Friday 11th September 2015
I have known this pub on and off for over 40 years. At the end of the 1960s and in early 1970s Reading was a very good destination for a variety of different beers.
The town was dominated by Courage pubs yet there were other choices if you looked for them. The Courage connection came about because the Courage & Barclay’s brewery took over the local H & G Simonds brewery in 1960.
Simonds were founded in 1785 and their brewery on Bridge Street just south of the town centre was a landmark for many a long year. Today what’s left of its building have been converted into flats.
It was built alongside the Kennet and Avon canal which was very useful for bringing in the raw materials. Simonds kept its name and famous hop leaf logo on its beers and pubs until the end of the 1960s.
If I remember correctly there were three beers, Bitter, Best Bitter and Mild, all cask, not keg. When labelled for Courage the Best became Courage Best Bitter with no change of recipe. Bitter was extinguished fairly quickly and mild suffered a slightly slower death. But at least we had Best Bitter which was a deep ruby red beer and far better than the other Courage Best Bitters from their London, Bristol and Plymouth breweries.
All good things come to end though and the Bridge Street Brewery closed in 1978 on the opening of a huge keg brewery at Worton Grange south of the town and crucially near to the M4. Incidentally this led to the closure of the Plymouth, London (1981) breweries and finally, the Bristol Brewery (formerly George’s). In the end the new brewery closed in April 2010 with the Courage brands being purchased by Wells & Young.
The London Tavern was a Courage pub and this is where I was visiting on this day. However let me just finish the tale of good beer in Reading. Whitbread through their brewery in Marlow, formerly Wethered’s had several pubs. The beer was marketed under the Trophy Bitter name, yet regained its original title before the brewery closed in 1988. Morland’s of Abingdon had a pub in St Mary Butts, Brakspear’s of Henley also had one and Ushers of Trowbridge also had a solitary outpost at the West end of Friar Street. All of these pubs had at least one cask beer from their respective owners.
As the empires of the big breweries collapsed, partly as a result of their own implosions and also the effects of the Beer Orders, many small pubs were sold off and one of them was the London Inn on Broad Street. If it hadn’t been taken over by the Wychwood Brewery of Witney, Oxfordshire, I think I can safely say it would have closed down, as it is very small and in a prime location.
There is some dispute as to when the pub was actually taken over, 1993 or 1994. Wychwood Brewery is named after the ancient forest that surrounds Whitney, Oxfordshire, where the brewery is located. The company’s leading beer brand is also named Hobgoblin and is 5.2% abv. The company was taken over by Refresh UK Ltd in 2002 and in turn they were purchased by Marston’s in 2008. Wychwood and are now one of their five breweries around the country.
In the early 1990s Wychwood created a chain of pubs under the Hopgoblin name. They were in university towns and cities and targeted students with discounts on food and drink. They stocked Wychwood cask beers with a few more from other breweries.
All were previously pubs before the Hobgoblin era yet over the last ten years or so, many of them have been renamed, often going back to their original titles.
This occurred to the Reading pub in April 2012 when it became the Alehouse. It is said that the reason for the change was because Marston’s levied a charge on the pubs to use the name. This sounds a bit strange but it has been mentioned more than once. As far as the Reading pub was concerned, it was easily the best of the chain. At least of the ones that I visited. There was always a fantastic selection of cask beers and ciders and it is no different now.
I went up the few outside steps passing the outside chairs and tables on Broad Street that were well-occupied as it was a pleasant day. Once through the door you will see that the bar dominates the small main room. There are a few seats by the front window and opposite the bar is raised seating area. The walls are covered with pub clips of beers past.
A notable facet of the decoration is the old stained-glass window from the old London Tavern looking out from over the steps. It is interesting to note that from the pub’s inception, possibly as long as 300 years ago, it was known as the Cock Inn. It still carried that name in 1863 and must have charged not long after that. The other odd inn sign is near the front window and is for the Campaign Arms. It mentions CAMRA’s founding with a coat of arms displayed, which includes a lion and a unicorn, a flight of somebody’s fancy?
The same few steps up also take you to the labyrinth of small snugs at the back of the pub. I believe these are unique. There are several tiny rooms that each accommodate two to four drinkers in some privacy. The fitted furniture is all wood and very old at that. One of the rooms even has its own fireplace. The corridor that links them all leads to the toilets. The less said about the Gents the better, but at least there’s a roof on it these days!
On top of the bar are nine hand pumps. Previously one was dedicated to cider but nowadays the ciders and perries are dispensed from bags in boxes. Three of the pumps are dedicated to the West Berkshire Brewery and when I visited these were: Good Old Boy (4.0%), Dr Hexter’s Healer and Mr Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter (3.7%).
The remaining six pumps are for the guest beers and the first of these was Hammerton (Pentonville, London) Geist Weis (5.0%), a wheat IPA????. More conventionally there was: Stonehenge (Netheravon, Wiltshire) Spire Ale (3.8%); White Horse (Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire) Guv’nor (6.5%).
From XT Brewing (Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire) there was Platypus (4.6%) one of their one-off brews that are apparently brewed by animals entering the brewery at night. I’m not sure I believe that. The remaining two were Bingham’s (Ruscombe, Berkshire) Doodle (5.0%) and Bristol (Bristol) Beer Factory Independence (4.6%).
Cider (and perry) lovers were catered for by Gwynt y ddraig (Pontypridd, Glamorgan, South Wales) Ancient Warrior (6.5%) and Two Trees Perry (4.5%); Tutt’s Clump (Bradfield, Berkshire) Royal Reserve (7.0%), Gwatkin (Abbeydore, Herefordshire) Pyder (5.0%) (a sweet cider / perry mix) and Sandford Orchards (Crediton, Devon) Pear Shaped Perry (7.5%).
Finally, something quite different, Mead. They had Lyme Bay (Lyme Regis, Dorset) Mead (14.5%), sold in 125ml glasses. So pretty well everything you wish for in a pub, except food, but this is the Alehouse so why should there be any! Of course packaged snacks are offered; peanuts, crisps, pork scratchings, pretzels and the like. It’s a great little quirky pub and shouldn’t be missed if you are in town. So, please look at this small parody of the logo of the Czech Kozel brewery displayed on the wall. Well, I think it’s funny.
The Alehouse, 2 Broad Street, Reading RG1 2BH. Tel: 0118 950 8119
Open: Monday-Saturday 11.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
The pub is in the centre of town and is easy to reach on foot from the railway station.
From the railway station come out on the town side at the bottom of the four escalators, cross to Station Street opposite. Walk along this street, cross over Friar Street and go into Queen Victoria Street on the other side. Then turn left into pedestrianised Broad Street. Continue along here and you will see the pub on the left.
The station is reached in 25 minutes from London Paddington and is a major hub for Cross-Country and the Great Western Railway Companies. The town centre has buses to all areas of Reading provided by the excellent Reading Buses Company.