Reading Festival

By | 25/08/2018

Arguably Reading Festival doesn’t really count under the remit of pubs in Reading, but then neither does Reading Beer Festival or Reading Cheese Festival, and it’s important to know what the drinking situation is like if you are heading there. Time is of the essence on this though, so enough pre-amble and on with the review.

Although a little pre-amble wouldn’t hurt now I think about it. Mrs. Quaff and I used to go to the Reading Festival when we were young, and would happily spend all day lying in the sun, drinking Carlsberg, listening to the likes of Blur and Fun Lovin’ Criminals. When we had kids that came to an abrupt stop, along with things like getting enough sleep and having any time to ourselves at all. Now they are older though, we like to drag the Quafflings along to Reading Festival on the tenuous grounds that perhaps it gives them bragging rights at school (the reality is that they enjoy all the swearing, are indifferent about half the bands, and wouldn’t admit to anyone that they went with their mum & dad to a music festival).

So, Mrs. Quaff and I headed off to Reading Festival with two Quafflings in tow. We went on the Friday because Quaffling junior is a big fan of Fall Out Boy. As it turns out, the weather was dire on Friday, and the rest of the review should be read with that firmly in mind – i.e. I am biased by the fact that I was cold and wet and much of the festival site looked like a barren post-apocalyptic travelling fairground as litter blew in piles along the empty wet ground. In fact it was  in many ways an ideal backdrop for a McFadden’s Cold War montage.

Empty festival site at 4:30pm

Anyway, enough scene setting. What is the quality of the drinking like? There are 5 main bars at Reading Festival – known as Bar 1, Bar 2, Bar 3, Bar 4 and Bar 5. There might also have been a Bar 6 – I gave up checking. Here’s Bar 4 for example;

Each one of them sells exactly the same thing, which is Carlsberg and Somerby Cider, plus anonymous red, white and rosé wine by the glass or bottle, and a bunch of spirits and a few soft drinks.

Prices are not unexpectedly high for a festival – £5.50 a pint. And contactless is accepted for those who can’t face the cash machine queues. But unless you want awful beer, this is not the place for you. The Carlsberg tasted of water, and the Cider tasted of vinegar. Perhaps it’s not surprising when the beer is mass produced and arrives in giant tanker lorries.

Anyway, I gave up on the main bars, and went for a wander to see what else I could find. First was the Rocktail Cocktail bar, next to the main entrance. A bunch of cocktails – Glasgow Mule, Apple Mojito, Peach Daquiri. An eye watering £10.50 for a double shot.

Next was the Smirnoff Bar, clearly part of a corporate branding exercise to push premium priced vodka on youngsters who would prefer to be spending it on avocado toast (available in the campsite restaurants if you are interested). The choice is basically vodka and a mixer, £6 for a single, £10 for a double.

The photo above was taken at 4:30pm, and it looks awful. If it was sunny, it would have been crowded with people lounging on the grass, chilling out with a vodka and coke, but in the wind and rain I wonder if most people didn’t just head back to their tents. I took another photo later which gives a much better impression of the sort of lively youth brand that Smirnoff would like to portray, so don’t be put off by the awful afternoon photos.

Next up was the Carlsberg Danish Quarter bar. It was actually quite nice – an indoor space with seats, proper hipster lighting, and (of course) a photo booth where you can take selfies with conspicuous Carlsberg branding to post on social media as an advert for the company. However, it sells mainly the same shit as the main bars, but with the addition of Carlsberg Export (4.8% version of Carlsberg), Somersby Strawberry and Rhubarb (Somersby is owned by Carlsberg) and Carlsberg 0%. No real improvement there.

Last up was a funky little VW camper van, called Beetle Juice. A couple of guys serving Mojito’s and so on from a van for £9. A better price than the other cocktail bars, assuming it is a double. I had a slight issue that it’s called Beetle Juice, but it’s in a VW Camper, not a VW Beetle. But then I realised that Camper Juice doesn’t sound at all appetising, so I’ll let them off.

Not being a massive fan of spending all day drinking expensive cocktails, I gave up looking for good drinks and decided to get some food for the Quafflings. First stop was the Mac & Cheese Burger stall. Quaffling senior is a massive fan of Mac & Cheese (and not much else), so this was a no brainer. However, a fancy sign and a speciality don’t help quality. The Mac & Cheese could perhaps better have been described as Mac & thin white sauce. There was no evidence of any cheese, or indeed any other flavour. That was £6.50 wasted – it went in the bin after we had all tried a mouthful. So far all pretty disappointing.

Giving up on food temporarily we went to watch the Wombats. Some classic songs like Moving to New York really helped to lift the mood. But then it was time to go see Dream Wife, as recommended by Explore Reading. And as we turned the corner for the Festival Republic stage, we found a little corner of the festival that Mrs. Quaff described as being like the Radio 2 Party In The Park  corner of the site. They had 21 day aged farm burgers, luxury brownies, ostrich burgers, stone baked pizza, wild Alaskan salmon, and coffee served out of a horse box. And, the hidden craft beer bar!

The craft beer bar had Otter Ale (£6), Otter Bitter, Wherry Best and Tetley Golden Ale (all £5.50). Actually I think it was Tetley Gold, brewed by Carslberg, so perhaps not truly a craft beer, but all the beer was out of barrels, and the three that I tried tasted good (they were out of Wherry Best for some reason). The staff knew nothing at all about the beer, and it is in a plastic cup, but it’s so much better than the rubbish at the main bars. If you are at the festival, seek out this bar and get your drinks there.

While in the craft area, Mrs. Quaff went off to get some gourmet food instead of the rubbish elsewhere. She explored for about 20 minutes and came back with chunky chips. “They’re gourmet chunky chips with real Hellmann’s mayonnaise” she protested. And indeed they tasted great. But while you can find an OK pint, a foodie festival this is not.

Beer Quality Poor to OK
Beer Selection Three bitters (one Carslsberg), two Carlsberg lagers, two Carlsberg owned ciders. It’s all a bit Carlsberg. At least the Otter bitter is good.
Drink vs Food Plenty of both
Music Definitely 10 out of 10 – fantastic bands.
Snacks Stalls selling pick and mix and biltong and loads of chips and so on.
Atmosphere Lots of testosterone and beer fuelled teenagers. Can be a bit pushy.
Price Far too much – £5.50 for a pint of weak lager.
Space Plenty of grass to sit on, as long as you sweep the dropped chips and pizza out of the way.

Score: 6.35

If you are going for the beer, forget it and go to the pub and watch the festival on your phone. If you are going for the music, head to the area next to the Festival Republic stage for the craft bar and the slightly better food.

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