BrewDog have managed to cultivate a cult following, with their independent Scottish roots, just slightly humorous beer names, and manufactured outrageous behaviour. But you can forgive them for things like stunt of beer in a dead squirrel because they are dedicated brewers who brew a very good beer. We British hate a success story, and like to root for the underdog (surely one of their beer names), but BrewDog are still on the right side of that divide. Aren’t they?
After getting their beer in to every supermarket in the land, the obvious next step for BrewDog was to launch a chain of pubs. Or craft beer bars as they call them (perhaps they are edging to the wrong side of the underdog divide). And in Reading we are luck to be the location of their 30th bar in the UK. 30th. Seriously. 30th. Even Norwich had one before us. Reading needs to up it’s drinking credentials if we are to avoid that sort of snubbing in future. Anyway, shortly after opening, BrewDog also decided to give a million pints of beer away (nationally, not just in Reading. A million pints would be a lot, even if every bar in Friar street joined in). That free pint is not something we would ever let influence our review, but it certainly was an offer just too good to pass on. So, having printed out vouchers discretely on the office printer, we decided to head all the way in to town to check it out.
The first thing we noticed was just how busy the pub was. The photo below does not do it justice at all. We had to push to get in the door, and it was 4 deep at the bar. This is not merely popular – it’s the very definition of heaving. Admittedly it’s the sort of busy that you see in London pubs every night of the week, but it’s the sort of busy that in Reading generally only happens in the Turtle at midnight on a Friday and Saturday. The combination of being relatively new, it being a bank holiday weekend, and the free pint probably all contributed. But basically, if you want a sit down, this isn’t the place to go. It did die down a bit later – by 11pm we could just about have swung a dead squirrel in a small circle above our heads, but not much more.
That busyness did give it an excellent vibe, helped along by some tunes that could be described as not just banging, but head banging too – Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. I suspect the music was meant to be a bit hipster and retro, but I’ve seen several of those bands live. I doubt that buys me any kudos with the younger drinkers in the bar, but I’m proud of it anyway, and if my Number Of The Beast t-shirt wasn’t 2 sizes too small, I’d wear it to show them (yes Mr. Affable – only 2 sizes too small).
And talking of the fellow drinkers, we realised that one of the Quaffable crew was almost certainly the oldest person in the bar. Not me – I’m definitely young and down with the yoof (although when I paid with cash, the barmaid put the card scanner down in surprise and looked at me like I was odd. No-one pays with cash any more granddad). About 75% of the other people in the bar were significantly younger and cooler than us. If you don’t have a splendid beard and a lumberjack shirt, you will be in the minority (note to self, get a mid-life crisis lumberjack shirt to wear over the top of the Iron Maiden t-shirt). Honestly, even the women in the bar were wearing lumberjack shirts. The walls are bare brick. There were pinball machines to play. The lightbulbs were industrial. Brew Dog have built a totally hipster bar, and the punters responded in kind. That’s not to say you will be unwelcome or uncomfortable even if you are not on an ironic away day trip from a Shoreditch design agency. The remaining 25% of punters were a broad mix of people – we even saw the landlord of another famous Reading pub in there enjoying a night out. It’s a fun lively atmosphere.
One great idea in the bar is the way they advertise and sell the beer. Instead of pumps along the bar with badges on them, they have a giant board behind the bar with a list of the beers, the strength, price and type. You can easily see a complete list of what they have without having to duck in and out along the bar and just going for the first one you recognise. The beers are all then served from taps at the back of the bar, meaning they can fit more types of beer along the bar too. It’s a genius idea that no doubt someone will tell me they first saw in a pub in London in 1972, or it was common in ancient roman times or something like that. I don’t care – it was novel for me, I was impressed, and other bars should copy it. Extra points for that. [Update, 26/4 – As predicted, Mr. Affable did indeed want to point out that he has seen it lots on the US]
How good was the beer though? I had a pint of Punk IPA to compare to the bottles and cans I’ve had at home. Tasted very good – no complaints there. So I moved on to try Clockwork Tangerine, a mildly citrus tasting IPA (4.5%). Often at beer festivals you read tasting notes of citrus tasting beers, and it’s hard to taste anything particularly citrus. This wasn’t like that – it was more like they had mixed a fair bit of Britvic orange juice in with the beer. Not modern Britvic though. No, I mean the sort that came in a miniature can that used to somehow pass as a starter in a restaurant in the 70s. Generally as an alternative to non-Heinz tomato soup or salad (which consisted of tinned ham, lettuce, egg, tomato and salad cream). That didn’t stop me having 3 pints of it though, so it can’t have been bad. Other folks went for the Jet Black Heart – a 4.7% stout. Smooth and creamy, and again one that kept people coming back for more.
If we had wanted food, there was a good menu of burgers and hotdogs. They claimed to serve food until 10pm, but I can’t see how they possibly could have managed it. Clearly the priority was drinking. However, they did have a bunch of snacks – “snacking” salami (did they really feel the need to clarify that it was for snacking on, and that a 3 course meal wasn’t going to appear from the packet?), pork scratchings, and Salty Dog crisps. I assumed that perhaps Salty Dog crisps were by Brew Dog themselves. I assumed wrong. They’re a small local crisp company- Chiltern Snacks. I’d like to champion the local guy, but in all honesty they tasted like any other crisps – at least after the 6 pints we were on by this point in the evening. On second thoughts, I wasn’t fit to review the crisps. Perhaps they are the best crisps in the world. I’ll need to go back and check. For now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt in the snack scores;
|Beer Quality||Great beer. All well kept and good quality. Not a bad pint, and I suspect they try hard to keep it that way as their brand name depends on it.|
|Beer Selection||Tricky one. They are mainly limited to one brand, so there’s no “best of breeds” here, and there won’t be a lot of change over time. However, it covers all corners of the beering world, so hard to complain.|
|Drink vs Food||Food was allegedly possible. Beer was given priority.|
|Music||80s metal classics, loud enough to hear quiet enough to communicate. Nailed it.|
|Snacks||Nice enough. Need to re-test the “snacking” crisps.|
|Atmosphere||Jam packed. Everyone having a great time. Very lively. Great for a party night out.|
|Price||£5.45 for a pint of Punk IPA. A bit on the high side.|