An Anecdotal Oxford Pub Guide

If you couldn’t tell from any of our previous posts, Chelsea and I really like the pubs over here in the UK.  Luckily for us, Oxford has A LOT of them.  Of course we had to make it to the most famous ones, but after that we weren’t really sure which ones to try and visit.  Then we got the idea, why not try to visit all of them?

A little while back we picked up the poster pictured above to help us keep track of the pubs we visited.  Some artist has taken the time to draw reasonable cartoon representations of many of the pubs here in Oxford, and our plan is to color them is as we visit them.  A quick glance at the poster and you might think that we haven’t been to very many.  If you care to count, we have actually already been to 33 pubs on this map, which means we are just over halfway done.

The rules for our visits are pretty simple: it doesn’t count as a visit unless we are both there at the same time, and we both have to order something to drink (preferably at least one beer).  We usually coordinate a visit with mealtime, so that we can sample the pub grub as well, to get a better idea of the place.  In fact, we have only had one night where we went on a crawl to more than two pubs.

If you notice the navigation bar in the main banner and in the “Pages” section on the right, we have a new section of the website called PUB GUIDE.  This section contains our opinions of each of the pubs on the “definitive” map.  At the rate we are going, we should have the map completed in another year, and will hopefully have some favorites as well.  Have a quick read through the list and see if there are any you would like to go to when you come visit us!

Brideau’s Beer Scale: Samuel Smith Brewery

At Zane’s request, I have decided to create my first post dedicated to beer, and I would like to begin with a little introduction to the beer and pubs over here.  Two common misconceptions of the beer here are that it is served warm and is flat (not carbonated).

Well, the beer is definitely warmer than some counterparts I have had in the states, but I would not call it warm.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t call anything here warm just yet.  Anyway, the temperature of the beer isn’t all that much different than if I were to grab a beer from the Chapter House in Ithaca.  In fact, the cask ales they serve there are probably very much like many of the beers here.  Most pubs will also have “Extra Cold” taps, dedicated to beers like Carling, Guinness, and cheap lagers, but I would describe the temperatures of those beers as “American Cold” instead of “Extra Cold”.

The beers here are also carbonated just fine.  Those familiar with my home brews will know that I have a problem over-carbonating beers, and I would say that is the same for much of the forced carbonation that occurs in large-scale US breweries like Anheiser-Busch.  In combination with the slightly warmer temperature, the slightly lower amount of carbonation causes the beer here to be much easier to drink.  It doesn’t fill you up as much, and doesn’t burn on the way down.  I really like it.

We plan to visit many of the pubs here in Oxford, all of which have their own history, and will report back our findings.  In general, I find that the pubs are centered around the bar.  What I mean, is that you order both your food and drinks from the bartender, and don’t rely on table service.  Pub staff will bring food out to your table once it is ready, but if you ever need a refill, head back to the bar.  A high percentage of the pubs here are “tied” to a brewery as well.  For example, The Three Goats Heads in Oxford is tied to Samuel Smith brewery.  That just means most of their taps serve Samuel Smith beer, with the possibility of a guest tap or two.

Speaking of which, lets move on to our review.

This review will focus on one brewery: Samuel Smith’s, and two pubs: Three Goats Heads, and The Chandos, both tied to Samuel Smith’s.  We visited Three Goats Heads here in Oxford, which is located right in City Centre.  You’ll have to go down below St. Michael’s street a level, but the entrance is really easy to find and well lit.

The seating area inside is not very big (though it appears to have expanded recently), but when we went it wasn’t a problem, as not too many patrons were crowded around.  This is some of the cheapest beer in town at ~£2.50 per pint, and quite good.  Apparently, the beers are all produced by the Tadcaster brewery and no large-corporation spirits or soft-drinks are available.

The second place we visited was The Chandos on London.  After work one Friday we went to visit one of Chelsea’s friends from high school, and were advised that this pub would be a great spot close to where he was staying.

We were there around 7:00pm on a Friday evening, so the pub was properly packed full of people (even a guy in a Cornell sweatshirt).  Unfortunately, our hunger got the best of us, and we couldn’t stay very long, but did manage to try a few beers.

We tried pints of the bitter, lager, and extra stout, and all three were outstanding.  I have heard that Samuel Smith’s has some of the best beer on the planet, and so far I can attest to that.  We will have to get back to one of these pubs during the year to try more varieties, but for now, I can say that Samuel Smith’s has earned the first 6-glass rating of Brideau’s Beer Scale.  Awesome.

Brideau’s Beer Scale: The Vermont Pub & Brewery

One of the many things I enjoy about visiting a new city is trying out local beer.  As a home-brewer I can appreciate the technical challenges that go into making a good beer, and especially how hard it is to make many different styles of beer well.  Luckily for me many places I visit have a local microbrewery, and they seem to offer sampler flights of their products.  The Vermont Pub and Brewery was no different.  When Chelsea and I visited Burlington, Vermont we stopped in to the place to try our their brews.  Below I will list each of the beers and then some notes from us along with our ratings.

Here are the six beers we tried:

1.  Forbidden Fruit

This is supposed to be a raspberry lambic style beer.

Nick – taste like watered down raspberry puree / spritzer (#6)

Chelsea – Same. (#6)

2.  Grandslam

This was listed as their summer beer, light and perfect for a baseball game.

N –  nice and light, but with plenty of malt flavor.  I could drink a lot of that one.  (#1)

C –  completely agree, this is my favorite (#1)

3.  Burly Irish Ale

This is their version of a classic Irish red ale.

N – good but it needs more flavor, its missing something (#4)

C – not actually an Irish red! (#5)

4.  Helles Alt

I don’t remember the description but its supposed to be a german beer.

N -too sweet up front and finishes like water (#5)

C – sweet but not too bad, actually flavor in this one (#3)

5.  Bombay IPA

Of course this is their version of the India Pale Ale that seems popular with all the brewpubs.

N -nice up front with aroma and first taste, finishes too flat and bitter (#2)

C – I actually like this one  because it doesn’t linger too long and I hate IPAs (#4)

6.  Smoked Stout

A stout with a definite smoke smell and taste to it.

N – smokey up front,  strong on the nose actually but the flavor is just a bit short (#3)

C – this has all the makings of a good beer but its too watery, not enough texture (#2)

Apparently I got sick of recording the notes while we were tasting because I know we talked about each of the beers more than this.  Anyway you can get a feel about what we thought of the place.  They missed on some of them, while others were just fine.  While we didn’t exactly agree on where each beer ranked on the scale, we did agree on their best and worst ones.  Too bad their best one was supposed to be their lightest.  If you were to ask me how to describe all their beers in a nutshell I would say “watery”. The Vermont Pub & Brewery rates a 2/6 on Brideau’s Beer Scale.

Brideau’s Beer scale

I have written before that I like to rate a city based on its local beers, and my trip to San Diego was no different.  I think I’ll actually start recording my observations so I’ve decided to invent a scale that I have yet to come up with a good name for.

The scale runs from water to full bodied beer but in reality it is what I think of all their beers.  I like all kinds of beer, it really depends on the setting, season, meal etc.  I usually try at least 2 beers from each brewery, and if I’m there I definitely try a flight.

In San Diego I tried two from the semi-famous Stone Brewery.  I’ve had their Arrogant Bastard before, and liked that one, so I decided to try the Pale Ale and its hoppier cousin the IPA.  I liked them both.

I also tried two beers from Ballast Point: their Calico Amber Ale and their Big Eye IPA which was even better. Both these beers had plenty of flavor, but were easy to drink.  Especially the IPA, which boasts 6% alcohol or higher and is only sold in the big 22oz bottle.  That one put me in a good mood for sure.

In my day of traveling the coast I got to eat lunch and try a handful of beers at the Karl Strauss Brewing Company.  These beers showed a lot of promise, and the food at the restaurant was excellent.  Unfortunately I tried 6 of their beers in the sampler plus a bonus at the end and was dissapointed by all of them.  They all looked like legit beers, and their aromas were good but the flavor was lacking.  Most of the flavor was front loaded and hit you right away, and then the finish was actually pretty watery.  None of the beers paired very well with the food I tried, even if the wait staff pushed them.  Their Double IPA was hoppy and had great citrus overtones but was missing something I couldn’t put my finger on.  I decided they have the same problem Ithaca Brewing has, their beers taste too much like water.  (I’ll do a write up of Ithaca sometime, when I get a sampler pack).

Overall I give San Diego 4 out of 6 Beers.

This is generous, but I had many recommendations from friends and family of places that have good beer that I didn’t get to visit.  I guess that leaves something for the next time I go.