It’s probably best not to enquire how Lady A and I ended up in Reading a few days ago. Certainly no answer will be forthcoming from this quarter. Suffice it to say that we did. Now Reading does not have a particularly good reputation as an after-dark venue. There’s fighting and muggings and hooliganism – perhaps not that different from any other similar sized town, but somehow Reading has gained a certain notoriety.
Determined to make the best of it, I turned to my trusty Good Beer Guide. There are six entries for Reading which, notwithstanding the above, I see as a very good sign. One entry caught my eye in particular. That was the Hobgoblin on Broad Street, right in the middle of the town. According to the GBG, the ‘Goblin’ is ‘…renowned for its wide variety of ales, almost always from smaller breweries… there is usually something new to try every time you go in.’
I’d walk right through the muggings and hooliganism and rioting to get to a pub like that, so I chose to ignore the dire warnings about the town’s night life, and we bravely walked up the main street to the pub. It’s fairly obvious when you get there, large numbers of people are bustling about outside on the pedestrianised street. Mostly smokers, but also some people just sitting on the benches outside enjoying the rather mild weather.
We walked it. The first thing that struck me was the huge number of pump clips stuck to the walls, ceilings, window recesses, in fact, everywhere you looked. The impression is that not a square inch of wall or ceiling is without a pump clip. Many pubs put their pump clips on the wall or along the bar or sometimes in a nice little frame, but the Hobgoblin has taken this to the extreme, and I loved it. There’s something about sitting down with a good pint and peering at the clips on the wall, trying to work out which of the represented beers you have had, and mentally noting those you wish to seek out.
The second thing I noticed was the barman, heavily tattooed and wearing a vest. The bar room is quite small, with a couple of tables but room to stand, if that’s your fancy. Walking further back into the building, you find about half a dozen little nooks, each with its own doorway, containing a table and seating for two, three or four. All these little areas are, of course, completely covered with pump clips. These intimate spaces are a delight. I dumped my belongings and headed back to the illustrated barman. I asked him if he could recommend a good dark ale. I think I instantly made a friend, he was clearly knowledgeable about the beers and was glad to share his knowledge. He recommended two. I took a half of each.
The first was Plain Inndulgence. Plain is a new brewery to me, having started production in Wiltshire in 2008. The beer is a ruby porter, dark red and has an ABV of 5.1%. It has a lovely smooth mouthfeel, the taste being malty and strongly coffee flavoured without being bitter. The midtaste produces very slight spirituous overtones. I began to see why this pub has such a good reputation. This beer was superb and in perfect form.
The second of the barman’s recommendations was Art Brew Tempest Stout. This is again a dark red beer, a little lighter in colour than you normally expect from a stout. It presents a nice brown head. The taste again doesn’t seem quite what you would expect from a stout. It looks and tastes like a mild. Sweet and fruity and very drinkable. The taste dies very quickly after the swallow leaving very little appreciable aftertaste.
By now, I felt confident that I was in a pub that knew how to look after its beers, so I decided to do the whole bar. Four more beers awaited me, and I next went for two beers from the West Berkshire brewery – LocAle here.
First up was Humeller, a 4.3% bitter. Malt and hops on the nose follows through into the taste. There’s also a nuttiness here, and distinct sweet notes. It’s good, and it grows on you the more you have.
West Berkshire’s next offering was Mr Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter. At 3.7% and with a dark reddy brown colour, this one again looked more like a mild to me. The taste is sweet and smooth. Coffee notes are quite distinct after the swallow. It also has tiny chocolate chips sneaking in to delight the palate. I pronounce this beer to be jolly good.
Moving along the bar, I noticed a beer from one of my favourite brewers, Dark Star of Brighton. On offer here was Dark Star Partridge Best. Judging from the name and the ABV (4.0%) I guess it’s a best bitter. The smell is unusual – it smells like tea. It doesn’t taste like tea, malt dominates with a husky nuttiness on the side. There’s also some veggy-earthiness in there with a touch of caramel at the end. Very full-flavoured and good.
The evening was finished off with Downton Quadhop, a 3.9% brew that I suppose you would call a golden ale. Surprise, surprise! It’s hoppy! It’s not one of those hop-bombs that are currently so fashionable amongst some brewers at the moment, though. It’s far more restrained and genteel. You can appreciate the full flavour of hops without having them smashed into your face with a sledgehammer. Quadhop is a case in point. Excellent hop flavour, quietly spoken. The hoppy bitterness stays for the full duration of the taste, plus a hint or two of spiciness.
I had a wonderful evening at the Hobgoblin. The bar staff were polite and knowledgeable and the beer was superb. The atmosphere in the pub was relaxed and convivial. It was clear that many of the regulars were beer connoisseurs, as there was a lot of swapping of tasting notes going on. A great pub.
We walked back to the car through streets that were disappointingly lacking in rioting and murder. No burning cars, no gangs of knived-up youths. Maybe you can’t believe everything people tell you after all.
Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.