When the secret society that is actually in charge of Reading* was deciding who should write reviews about the town, I definitely won. Restaurant reviewers can only realistically review one restaurant a night, and event reviewers need to wait for someone to organise an event. I however, as one of the officially appointed pub reviewers, am in the lucky position of being able to sample as many places in one night as my brain and liver will allow – yay! Of course, I won’t drink just one pint in a pub and move on – I need to sample a few to be fair. That means in reality that about three pubs a night is my upper limit, a limit I pushed in the next series of reviews.
*you didn’t think it was the council, did you?
With that multiple pub review goal in mind, my good friend Grobber and I set off to town for a pub crawl around some of Reading’s most renowned pubs. And first stop on that list was The Alehouse. As Grobber reminded me, the first time we were in there, it was called The Hobgoblin. They changed their name in 2011, but it still says that above the bar, so I’m not sure how successful you could call that re-branding.
The Alehouse is a proper old pub, and the first thing you notice as you walk in is that the walls and ceiling are covered with old beer pump badges. Apparently over six thousand of them. The second thing is just how old the place is – worn out wooden floors, a bar that looks historic. It’s a real contrast to the shiny glass and sparkling counters of the other shops and restaurants nearby. It’s also full of little nooks and crannies. The bar area makes up about half the pub, but then there’s a corridor with small two seat booths on the way out to a few tables and then the toilets at the back (which have the look of once having been outside, and now only being inside by virtue of a cheaply erected roof 50 years ago). It’s a little maze, definitely worth exploring.
The Alehouse also has tables out the front, on Broad Street. That’s where I found Grobber sitting – he had got there early on the pretence of having to do some shopping. He’s not really the shopping kind, so I assume that he just wanted to get to the pub early. It’s a good place to sit for people watching, which starts the evening with people who have done some genuine shopping, then couples going out for a meal, followed by teenagers with not enough clothes walking between much trendier places than the Alehouse.
Grobber was enjoying a nice pint of Space Hoppy when I got there. That’s a particular favourite of mine, so I got myself a pint of it too, and Grob moved on to a pint of Erin’s American pale ale. When I paid (£8 for two pints) I asked if they took contactless. That was met by a “Yes” from the barman, and a “Wanker” from the giant standing at the end of the bar. And that seemed to sum up the atmosphere of the place. The other punters weren’t particularly friendly – somewhere between indifferent and downright unwelcoming. The atmosphere wasn’t helped by the death metal playing quietly through the world’s worst speakers (at least I assume it is the speakers that were awful – I suppose it could be that it was meant to sound muffled and indistinct).
The Space Hoppy was fine – not the best I have ever tasted, but not bad. The APA had a great flavour as you first sipped it, but had a very thin disappointing after taste. There was a good selection of other beers too though – Siren Craft Affogato, Vanilla Sky by New Wharf (way too sweet), Mister Swift’s Pale Ale and Mister Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter by West Berkshire Brewery, a Resolute Bitter, something from Wild Weather. Basically a really good selection of beers. Also a load of ciders and perries. The APA was easily the low point of the night – the West Berks beers were good, and it seemed to me like if you picked at random, you’d have an 80% chance of getting a good beer. And that’s a compliment – at many pubs you’d have a 20% chance.
I don’t often comment on pub’s websites, but The Alehouse website is something to behold. They have a list of beers that they are serving. Last updated 18 months ago. They do have a notice on there that mobile phones and children are banned from the bar. That fits pretty well with the welcome we got. Although perhaps this isn’t their current website. Their twitter feed (one line a month reminding people about a quiz), points to http://the-alehouse-reading.co.uk/. Don’t go there though – it mainly has Polish articles generated by a spam bot. Facebook has the same updates, but the link to the first website. In short, they have completely failed in their social media presence, which is no way to drum up new business these days.
|Beer Quality||The beer tasted well looked after. The only bad pint was probably just meant to be like that.|
|Beer Selection||A good range of beers, both local and beyond.|
|Drink vs Food||There’s no food. You come here for a drink.|
|Music||Really bad music on dreadful speakers. Fortunately it was quiet.|
|Snacks||Lots of crisps and scratchings.|
|Atmosphere||Not welcoming. A few unfriendly locals, and a few indifferent ones too.|
|Price||£4 a pint, which is a really good price for a town centre pub.|
|Space||Surprisingly large amount of space, stretched out through little nooks and crannies.|
I felt like I should like the Alehouse more than I did. They have good beer, which they seem to know how to look after. But the atmosphere just wasn’t welcoming, so it’s not somewhere I’d make a special journey to go to.