I haven’t done any reviews since COVID started, because I just didn’t think it was fair on venues to judge them in their diminished state. However, that has basically gone now. We can go to the pub without needing to buy a substantial meal. We can move between tables even after sitting down. And perhaps more of a loss, we don’t use apps to order our beer anymore. In this sweet spot between COVID killing the industry and energy prices killing the industry, there’s just time for a few reviews. And what triggered this one was a visit to a surprisingly good taproom just outside Reading.
The venue in question is the South Oxfordshire Brewery taproom, or “SOX Tap Room” as they like to be known. They are just 15 minutes drive north of Reading, or 30 minutes on the X39 or X40 from Reading station, so easily reachable by public transport. In case you haven’t heard of them, South Oxfordshire Brewery started in 2020 with the taproom opening in October 2022, so it has only been going for a few months. They also purchased White Horse Brewery late last year, and I assume that’s where they are brewing because as far as I could see there wasn’t any brewing kit on site (although I must admit I didn’t ask, which I now regret). They also have some folks who were formerly at West Berks Brewery, so it may be new but have some strong brewing heritage behind them.
The taproom is on a small industrial estate where Chiltern Park Aerodrome used to be, and from the outside it’s pretty standard for a taproom – i.e. a warehouse or a barn. There are tables outside which I am sure will be lovely in summer, but no so much in January. Inside though, it’s a completely different story.
I don’t know that SOX had a single decorating theme in mind. It’s a mix of Live Love Laugh in places, but then there’s a shabby-chic bar made of pallets, an urban graffiti wall, table football, some TVs for sports, and a ton of beer memorabilia. I’m not Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen though, so don’t listen to my decor opinions. What I will say is the rugs on the floor and tented ceiling with festoon lights and the eclectic decor made it a nicer place to hang out than some of the folding benches in a warehouse vibe that some taprooms have. I get the impression that they are at the start of their journey on this too, so it may all have changed by the time you get there
SOX are also really lucky to be 2 doors away from Nyama Catering, and the two of them have paired up to make this an excellent venue to get some food. So good in fact that locals flock there in huge numbers to eat in and take away, and you need to pre-order if you want to guarantee getting some food (check out their social media for details). When we went it was Greek food, and that was worth the trip alone.
Breweries can be split into two different types – the ones that make a new beer or two each week (think Siren and Double Barrelled), and breweries that focus on a single range, and focus on doing that well (e.g. Loddon). SOX falls very much in the second category. They have 4 main beers, and no sign of any one off specials. I drank their Pale Ale (3.5%), Mr. Toad’s best bitter (3.9%) and their darker 4% bitter, Midnight Belle. All three are served from a rack of barrels behind the bar. All were in excellent condition, and were fantastic examples of British bitter. Probably the favourite for me was Mr. Toad’s, which was smooth with just the right amount of bitterness for me. They clearly take pride in doing these beers excellently, and aren’t chasing the latest trend out of Bermondsey or trying to cash in on people (like me) who will go hunting for something new to put on untappd. As a result they have eminently drinkable beer that you can happily pass an afternoon with, especially at those more modest strengths than I often see elsewhere.
If you want something other than beer, they have cider, wine and a limited but good quality selection of spirits – Hobbs gin for example
|Beer Quality||Absolutely excellent|
|Beer Selection||Three bitters, one lager, some cider|
|Drink vs Food||Great food, but a taproom not a restaurant.|
|Music||90s hits quietly in the background|
|Snacks||Pipers crisps, pork scratchings|
|Price||£4.30 a pint of biter, £5.20 for lager|
|Space||Loads of room|
Well worth a trip into the countryside. Just make sure you check their opening times though. At the moment they are open Friday and Saturday noon to 7pm only.