pubs real ale

Back to Oxford

It looks like we’ll be in Oxford at around this time most years now as a friend of ours who lives there has decided to make his anti-January-blues party a fixture in the calendar.

Between the station and his house last night, we took in a few pubs we missed last time round.

The King’s Arms on Holywell Street is a cosy, crowded boozer decorated with brewery memorabilia. It’s a Young’s pub but with three guest ales. Bailey went for Winter Warmer and thought it was good this year. Boak went for Bath Gem, an old favourite that we haven’t come across for a while, which was just about OK if perhaps a little tired. The pub is so full of character, though, that the beer’s almost irrelevant.

The White Horse on Broad Street is really a long, cluttered corridor, but is also very cosy. We were drawn in by the Brakspear sign but the lack of that beer was more than made up for by two excellent microbrews. Prospect by the Shotover Brewing Co. (who are new on the scene, apparently) was a beautiful hoppy, flowery beer, powerful enough to overpower a bag of particularly lethal, hairy pork scratchings. Can anyone tells us which particular variety of hops give that wonderful elderflower flavour? In contrast, Winter Solstice by Vale Brewing was all about the malt: caramel with a hint of chocolate. It was also excellent, but it was Prospect that really knocked us for six.

Far from the Madding Crowd had six ales on tap including Oakham JHB, another classic we’ve not had for a while. Wow. What a beer — incredibly drinkable. Easy Rider from Kelham Island was another corker with a slightly (and very pleasantly) sulphurous aroma. The pub itself was lacking in atmosphere, somewhat resembling a community centre. Those of you who are sceptical of our ability to taste anything through the pork scratchings in the last pub will be glad to hear we didn’t indulge in the cockles in offer here…

beer reviews pubs

Oxford: smoke, hops and ginger


Here are quick reviews of a few beers we enjoyed on a recent trip to Oxford.

1. White Horse Village Idiot, 4.1%

An attempt, we think, to clone Hopback’s venerable Summer Lightning, Village Idiot is actually a somewhat better beer. Pale yellow, crisply bitter and slightly sweet, it was so full of the flavour and aroma of fresh hops, we though it should probably count as one of our portions of fruit and veg for the day. We guessed at a mix of German and British hops — if anyone knows for sure, tell us! The normal bitter (3.7%) is also superb.

The brewery tap at the Royal Blenheim has a ludicrously cheerful singing barman and 10 real ales in total, too, so well worth a visit.

2. Leatherbritches Ginger Spice, 3.8%

The best ginger beer we’ve had yet, where hefty amounts of (candied?) ginger make for a characterful pint. Often, ginger in beer leads to a gritty dryness but this beer is almost sickly sweet. Normally, that would be a real turn-off, but it definitely balances. But, as the expert barman at the excellent Turf Tavern said as he served it, “tasty, but you won’t want more than one”.

3. Thermal Cheer, by Isle of Purbeck brewery, ?%

This brewery seems to favour smoked flavours: all three of their beers that we tried tasted like they’d been lightly barbecued (although their website makes no mention of this). An acquired taste. This, a dark bitter, was the best of the bunch and certainly an interesting experiment. Did we actually like it? We still haven’t made up our minds. We had this one at the Turf but also saw their beers (the bitter and “Solar Power”) in a couple of other pubs.

4. Cotswold Brewing Company Wheat, 4.2%

Also at the Turf Tavern, this unfiltered kegged German-style wheat beer has alerted us to the existence of yet another interesting British lager brewer. Sadly, it wasn’t all that fresh, but the local students were mad for the stuff and its underlying quality shone through. If, like us, you’ve ever thought German wheat beer would be improved with a bit more bitterness, then this will be just the job. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to try the rest of their range sometime soon.

We got some ideas for which pubs to visit from the Good Beer Guide, Maeib’s pub crawl post and whole bunch of other websites. There are a fair few decent places to drink in Oxford!