Artisan Aylesbury ales take centre-stage

Tring BreweryWith the publication of the latest CAMRA Good Beer Guide heralding the news that the UK has over 1000 breweries, you really don’t have to go far to find good beer. So when I was invited by Thame Food Festival to give a talk and beer tasting, it was immediately obvious what my theme should be: local beers from the Aylesbury Vale area. Hence I found myself spending a number of days exploring the rolling countryside of this beautiful part of Buckinghamshire nestling next to Oxfordshire.

From a brewery less than a year old, XT, within a few miles of Thame, to the godfather of craft brewers in the area, Chiltern Brewery, it’s been a mini-voyage of discovery. Meeting some of the passionate entrepreneurs that have turned a dream into a reality and their engaging teams cannot but send you away feeling inspired and enthused.

So join me on Saturday 29 September at 2.30pm as I share some of my favourite beers from some of the finest breweries in the region in the friendly setting of The Stables, out the back of Thame’s character-filled James Figg pub. Tickets cost £2, and details are below on how to obtain them, but first a snapshot of who we will be featuring. 

Artisans & pioneers

Rebellion beer listI’d had the good fortune to visit the pioneering Chiltern Brewery when I launched their Jubilee Sparkling Ale earlier in the year. So my next stop was, Rebellion, and what an inviting sight this Brewery shop is. With the ability to help yourself to a sample of fresh beer while you decide what to buy, no wonder when I turn up on a Saturday morning there’s such a buzz. Set up nearly 20 years ago by local lads Tim Coombs and Mark Gloyens, Rebellion now reaches hundreds of pubs nationwide.

Old Luxters BreweryWhat’s better than one great drinks producer? Two great producers on one site. Wind your way through the forests, spotting deer as you go, until you reach Old Luxters Brewery, established alongside Chiltern Valley Vineyards by the Ealand family in the early 1990s.

Proud possessor of a Royal Warrant, the first to go to a micro-brewery – apparently Prince Philip is rather partial to a drop of Old Luxters Gold, at the moment I’m deliberating between one of their specials – Diamond Jubilee Ale or Damson Ale – or the darkly satisfying Dark Roast.

Tring Brewery are on course to brew 1.8 million pints this year – not bad for a brewery that began just 20 years ago. With a beer tank devoted to beers for festivals, you might well have seen Tring’s flavourful array of beers around the county. Indeed, the minute I stopped chatting to Ben Marston, he was off to set up for the weekend. My choice for our tasting? It had to be Side Pocket for a Toad – surely the best name ever for a beer – although Death or Glory was a strong contender.

XT BreweryThen we’ll be darting back to the baby of the bunch – XT Brewery. Less than a year old, I’m lucky enough to meet both founders, Russ and Gareth, as they return from delivering some beer to a local freshly re-opened pub – now that’s a nice thing to hear.

Less than a year old, they have the novel approach of naming their beers from 1 to 8, light to dark, and I have to say they are giving me a hard time choosing my beer… will it be the ever popular 4, with its hints of coffee and medium hoppy finish, or no 8, one of Russ’s favourites? And a sign of their success is that they have just recruited their first employee, Fin, who you’ll meet if you come to our tasting. Fresh from college, he’s already involved in the brewing side of things, and we're delighted he's going to be helping us out during our tasting.

Vale BreweryFinally there’s Vale Brewery in Brill, owners since last year of not just one brewery but two, as the micro-brewery at their pub, The Hop Pole in Aylesbury, opened its doors. With parents in the pub business, the founders, Mark and Phil Stevens came from something of a drinks dynasty.

Meeting the passionate head brewer David Renton, pictured here with Phil, was one of the highlights of the day. Having done a double brew that day – you have to keep up with demand somehow – he was exhausted but happy. “Hops are like herbs”, David tells me. So, with a hop larder boasting 40 different varieties, expect some great blends, and to illustrate David’s deft touch, I’ve chosen the multi-award-winning Gravitas to share with you.

Finally, on the day I’ll be choosing a couple of cheeses to match with these beers from the lovely guys at the The Oxford Cheese Co. They are among the dozens of other fine food purveyors who you'll be able to sample at the Festival.

All the fun of the festival

2.30pm, 29 September, Local Heroes - artisan ales from the Aylesbury Vale Area; The Stables, James Figg Pub, 21 Cornmarket, Thame.
Places limited to 50. Tickets: £2, available from the James Figg & The Thatch; 01844 214340 and 260166; Fraser's friendly teams will be happy to reserve tickets for you.

Check out the great Festival website for further info on what’s on and where to find everything, from the Pop-up Pub to celebrity chef demos, from bands to book signings by Festival Ambassador, Raymond Blanc, this is going to be a packed day. 

See you there!