AS the landlord at one of the city’s most decorated pubs prepares its annual Beer Festival, he told the Oxford Times that reports of the death of the city boozer were greatly exaggerated.

Chris Meeson has been at the helm of the family-run Mason’s Arms pub for the past 22 years.

The 52-year-old local resident says that the Headington Quarry pub – which has won the Campaign for Real Ale pub of the year award no less than six times – remains a true family business.

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Speaking to Oxford Times he said that despite the changing times and the loss of many pubs nationwide, there are real opportunities for pubs to thrive in the modern age.

He said: “Pub habits have changed, there is a different culture we have now, more of a café culture, we have gone a bit more continental.”

Asked about the fate of many other pubs which have closed down in recent years he said: “I think it is getting worse and worse.

Oxford Mail:

The first punter through the doors at last year's Headington Beer Festival.

“I can understand why some pubs can’t survive – Sky TV costs a fortune each month and people are very careful with their money now.

“That is why we host lots of events here for people.”

Of the many and varied events the pub hosts is the popular annual Headington Beer Festival which regularly sees hundreds of beer lovers descend on the pub.

At last year’s event, which was a sell-out, there were dozens of different drinks on offer, from a toffee apple-flavoured cider to a chocolate stout.

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The pub also puts on live music for the three-day celebration of beer from producers and suppliers that operate all over the world.

Mr Meeson said: “We are in our 18th year this year, we first started it a few years after we came to the pub and started taking the reins with the real ale.

“We wanted to do something that showcases what we do and then it became an annual showcase.

“The response has been incredible: obviously we have a lot of regulars that come back year after year but we also get new people from all over.”

Oxford Mail:

Over the last decade the pub has also regularly caught the eye of the Oxford Campaign for Real Ale and has been awarded pub of the year an impressive six times.

For its most recent win earlier this year judges hailed the quality of the beer as well as the ambience at the inn.

CAMRA spokesman Dave Richardson said of that win: “It’s great to see the Masons reclaim the city pub of the year award having won it several times before.

“It’s a rare example of a thoroughly traditional non-food pub with lots of sports teams and a real connection with the local community, and of course a great choice of traditional ales.”

He added: “It’s an independent business run by the Meeson family for many years which makes it all the more pleasing that it’s come out on top.”

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Speaking of the successive CAMRA wins Mr Meeson said: “It is amazing really.

“We won it for a sixth time this year which is really incredible because every pub, every bar, has upped their game.

“For us it has always been about real ale.”

Pubs have seen a great deal of change in recent years, he said, including the introduction of a smoking ban and the popularity of ‘alcohol-free’ campaigns such as Dry January.

Closures have also been commonplace across the country in recent years, including local pubs in Oxford such as the Osney Arms off Botley Road in 2011 and more recently George Street’s The Pint Shop.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Meeson large and in charge at the Mason's Arms.

Others have turned their fortunes around, with The Somerset Arms in Marston Road closed before it was reborn as The Up in Arms.

Community ventures have also saved pubs under threat of closure such as The Abingdon Arms in the village of Beckley, just north of Oxford, which was saved after a local campaign by the Beckley and Area Community Benefit Society.

Asked about some of the challenges affecting the pub trade in 2019 he said: “It has become harder and harder.

“We have tried to keep ourselves as traditional as possible: 20 years ago pubs were all the same but people are recently very choosy.

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“I think in Oxford [the pub scene] is fantastic, we have some real gems here and in Headington.”

Speaking of the pub’s future Mr Meesen proudly said that his eldest son at 18 has just passed his licensing examinations and is now looking at joining the ranks at the Headington Quarry family institution.

Mr Meeson has also previously been outspoken on a number of issues affecting the pub trade, from rounds of closures to the introduction of the smoking ban to Dry January and how it has affected trade.

Asked about the recent trends and how they are affecting his pub in the ever-changing market he said that despite some of the doom and gloom there were plenty of opportunities to be found.

Oxford Mail:

He singled out low and non-strength alcohol as a blossoming market and one which he planned to explore at the pub.

He went on to say that craft ales and gin were also big sellers for modern pubs, with the explosion in new craft beers that are miles apart from the traditional branded lagers.

But he stressed that ‘real ale’ was still their focus despite noting that the key to survive in the current market was to sit this ‘alongside’ the traditions.

He added: “There is certainly a future, you just have to move with the times.”

The Headington Beer Festival will be held at the Mason’s Arms pub between Friday September 6 and Sunday September 8.