Oxford’s newest brewery just happens to be its most exciting, and for once this is not solely down to a rather radical selection of brews.
Tap Social Movement, a social enterprise brewery, taproom and community space, has recently opened its doors on North Hinksey Lane at the back of Curtis Industrial Estate. But this is not any ordinary brewery.
Far from it. As well as brewing a host of great beers (and specialising in a style until recently fairly unheralded this side of the Port of Zeebrugge) they also provide training for people serving prison sentences, offering courses in brewing and business start-up, and providing one-on-one support in securing permanent employment to assist in effective rehabilitation.
Brewing and the rehabilitation of offenders are not obvious bedfellows however, so what has brought this unusual coupling into being?
The brewery was founded in 2016 by an intrepid trio of entrepreneurs who all had varying experience across the criminal justice system (one is a criminal barrister, another is studying for a doctorate in criminology for example) that led to them witnessing the difficulty people face when trying to turn their lives around after coming into contact with the law.
Seeing large numbers of people who have spent time in prison struggle to access education, training and employment, hindering their rehabilitation, and drawing them back into a life of crime, they realised that the booming craft brewing industry involves a range of transferrable skills that make it a great way of getting people engaged and interested in work.
So, once a brewery had been established and the first brews struck they set about creating a range of Tap Social programmes, offering an opportunity for people serving prison sentences to work closely with the team to develop new skills, learn about setting up and running a small business and to get real work experience in an engaging and fast-growing industry.
So, ethics aside, is the beer any good? Tap Social beers are made by American head brewer Jason from a handful of natural ingredients and are vegan-friendly. The core range includes well known styles such as pale ale and stout, but also has a couple of fantastic examples of sour beers which are refreshingly tart, innovative and exciting.
Sour beers are a much rarer style, originating in Belgium, and are much harder to produce. Unlike in modern brewing, done in a sterile environment to guard against the intrusion of wild yeast, sour beers are made by intentionally allowing wild yeast strains and specific bacteria into the brew. The most common agents used to intentionally sour beer are Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces, and Pediococcus, which all give their own unique taste and character to the brew.
Traditionally, Belgian brewers allow this to happen by cooling the wort in vessels a bit like large bathtubs (called a coolship, or koelschip), left open to the outside air to allow these wild yeasts and bacterias into the beer. Of course, this is an extremely unpredictable way of brewing, so modern brewers tend to avoid it, this uncertainty meaning the beer may take months to ferment and can take years to mature.
Our favourite Tap Social sour is the wonderfully named Big Boy Pants a Belgian farmhouse style sour ale with tart grapefruit flavour and aroma and low bitterness. It’s a great sour beer for those who haven’t tried one before – the low ABV and high carbonation make it very refreshing. The rest of the range are also very well crafted and tasty beers and easily some of the most original and exciting to be found in Oxfordshire.
What’s more, the taproom and bottleshop stock a range of other brewers’ beers including Ocelot favourites Renegade Brewery (open 4pm until midnight every Friday and Saturday) and brewing courses are available for individuals and groups of any size to spend a day learning how to brew, sample some beers in the taproom and take home their own beer.
To get in touch or for more information check their website out: www.tapsocialmovement.com