just across the road from the town’s rail station.  All-day bus and train services operate link Charlbury with Oxford, Chipping Norton, Reading, Witney, Worcester and London.

Rebrand for Vale Brewery

Vale Brewery has launched new branding and brand identity to “reflect Vale’s commitment to quality, community, and the power of beer to bring people together”. Since its establishment as an independent, family-owned brewery in 1995, Vale has been dedicated to brewing high-quality beers under the stewardship of Dave Renton, Head Brewer for the last 25 years.

“Our new Vale brand is not just about a change of design. It is a re-affirmation of our core values and our promise to always produce beer that brings people together, creating lasting connections and memorable experiences,” said Joe Brouder, managing director. “We are proud of our Buckinghamshire roots and our new branding celebrates this heritage, showcasing the beautiful local landscape and the bonds forged within it.”  

The rebrand includes a fresh look for all core and seasonal beers, complete with new designs, tasting notes, and stories. Additionally, Vale Brewery is re-introducing its ABC brand of one-off small batch brews, catering to craft beer aficionados in pubs, bars and shops.  

Wadworth on the move

Based at Northgate Street in Devizes since 1885, the brewery has moved to a 25,000 sq ft brewhouse in nearby Folly Road after an £8 million investment. While it continues to brew cask ales including 6X (first launched in 2023), it has made clear that the “direction of travel” is towards craft keg.

Work on the new premises started in May 2022 to transform the former warehouse into a state-of-the-art brewery. The Folly Road site boasts an extensive range of sustainability-focused credentials, which include an ultra-efficient steam generator capable of reducing brewery boiler warming times from 4.5 hours to just seven minutes.

Toby Bartholomew, managing director, said: “Our 1885 Northgate brewery is a Grade II-listed building, and much of the plant, equipment and main brewery building has come to the end of its useful life. Over the years, the beer market has changed and Northgate brewery is too large, inefficient and inflexible for our needs moving forward.

“Our new Folly Road brewhouse allows us to diversify our beer offer and, in turn, support our pubs and customers more effectively. We will continue to brew Wadworth traditional ales, including 6X, Horizon and Henry’s IPA alongside our new Folly Road craft beer portfolio.”

Evolution, a 4.3% Session IPA, is the first craft keg beer to come out of Folly Road. It is available in local pubs including the Prince of Wales at Iffley.

Cross Keys, Wallingford

The pub, acquired by Oak Taverns from Brakspear two years ago, has been chosen as South Oxfordshire CAMRA Pub of the Year.

Branch chair Graham Hards said: “Licensees Dave and Emma Howse have really raised the bar ever higher when it comes to both the quality and variety of their real ale offerings on their four hand pumps. With three ever-changing ale offerings from around the country (although there is thankfully a slight bias towards LocAle) to accompany the XT-brewed house beer, many of us, myself included, can’t wait to discover what is currently pouring on each visit.

“The pub is judged on merits beyond the hand pumps, with cleanliness, friendliness and community spirit all considered (almost) as important as the beer. Thankfully Dave and Emma score highly in these aspects too, especially in light of the weekly quiz nights and the nightly food van offerings.”

Also shortlisted for the award were the Bird in Hand, Henley; the Black Horse, Checkendon; the Red Lion, Brightwell-cum-Sotwell; and the Spire & Spoke,  Watlington.

The Cross Keys has for long been Thame’s top real ale pub

Cross Keys, Thame

In a double celebration of the name and for Oak Taverns, the Cross Keys in Thame has been chosen as Aylesbury Vale & Wycombe CAMRA Pub of the Year. Runners-up were another Oak Taverns pub, the Red Lion in Chinnor, and the Rose and Crown in High Wycombe.

Long regarded as the top real ale and cider pub in Thame, the Cross Keys has up to nine real ales available. It was the first Oak Taverns pub to make real ale its speciality, becoming the model for other pubs in the expanding group to follow. It no longer produces its own beer but has a badged house ale from XT.

Head of the River, Oxford

The Fuller’s-owned pub, beside the Thames at Folly Bridge, closed on March 8 for renovations but is expected to re-open in early May.

New book and lecture 

Drink Maps in Victorian Britain is the name of a new book by Kris Butler, who will give a free talk at the Weston Library in Oxford (part of the Bodleian Library) on May 30 at 1pm (attend in person or via Zoom).

“Take a journey through drunken Victorian Britain told through maps made to convince law makers to turn off the flow of alcohol,” says the library, which has already displayed the Drink Map of Oxford. “Kris Butler has searched the UK for ‘drink maps’ which were scattered far and wide, and in the process of finding them, she has collected many gripping tales and hilarious stories.”

The book is available to buy at the Bodleian Shop.