I’ve lived in South Reading and North Reading, and worked in East Reading. I know them pretty well, and like to think I’ve been in the majority of the better pubs in all of them (and of course many of the not so good ones as well). But even after two decades in Reading, west along Bath Road is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s still just the road to get to Sainsbury’s as far as I know. However, the Castle Tap on Castle Street (the steep one heading out of town – you know, on the way to Sainsbury’s) keeps generating enough buzz that I had to check it out, as pub three of the epic pub crawl.
I realise that the Castle Tap is hardly very West at all. But my rule is inside the IDR = central Reading, and anything outside that is North/South/East/West. That might seem a bit arbitrary, but it works, even for pubs just on the boundary. For example, The Greyfriar – just inside the IDR, and definitely a town centre pub. The Hook and Tackle – just outside the IDR, and very much not a town centre pub. If you are inside the IDR, you can charge about £1 more a pint, and will still have lots of customers. Outside the IDR, lower prices, and more locals than passers by.
So, did the Castle Tap break my rule? Well, half. First of all it definitely didn’t have the passing trade. When we walked in at about 9:30 at night, there were two other people in the whole place. One sitting at the bar, and one sitting at a table having some soup while working on his laptop. It was hard to tell who might be the barman. It turned out to be laptop guy – and I felt kind of guilty about interrupting his dinner. However, we had tripled the number of customers in the place so he was nice and friendly to us.
The beer selection in the pub was pretty good. On the pumps they had Good Old Boy by West Berks., Jam on Toast by Wild Weather (a strawberry jam brown ale), Crime Scene, an amber ale by Anarchy Brew Co., Luke Styporker by Potbelly, and Fracture In The Road by Hopcraft. Five beers on draft wasn’t bad for a quiet pub like this. They also had a bunch of key keg beers – Disco King by Turning Point, Tentacular Spectacular by Padstow Brewing Company, Transatlantic – New England Black IPA by New Wharf, and Doppelbock by Art Brew. Wow. I don’t think I’ve seen such a hipster selection of beer outside of Shoreditch.
I started with a Fracture In The Road – very nice. Grobber went for a Crime Scene – also good. That came to just over £8. So far so good. However, next round I had a Disco King. For the same price as the pint of Fracture In The Road, I got 2/3 of a pint of Disco King. They only sell the key keg beers in 1/3s and 2/3s, but charge the same or more as for a pint on draft. I asked why, and was told it was because those beers are stronger. Except Disco King was only 5.1% – weaker than the Crime Scene. Yes, the cellar equipment costs a bit more, but not that much more. So the number of customers fits the outside IDR pattern, but the prices are closer to inside IDR prices – at least for the key keg beers. It was tasty beer though.
The food in the Castle Tap is also pretty hipster. You can get a cheeseboard with homemade chutney for £7.50, or a selection of Spanish ham and cheese for £10.30. Snacks are more conventional – Salty Dog crisps and nuts.
To round off the hipster scene, they also sell badges. Badges of people’s faces. One looked like George Cole in St. Trinians, and another like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The others might have been 70s footballers – I’m not sure. I feel like I should have known, but I’m just not cool enough.
Also, if you are feeling in the mood, you can get a pewter tankard to drink out of instead of a glass. I never understood the attraction of a slightly metallic taste with your beer. When I was at university, the student union committee members each had a pewter tankard behind the bar that went with their role, and only they could drink from it. I think half of them went in to politics afterwards. That pretty well sums up what I think of pewter tankards.
Atmosphere in the Castle Tap is a bit odd. Yes, it was quiet the night we went in. Hopefully much quieter than normal, or they’ll be out of business soon. One guy left, but another two came in, so 4 people max. Everyone was nice enough, and with so few people in the bar it was almost natural to join in with other people’s conversations. Or rather, I drunkenly interjected factual corrections to other people’s tales from across the room – which is similar to conversation. But the odd thing really is the bar. It’s a massively tall room, and it’s lit as brightly as most pubs only get at chucking out time. And despite the nicely painted walls and wooden floor, it’s all a little messy, in a way that you’d want to hide by dimming the lights. A lot. By scruffy I mean lots of notices pinned to the wall on a random way. Cider in disintegrating boxes. Wires running to plug sockets half way up the wall. None of it is unpleasant, but it needs a de-clutter and a dimmer switch.
|Beer Quality||Good tasting beer. A broad selection in a quiet pub can be a disaster of out of date beer, but not here.|
|Beer Selection||Interesting beers, and a good selection. Great if you like IPAs.|
|Drink vs Food||The food is limited. The focus is on the beer. They do sometimes have the excellent popup Georgian Feast come in and cook though.|
|Music||Quiet inoffensive music. Nothing memorable.|
|Snacks||Salty dog nuts and crisps.|
|Atmosphere||Lighting too sterile, and too few people.|
|Price||£4ish a pint, unless you drink the key keg beers – then up to £8 a pint.|
|Space||Plenty of room, and a second room out the back for sky sports.|
If you live locally, I’m sure it’s a great pub to go round the corner to. It’s not quite enough to drag me up the hill from the town centre though – at least not for a normal night. Having Georgian Feast and the occasional live band is perhaps more of a draw though, so keep an eye out on Twitter for those – unlike many Reading pubs, Castle Tap do seem to actually keep up to date on there.