by Tony Naylor, The Guardian, January 19, 2015
More dimly-lit bar than pub (it opens at 4pm midweek and hosts gigs/ DJ nights in its basement), the Library is nonetheless – check all that beer advertising paraphernalia on its walls – serious about all things ale. Its pumps (five keg, one cask) pour Brooklyn lager, Camden Hells and Camden Town’s ink stout, while its fridges feature a regularly changing array of about 20 beers from craft luminaries such as Siren, Fourpure, Norwegian’s Lervig (its Lucky Jack is a highly persuasive pale ale) and even a gluten-free beer, Omission, from Oregon’s Widmer Brothers. At the rear of the Library there is a cosy beer garden with a wood-burning oven which, on Tuesday nights, produces quality pizzas.
• Pint from £3.60. 182 Cowley Road, 01865 2841776, thelibrarypuboxford.com
On a residential side street near the railway station, the Kite is owned by the brewing giant and pub chain, Greene King. But, unusually, as well as Greene King’s ropey beers – its IPA and faux-craft creations such as East Coast – the Kite also sell beers from top-notch Long Crendon brewery, XT. Four cask pumps and one keg dispense XT beers (and its experimental arm, Animal) such as the elegantly fruity, well-balanced pale 3 (a numbering system is used to identify its beers) and next-level XPA: a thick, syrupy 5.9% IPA bursting with grapefruit and melon flavours. The Kite has undergone a gastropub makeover (Farrow & Ball colour scheme and mismatched salvage furniture) done with a touch of class – and the friendly staff make all welcome.
• Pint from £3.85. 68-69 Mill Street, 01865 248546, osneykite.com
The Jam Factory
Festooned with pot plants, knick-knacks and bunting, this whitewashed ex-factory unit is a bar, art gallery and restaurant. Two cask pumps carry traditional beers from local brewers (on this occasion, Vale), while the Factory’s 12 keg lines feature the likes of Brewdog’s 5am, benchmark wheat beers from Schneider Weisse and Weihenstephan, and eight beers (including a Jam Factory stout) from Cotswold Brewing Company. A sizeable bottled collection covers similar familiar territory, mixing core Belgian classics (Orval, Rochefort, Chimay etc) with familiar craft imports from Brooklyn, Einstök and Goose Island. It is a selection that is low on surprises but high on quality.
• Pint from £4. Hollybush Row, 01865 244613, thejamfactoryoxford.com
Thirsty Meeples, and 1855
In Oxford, the search for exceptional beer can take you into some unusual places. The swanky wine bar 1855 is in the Oxford Castle Quarter, where the remains of the Norman castle and its historic prison have been colonised by various bars, restaurants and the Malmaison hotel. It sells eight bottled craft beers from brewers including XT, Cotswold, Camden Town and Siren. Look out for the latter’s Half Mast IPA, a beer which, despite its 2.8% strength, is outrageously tasty (from £3.75. 4 Oxford Castle, New Road, 01865 247217, 1855oxford.com).
A five-minute walk from 1855, Thirsty Meeples is a shop and cafe specialising in board games, which also has one of Oxford’s finest drinks menus. Think Games Workshop for craft beer geeks. Unless you fancy a game of Forbidden Stars or They Come Unseen, you’re unlikely to want to linger for long, but if there are tables free (gamers get priority), then the Meeples peoples are happy to serve draught beers from local brewery Loose Cannon (its English bitter, Abingdon Bridge, is unusually tasty for such a traditional style), or various quality bottles and cans. The menu of about 20 beers, which includes such modern classics as Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch and Wild Beer’s Evolver IPA, has clearly been compiled by someone who knows and loves their beer.
• Pint from £3.80. 99 Gloucester Green, 01865 244247, thirstymeeples.co.uk
In the suburb of Jericho, a short walk from Oxford city centre, the Jericho Tavern may look like thousands of other unimaginatively revamped modern pubs but its beer range certainly stands out. Its fridges are well-stocked with serious US imports (Sierra Nevada’s incredible Torpedo, Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack IPA) and beers from star UK brewers, such as Fourpure, Rooster’s and Beavertown. Six craft keg lines carry a mix of standards – a seasonal Munich helles from Freedom, and Brooklyn’s lager – alongside the catnip-for-beer-geeks: Tiny Rebel’s Urban IPA and Brooklyn’s new dark winter lager, Insulated. The pub also has three cask pumps but the choice there (Doom Bar, Brakspear’s Oxford Gold), was far less interesting.
• Pint from £3.60. 56 Walton Street, Jericho, 01865 311775, thejerichooxford.co.uk
For a traditional regional brewer and pub company, Bath Ales is adapting to the new craft landscape with dynamism. Its Beerd bars, for instance – Oxford is its second site after Bristol – are a far more impressive attempt to join the craft beer party than most big brewers’ noncommittal attempts to cash in. With its enthusiastic staff and 18 draught taps, Beerd is, by common consent, Oxford’s most forward-thinking beer bar. If you want to drink what the UK’s most exciting craft brewers are producing – people like Harbour, Celt, Redchurch, Runaway, Moor, Blackjack – then this is the place to do it. Beerd had hosted a tap-takeover by Hampshire’s Wild Weather just prior to this visit, so its beers were prominent at the bar. In particular, its Take No Prisoners is an impressive contemporary pale ale: sticky-sweet, full of vibrant tropical fruit flavours, with an assertive lingering bitterness. The narrow, wood-panelled Beerd feels good too; half the room bathed in warm orange light thanks to a huge neon pizza sign. It is the sort of bar where, on a cold winter’s day, you might pop-in for one, only to emerge many hours later.
• Pint from £3.60. 7 George Street, 01865 793380, beerdoxford.com
St Aldates Tavern
A stone’s throw from Oxford’s main shopping streets, St Aldates is a busy city centre pub that, with its generic, faux-Victorian looks and terrible music, does little to endear itself. Its beer selection, however, saves the day. Its six cask pumps mix traditional bitters with snazzy, new-wave beers from, on this visit, Brightside and Dark Star. Likewise, its kegs include innovative beers from Camden Town, XT and Wild Weather (the latter’s Shepherd’s Warning was effervescent with sherbet lemon and lime flavours), alongside less-interesting brews from one-time craft pioneers Meantime and Adnams. Further bottles from Brewdog and Great Heck (one of several breweries that has held “meet the brewer” events here), round out this decent choice. If you need somewhere to sit and revive yourself after shopping, St Aldates is a sound choice.
• Pint from £3.80. 108 St Aldate’s, 01865 241185, staldatestavernoxford.co.uk
Photograph: Rebound Upholstery
East Oxford’s Cowley Road area contains a handful of boozers that, together (see also, City Arms, the Library, Big Society), constitute a leisurely pub crawl for the discerning craft drinker. The Chester Arms, which is on a side street off Iffley Road, is a good starting point if you are working your way back into town. Its three cask pumps maintain an Oxford focus (for instance, beers from Vale and Loose Cannon), while the keg taps include Siren’s excellent pale ale, Undercurrent, on permanently, as well as, on this visit, Purity’s Lawless and beers from the Cotswold Brewing Company. A small number of bottled beers, such as Camden Hells, the terrific Weihenstephan hefeweizen and Einstök’s creditable pale ale add a further layer of interest. The pub itself is another of Oxford’s many tastefully, if anonymously refurbished pubs: log-burner, exposed brickwork, an egg-shell blue and grey colour scheme – but full marks for decorating the Chester Arms’ Christmas tree with old cask ale pump clips.
• Pint from £3.30. 19 Chester Street, 01865 790438, on Facebook
The City Arms is owned by the huge Stonegate pub company (the people behind the Slug and Lettuce chain), and it very much looks and feels – overly bright lighting, lots of jazzy tiles and busy fabrics, TVs and fruit machines – like a generic, 21st-century high-street pub. But despite its unlovely design, the City Arms has an unusually good beer selection. Its five keg taps regularly feature Brewdog beers rarely seen on-draught outside the brewer’s own bars. On this visit, it was serving the Scottish brewer’s still-intriguing Libertine Black IPA and its Cocoa Psycho Imperial Russian stout. At £3.10-a-half for a 10% beer, the latter represented something of a bargain. The other keg and cask beers were less exciting (Hogstar lager, Marston’s Shipyard IPA, a couple of Christmas ales), but the City Arms’s bottled menu includes the occasional real gem, such as Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil, amid its selection of more obvious craft standbys, such as Sierra Nevada and Punk IPA.
• Pint from £3.40. 288 Cowley Road, 01865 725299, thecityarmsoxford.co.uk
Just edging the Library as Cowley Road’s premier craft exponent, Big Society is a large, busy space which – with its late-night DJs and ad hoc local art displays, its ping-pong tournaments and its weekly craft market – is the closest Oxford gets to contemporary, big-city cool. The house pale ale, brewed by Oxford’s Shotover, has unusual depth and character and, with the Longhorn IPA, was the pick of the choices across five cask and keg pumps. The fridges, meanwhile, contain a selection of beers from Brewdog, Goose Island, Brooklyn, Beavertown, Camden Town, pioneering US outfit, Flying Dog, and at least one new name on me, Hampshire’s Wingtip. Craft connoisseurs are unlikely to find anything remarkable in there, but it is a solid collection.
• Pint from £3.40. 95 Cowley Road, 01865 792755, bigsocietyoxford.com
Travel between Manchester and Oxford was provided by Cross Country, crosscountrytrains.co.uk
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Tony Naylor from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.