Setting aside its other attractions, Berkshire is traditionally one of the easiest counties in the Beer Guide to complete each year (compared to, say, Devon). It’s quite compact, most places are accessible by train, and opening hours are fairly standard.
That last quality is being weakened a bit by the erosion of lunchtime opening though, with the Guide, WhatPub and less impressively pub’s own websites failing to record a shift to 4pm start. Sunday closing isn’t confined to micro-pubs either, with the traditional roast seemingly essential to a worthwhile opening on that day.
There were 10 new entries (out of 54) in Berkshire this year, par for the course. That’s meant a couple of bargain nights in Newbury and latterly Reading, with some delightfully convoluted train journeys and the odd heroic walk.
One of those heroic walks wasn’t really that bad, a six mile round trip from the Nag’s Head to the northern edge of Caversham is only slightly uphill, and I like exploring residential areas, but you hope for a bit more than this at the end;
Folk who call Wetherspoons identikit have obviously never been in more than one Ember Inn. From Fulwood to Frimley Road, they have the same car park, the same clientele, the same furnishings…
That level of consistency is desirable to many, and it’s certainly desirable in beer quality. The Brakspear (£3, NBSS 4) was the best pint I had in The Berkshire 10. Glad I’m never going back though.
The same sentiment applies to the restaurant Buratta @ The Royal Oak in Ruscombe, a short hop on the train from Reading to Twyford and pleasant walk away.
I count the days till Simon Everitt reveals his thoughts on this one, as upmarket a dining pub as you could hope to find/avoid. There were a couple of tables at which drinkers could “enjoy” a tired Twyford beer (NBSS 2), but essentially the place was filled with OAPs with coffees waiting for set lunch. Let the photographic evidence reveal all.
Luckily there was life back in Reading, which continues to impress me more on each visit.
Far from the modern shopping horror of popular opinion, this is an attractive Victorian town of mixed styles, unmatched used of its riverside, and some lovely churches.
The two new Guide pubs both have a nod to craft. The Greyfriar, despite advertising otherwise, opened on Sunday to reveal a Manchester-standard of interesting beers, including a well kept Atom (NBSS 3) and Tickety Brew, in a very relaxed atmosphere with proper pub furniture, and a door that just would not close.
The busiest pub on Sunday night was the Queen’s Head, but that was due to the pub quiz. A more traditional cask range (Mr Chubbs NBSS 2.5) was complemented by the first self serve keg wall I’ve seen, a token system mirroring the one I saw for wine in the pioneering Glossop off-licence (here). No takers for it on Sunday, but an interesting idea.
Tim from Newbury and Sir Quinno, seemingly resident in The Nag’s Head, recommended the new Castle Tap, which might be called a micro-pub if it bothers you. It’s certainly small and dedicated to beer, with yet another Siren here being a good NBSS 3. Simple furniture; though perhaps a bit too bare for some after the lovable clutter of the Nag’s Head.
The Monk’s Retreat, one of three central Spoons, provided a cheap supper, pleasant surroundings, and perhaps the beer of the day in Titanic Stout (NBSS 4). The fact it’s not in the Beer Guide says as much about Reading’s pubby health as Wetherspoons consistency, I suspect.
See, I can be nice about the South-east. Wait till you see my Chichester piece.