The Ballad Of Reading Ale
For the first time since my drinking recommenced I headed West, away from London, for my bar visits. I planned on making my first appearance in Reading for a couple of years and reacquainting myself with some of the great pubs and bars there. I have volunteered at Reading Beer Festival for more than 10 years, for my first ever session I was assigned to the Foreign Bar. I loved it and immediately asked if I could work all of my sessions there. Apart from providing assistance elsewhere when required I have never worked on any other bar and a few years ago I had the honour of being made Deputy Bar Manager. In fact the main reason for my visit was to meet up with John & Sue who have run the Foreign Bar for as long as I can remember, if not from the beginning, and who have taught me so much over the years.
I arrived in Reading just before noon and headed off for my first pub of the day, not in Reading but across the river in Caversham. It’s a little over ten minutes walk, significantly quicker now than it used to be thanks to the new pedestrian bridge, to get to the Fox and Hounds. This is a fantastic locals pub with a true beer loving landlord, Kevin, who ensures that there is always a fantastic selection available. On this occasion I managed to arrive in the middle of a Verdant tap takeover, so much for an easy start to the day! I somehow managed to limit myself to just a couple here, conscious that I had limited time and too many places to visit.
I left here for the walk back towards Reading, this time taking the longer route over Caversham Bridge and a route through residential back streets to an industrial estate just outside the town centre. My target was the taproom at Phantom Brewing but when I arrived it all looked closed up, maybe it didn’t open on Sundays after all. But. There was music. I was the only person in a closed industrial estate and I could hear music playing. While I started to get my phone out to check Google a local confidently strode straight up to the door and opened it. Why didn’t I think of trying that?! This is a relatively new brewery in a massive industrial unit with plenty of seating and smaller cosy area. It’s the sort of place that I’m sure many London breweries would love to have, that’s the advantage of basing yourself outside of the Capital. Plenty of their own beers on tap plus a few guests. I opted for the tasting flight of five beers that they had on offer, all of which were very good, and I couldn’t resist the new, to me, US brewery on tap, Green Bench.
Another stroll brought me to my third stop the excellent back street pub that is the Nag’s Head. This place is fully deserving of it’s reputation with a dozen cask ales on hand pump and 15+ more on tap, all served in perfect condition. This is how pubs should be, good beer and a thriving community hub. It was also here that I caught up with Sue & John for the first time in more than two years, such a good feeling! Needless to say there was much catching up over a few beers before we decided to move on to the next stop.
It’s less than ten minutes through the back streets to another of Reading’s superb community pubs, the Castle Tap. Fewer beers on offer here but no reduction in quality at all, and this pub placed the ace card of the day – bowls of cheese! £10 for three different high quality cheeses. I will never understand why more pubs and bars don’t offer this option, it is de rigeur on the continent and the perfect accompaniment to beer. Another testament to the wonderful community nature of this pub was the fact that a Mexican party was taking place in the back function room. And that pretty much sums up drinking in Reading, it’s a town worth travelling to for the quality of the pubs and the amazing beer choice, but equally you will be drinking with the locals. These are their pubs.
It was time to head back to the station for my train home, but the direct route back takes you right past BrewDog Reading so it would have been rude of us not to have a parting beer together here. I mean, I have a new passport to get stamped!
And so ended my all too brief time back in the Reading beer scene. It was so good to visit again and even better to catch up with good friends. I missed as many good places as I visited so I guess I’ll just have to go back again, and this time it hopefully take longer than two years. I also plan on spending more time trying to draw up a good pub crawl to share with you all here. Reading is definitely a beer destination, and less than an hour from London. It’s worth looking away from the Capital’s beer scene occasionally, I promise you won’t be disappointed.