Phantom Brewing Co.

Taprooms seem to be cropping up everywhere around Reading, and the latest to join the collection is Phantom Brewing Co., which opened late last November. It seemed to come out of nowhere – the first I heard of it was a press release in the local newspaper of all places, and a lot of people seemed sceptical that it was even a real taproom. And in fact when it opened it wasn’t a real taproom, because they didn’t have the brewing equipment in at the time. But they have been up and running and brewing on-site for a few months now, so it’s time for a proper review.

For the pedants out there, the taproom isn’t called Phantom Brewing Co. That’s the name of the brewery, and that’s what you’ll see in big letters on the outside of the building, but inside the taproom bar is called The Haunt. I didn’t call it that in the review though because it isn’t what anyone calls it, not even Google maps, so it’d be generally unhelpful. If you google Phantom Brewing Co, you won’t find much at all. They have a twitter feed, a facebook page, and an instagram account, but no website. Given that the guys who own the place seem to have put a lot of effort into everything else, I have to guess websites are just too old fashioned for them.

When you first arrive, it’s not immediately obvious where the actual entrance is. The brewery is in a big warehouse unit not too far from the train station, but the door to go in is a nondescript little door at the edge. Fortunately, people coming and going make it a bit more obvious, but it is a challenge. A sign on the door saying “Beer This Way” wouldn’t go amiss. However, once you are in, Dom, one of the owners, seem to try to personally say Hello to as many people as possible, which sets a friendly tone for the place. That’s something that I think makes customers more likely to want to return, and is a trait shared by other popular independent businesses around town (I’m thinking of Nandana at Clays and Jo at Kung Fu Kitchen). It takes time and effort, but it pays off.
I’ve actually been to Phantom quite a few times, not just for the warm welcome, but also because of its location. I love Siren, but having a taproom in the middle of the countryside isn’t ideal. Double Barreled is amazing, but again it’s a cab ride for me. Phantom is near the town centre, and its walkability is a massive plus point compared with its more established competition. As if to prove that, on this particular Saturday, a bunch of us walked over after an afternoon watching rugby in the Fox and Hounds. We had a few on the way too, so some details in my review may be inaccurate. Indeed, as I consult my notes now some of it makes no sense at all. I have something written about a Steve (of which there were many that day) bribing his way across Russia and being blamed for an earthquake. Can’t be right, surely? And if anyone knows what I might have meant when I made a note “Blue hands, from Fort William”, let me know in the comments. It’s not impossible that it refers to how cold the temperature was in Phantom that day. It’s a large space to heat, so they only heat a bit around the bar. For everywhere else, bring a coat.

And it is a big space to heat. There’s not just the small-ish brewery in the warehouse – they’ve got space big enough for about a dozen of the folding tables and benches that taprooms seem to love, even though they bend in the middle when anyone but a supermodel sits on them. They’ve also got a shuffleboard table, skee-ball and a retro video game machine (that always seem to be off). That’s pretty good entertainment compared to many taprooms (although Elusive do a lot better on the video games, but that’s a review for another day). The nice bar, the expensive games, and a number of pricey Sonos speakers blasting out Blink 182 around the place says to me that they have must have thrown a lot of money at this venture- and that’s even before you add in the cost of building a brewery. It’s generally really busy though, so hopefully it’s paying back for them.

There is one area that they didn’t spend enough money though, and that’s the toilets. They have just 2 toilets for a whole warehouse of people necking beer. At busy times there can be a queue 15 minutes long. Someone seriously underdid the calculations on that one.

The beer in Phantom changes pretty regularly. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same beer there more than once or twice, which makes it hard to give a reliable description of what to expect. On this particular occasion I drank a lot of their Meadow Road IPA, and some Feeling This, both by Phantom. Both good beers. The guys apparently started off brewing in other people’s breweries, and the beer in the taproom in the first few months wasn’t brewed on site. When they started brewing in house the quality dipped a little in my opinion, but it’s getting back to its original quality again as they get more experience with the new equipment. If you aren’t a fan of their beers though, they serve a lot of other people’s beers too. I took the photo below of their selection on another night. According to the board they had The Perfect Cartwheel, Meadow Road, Common Courtesy, and Junk Food, all by Phantom, Up All Night by Track Brewing, a low alcohol hazelnut porter by Big Drop, Fig 2 by Yonder Brewing, Molly by Northern Monk, Verdant’s Export Stout, Little Pal by Oddesy, Drop Top by Deep Creek, and Doses by Duration. Not heard of many of those? You’re not alone, and as the selection changes regularly, it’s a good place to try something new.

Anyway, back to the night in question. The shuffleboard is popular (and free), but it freed up and we were able to have a game – playin a rematch of the Scotland vs England rugby game we’d just watched. This time Scotland won 21 – 20. It was a contentious result for several reasons though. The first reason was that we had an argument about whether we were playing Big Gary’s Manchester rules or normal rules. The second reason was that while we knew Big Gary’s Manchester rules were nonsense (each team at opposite ends – how could that work), we also didn’t know what the real rules where either, so it was all very ad-libbed. The guys who played after us asked is what the rules were and we told them our own invented rules as if they were the real thing, so if this keeps going they might just stick and become the “Reading rules”.

The sporting wonders didn’t end there. I had a go on the skee-ball game (you can see it in the photo below behind the silver fox darts player), which involves bouncing a ball into some holes over and over. I’ve never played before, but scored 2600. I’ve no idea if that is any good, so I googled and found an article in the New York Times that suggests that 360 is an amazing score. I can’t possibly imagine this arcade game version is any different to those professional games, so I assume I’m a natural and if anyone from the British Olympic Skee-ball team is reading, feel free to get in touch.

Anyway, there’s good beer, plenty to keep you entertained, and a nice atmosphere. I predict it’s going to continue to be a big hit in Reading. One thing to note – they are only open 3-10 on Fridays and 1-10 on Saturdays, so time your visit appropriately.

Beer Quality Really well looked after
Beer Selection A broad selection of craft beer that changes frequently
Drink vs Food It’s a taproom, but they get a street food vendor in on Saturdays
Music Generally unobtrusive rock
Snacks Savoursmiths crisps, and nuts and olives in a jar
Atmosphere Nice and friendly
Price £5 to £6 a pint
Space About 10 round tables in the bar, and then up to a dozen benches in the warehouse area. Often pretty full though.

Score: 7.5

As you can tell, I’m really impressed overall – good location, good beer, nice atmosphere. Fix the toilets and expand the opening hours and it’ll be great.

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