For the month of love, we decided to look at how others are putting a little bit of love and justice into good beer and society.
On a recommendation from a colleague, our team travelled to Tap Social this month to experience a brewery like no other.
In darkness, we arrived on an industrial estate not too far from the centre of Oxford. Not being fully sure what to expect we were looking forward to an experience with a twist, after all, it’s not often you arrange to see a brewery that contains a taphouse, bottle shop, community space and provides employment for convicted criminals.
Lit with low mood lighting, first impressions suggest that of a modern take on the prohibition era. The homebrew effect of the fermentation tanks behind the bar, along with the original hand-drawn art, floating chairs and mishmash of home furnishings create a feeling of transportation. We felt instantly welcomed and at home all at once. There is an earthy hops smell in the air, and the music echoes around the building creating an ergonomic effect which is enchanting.
Tess and Paul greeted us on arrival with warm enthusiasm. Co-founders, Tess, Paul and Amy’s vision has come to life in this multifunctional space. It houses a vision of passion, not just about social justice but also great tasting beer. Tess pours us a refreshing ½ pint to start the evening from choices such as pale ales, stouts, sour ales and not forgetting a great tasting gluten-free option. We have our work cut out deciding, but she makes it simple by determining if we can handle a sour taste! Each offering presented is a taste sensation as they brew without using finings, leaving each option with a cloudy but superb finish. Paul takes us on a tour around the space. First, the open community space on the first floor above the brewery and the taphouse. It’s simplistically elegant with a spacious area for seating, perfect for functions.
Then down to the brewery itself to see how they make their own brews. Having started from scratch Paul, a Criminal Lawyer by trade, explained that Tess’ background is in London bars. Despite her knowledge and their combined excitement, there have been some sharp learning curves in the past. Now after teaming up with head brewer, Jason (who originates from America), they are now on to something truly special. Jason did not need convincing to join the group as he was keen to work with a social enterprise who were doing something different and this place certainly fits that bill.
The brewery itself is small but efficient. Half the equipment can do its work in around a day and then the fermentation tanks kick in, spending the better part of the week finishing the job. The by-products of their labours, the grains, are all given to local farmers who feed them to their livestock, filling Tap Social’s aim of limiting their waste as much as possible.
Overall the brewery tour experience was short, sweet but illuminating. It was very clear they put a lot of thought, love and care into each product they produce, making sure the taste is sublime with special flavour savouring techniques during the boiling process. Being small they also use a kegging technique you may not see in larger breweries. They use plastic kegs which hold the beer in a foil packet. The gas used to pressure the kegs fills the remaining space within the container. This means none of their beer interacts with the gas, giving what Tap Social describes as a ‘better taste and pour for your money’. It also means one keg can be tapped as long as 6-8 months – perfect for smaller venues or individual customers who might not use a whole keg in one night.
The beer itself! You have a great selection to choose from in the taphouse and from £4.50 per draft for that handcrafted and great tasting feeling it’s brilliant value. With names like Good size Eh, 29 In A Million, Tung Feeler, Monkey Bars, Big Boy Pants and Bleeding Heart Numbskulls you could be forgiven for being totally confused on what to try first! However, your taste buds can definitely do the deciding for you. Each product they produce is unique in taste and name. We found there was a story behind each recipe. The product names honour both its production roots and a special person. When we say they really add the personal touch – we mean it!
Having been treated to a small sample of each current product I can say the Tung Feeler was my personal favourite, at 4.3 % ABV it’s crisp, refreshing and golden. A light ale that’s also certified gluten-free. Grebe’s Procession was thoroughly enjoyed by us too – a rich and roasted oatmeal offering that hints at coffee and biscuits both in aroma and taste. It’s also named after Tess, please feel free to ask her why when you pop in! If, like us, you have trouble deciding, do not fear as you can try a flight of thirds, that’s three small ones for those not familiar with the practice. It’s a great way to see which satisfies for only £4.50.
Now let’s talk about the criminal in the room! I will say first and foremost we did not bump into anyone with chains, jumpsuits or generally looking suspicious… instead we found a group of people offering a solution to a problem! Having been witness to the difficulties people have regaining their place in society after their time in prison the founding trio along with other supports wanted to do something to change this, offering an alternative pathway to returning to a better life, with options apart from returning to past ways. Often a criminal record is a dissuading factor to achieving the goal of employment, so providing an opportunity to gain experience on day release or after they leave prison is one way to help. By creating a space where varying types of people can come together to share talent, learn and create they feel they have achieved this goal.
Tap Social’s work with prisons is clearly visible. Their walls are covered with the artwork of inmates and many of their bottle labels include prisoner’s artwork. It’s truly humbling to see their stunning creations, more than anyone could imagine – it’s one of those light-bulb moments. Thought provoking. Tap Social’s work will continue. Working closely with prisons they have developed work experience and business start-up opportunities to aid inmates both before and after release. They offer CV help, interview training, whilst providing valuable practical and transferable skills through opportunities with the very special brand of beer. Being a small commercial enterprise, their manufacturing methods are very labour intensive, which works well for offering opportunities to help make life-changing moments.
You can get involved to, by visiting you are supporting this great cause. Make sure you take a look at what they have going on their website. On certain weekends live entertainment fills their venues and food trucks set up outside. We can 100% say it turned out to be more than a perfect evening for us. Not only does Tap Social have criminally good beer, it’s also served with a side of love and social justice!
Tap Social – 01865 236 330, 27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane, Oxford OX2 0LX