Welcome to the first column from Explore Reading’s new resident pub reviewer, James Moore. James is Chairperson for Reading and Mid-Berkshire CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), editor of the ‘1001 Beers to Try Before You Die’ YouTube series and a veritable beer expert. Every month, he’ll visit a different Reading pub to bring you a new review.
The Nag’s Head
I like to think that every pub in Reading offers you something different. In terms of the crowd, the drinks and the experience, whatever you’re looking for, there’s a Reading pub for you.
Some of our pubs shine in the summer, when you can enjoy a cold beverage in a sunny beer garden. Some come alive in the winter as you enjoy a roasty dark beer next to a cosy roaring fire. And some are that rare pub with something for every occasion. The Nag’s Head is one of those pubs.
Nestled at the bottom of Russell Street, just off Oxford Road, you might not even know The Nag’s Head was there if you don’t venture too far out of the town centre for your snifters and victuals.
Walking inside you find yourself in a big square room with a bar dominating one side of it, resplendent with a bewildering array of beverages. There’s a wide range of newspapers, magazines, books and board games on offer, as well as a darts board in the corner (although you’ll be lucky if you get to play on it – it’s incredibly popular).
Fittingly for a Real Ale Pub of the Year, the Nag’s Head boasts one of the largest draught beer selections in town. There’s usually 12 cask ales (these are cellar cooled, matured by secondary fermentation and no added carbon dioxide), 12 keg beers (colder, and usually carbonated) and 15 ciders and perries on tap. There’s also a wide range of bottled beers, meaning they cover almost every style imaginable.
The pub regularly stocks local beers from Bingham’s Brewery in Twyford, Wild Weather in Silchester and West Berkshire Brewery in Yattendon, but you’ll also find tasty brews from all over the UK that you won’t find in many other pubs in Reading.
Beers on tap change frequently, often within the same day, so check the blackboard sign above each hand pump showing what beers are on now and what’s coming up next.
Keep an eye out for the regular Duchesse de Bourgogne from the bottled range though, it’s a beer to challenge perceptions. Despite smelling and tasting of balsamic vinegar, the result is complex and somehow amazing! On my last visit, I opted for the Flowerpots Bitter, a wonderfully flavourful pint from a small Hampshire brewery who seem to make consistently good beer.
A selection this large could be overwhelming, but thankfully, help is at hand. All the staff at the Nag’s Head are big fans of what they sell and are more than happy to guide you to the best drink for you based on your tastes. Don’t be shy, just ask – although bear in mind you might find this difficult on busier days.
Unlike some town centre pubs, there’s no £5 pints here; most cask beers and ciders come in at a reasonable £3.60 a pint. Keg beers vary somewhat, but you can also order by the half, third or two-thirds if you want to make your pound stretch further, or sample more varieties.
The crowd at The Nag’s Head is also incredibly mixed. It draws everyone from students to older folk, and there is a reassuring hubbub of noise most of the time. On weekend nights and Reading FC match days it can get very crowded, so if you’re after a quieter drink visit on a weeknight.
Beer, not food, is the focus here, but there is classic pub grub on offer if you do get hungry. A selection of filled rolls, pies and BBQ rolls are available behind the bar most days until they are gone. On Saturday mornings they do a mean cooked breakfast. They also serve roast dinners on Sundays between 12-4pm.
In the colder months, a large fire gets going in the corner, so you can hunker down with a pint. When it’s sunny, there’s a beer garden out the back. It’s in the car park, but they’ve made the most of the space using various tables, a marquee and – novel, this – empty beer casks as stools.
The Nag’s Head is a special place, somehow getting the mix between beer expertise and comfortable atmosphere just right, without losing that traditional English pub feel. For me, it is the antidote to the newer trend of bare-walled, dimly lit craft beer bars. Every single time I visit this pub I get to try something different and settle in for the evening.
Oh, and if you’re looking for the best seat in the house, you’ll be wanting the old church pew underneath the keg blackboard. It’s great for people watching. Cheers!
The Nag’s Head
Address: 5 Russell Street, RG1 7XD, www.thenagsheadreading.co.uk
Open: 12-11pm Sun-Thur, 12pm – midnight Fri, 11am – midnight Sat.
Get there: Reading Buses 1, 2, 15,16,17, 26 and 33 stop at Waylen Street, or walk for about 5 minutes west along the Oxford Road from the Broad Street Mall.
James Moore is Explore Reading's resident pub reviewer. He samples the best pubs in Reading to bring you a new review every month. A beer expert and active within Reading & Mid-Berkshire CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), James also runs '1001 Beers to Try Before You Die' - one of YouTube's most fun beer review channels.