Over the past few years, The Grapes on George Street has been a bit unloved in my opinion. The Grapes to Beerd, then back to The Grapes. The décor has changed multiple times – as has the menu – with the beer being a bit hit and miss.
Now West Berkshire Brewery has taken on the pub and I was lucky enough to be at their opening party. Following an extensive makeover, I’m happy to report things have changed for the better!
Starting with the décor, some notable and effective changes have been made. Apart from the usual paint overhaul that goes with most refurbishments, the high tables that were crammed in the window have been taken away – thankfully, as trying to get out of there was a nightmare.
Booths running along the side of the bar remain but, finally, someone has seen sense to turn these the other way – eliminating the danger of beer being spilt down your neck from those trying to get away from the bar. An addition of a bar walk is also a nice touch to the flooring around the bar, which has been finished with subtle tiling. All new beer pumps and lines have gone in, with seven new hand pulls and thirteen keg pumps.
As you would expect, twenty pumps mean the beer selection is impressive! West Berkshire Brewery beers dominate these pumps, but other breweries including Loose Cannon, Tiny Rebel and St Austell also feature. West Berkshire Brewery has a good selection of core beers, and for me are more commonly known for ‘Good Old Boy’ their best bitter. Not only do they have their core ales on tap, but they also have some of their impressive seasonal beers.
The first beer I tried was Mister Swift Pale Ale (3.8%) by West Berkshire Brewery, a light and hoppy pale with a bitter crisp finish. Following this, I moved to the Maharaja IPA (5.1%), light gold in colour with a good hoppy kick that finished with a lingering bitter aftertaste – a very drinkable IPA.
I then tried Smoke on the Porter (6%) one of their seasonal beers. This had a rich, raisin like aroma and really packs a punch. This tastes more alcoholic than a 6% beer and was a bit too rich for my taste.
The next beer up was Snake Oil (7.5%) which is their seasonal double IPA. Slightly hazy in colour with a fruity rich aroma. As you would expect from a double IPA, it has a really hoppy flavour that could be too much for some, but I really enjoyed it – be aware due to the alcohol content this could get expensive if you have a pint!
As part of the evening, I also had the chance to try some food from the new menu. This has been nicely refined to go well with the beer selection. They have four main sections of beer bites, sandwiches, loaded chips and bowls of joy.
The spicy fried cauliflower was really good and goes well with smokey chilli sauce. Louisiana chicken strips were flavourful and samples of sandwiches – salt beef, flat iron steak and pulled pork – were excellent!
In summary, The Grapes is back on the map! The selection of beer is excellent and well kept, the décor has been massively improved, and the food is great. To have another reasonably local brewery in Oxford I think is another good step forward for our beer scene as well. I look forward to trying more West Berkshire Brewery beers and seeing more of their seasonal efforts. The Grapes can pick up where Pint Shop left off, at a more affordable price as well.
I drank as a guest of The Grapes.