This month James Moore visits The Castle Tap, a light and airy west Reading community pub with a good beer selection, lots of events and a friendly crowd. It was also winner of the Phoenix Award from Reading & Mid-Berks CAMRA, for its total transformation in 2015.
The Castle Tap, Castle Street
Sitting at the foot of Castle Hill (hence the name, although, technically, it’s on Castle Street), this award-winning pub is incredibly easy to get to, although as it’s slightly outside the town centre, many easily miss it. In fact, it’s not far from the town centre at all. Meander up past Sweeney’s and the police station and over the roundabout into the wilds of west Reading. A warm glow will await you from the window – and that’s not even just when they have the fire going!
In its former incarnation of The Horse & Jockey, the Castle Street pub was dingy and dark. But today, it’s been completely transformed by landlords Chris Wells and Cara Sheldrake, who took it on in 2015. Now, it’s one of the lightest and airiest pubs in Reading, especially during the daytime where the sunlight streams through the multiple large windows.
The main room is lovely: big, wide and high-ceilinged with plenty of space. Behind the door there’s a cosy corner where you’ll find a real open fireplace, which they light in the winter. There’s also absolutely tons of board games and shelves of books to take down and read while you’re in the pub. Be careful as you walk in the door though, as the dartboard is on the right hand side and you’ll especially see the oche occupied on Tuesday evenings for darts night.
Walk further in amongst the wooden furniture and passed a long banquette along the right hand side, and you’ll reach the impressive bar to your left. Four rotating cask ales are available here, often featuring local beers as well as those from further afield. I was lucky enough to find former Champion Beer of Britain, Vanilla Stout from Bingham’s Brewery in Twyford on my last visit.
There are also plenty of standard lagers (Amstel and Budvar are the core) alongside interesting keg beers from breweries including Elusive, Siren and Odyssey Brew Co. All the prices are clearly displayed on a blackboard for both the cask and keg beers to the right of the bar. There is no fixed price but you can expect to pay between £3.60 and £3.90 for most cask ales.
But that’s not all on the beer front – peer behind the bar and you’ll see some incredibly well-stocked beer fridges, boasting bottles from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, the USA and further afield.
If you don’t like beer, there is also plenty of cider, perry and even mead on offer, from a stack of boxes on the bar top. There’s also an extensive spirit collection and they even make a variety of teas if you fancy something softer or want to take advantage of the airy, bright room during the daytime and don’t want to start boozing.
The main room is big enough to be the entire pub in its own right but if you head out of the back door and you’ll enter a winding outdoor passageway that takes you to yet another room. Here you’ll find a big TV, plenty of seating and even a beer garden.
This room is often used for the pub’s own beer festivals, meet the brewer events and meetings and is a nice addition as it’s rare to find pubs in Reading with separate rooms these days. One other small thing that impresses me about the pub in general is that they are plenty of coat hooks, something I feel is missing from most modern pubs, especially when the British weather often means we enter pubs with a wet coat.
With all that space, it’s not surprising that something the Castle Tap specialises in is events. In addition to the beer festivals and talks, the pub frequently host live music, talks, tale-spinners, a beer tasting club, the darts night and a regular book club. There’s almost always a crowd here for something. Check out their website for the latest events coming up.
They will soon be playing host to our favourite street food vendors too. Georgian Feast will be bringing pop up dinner events to the Castle Tap in April. Check out the Georgian Feast Facebook page for more information.
Even though it might seem like it’s slightly out of town, The Castle Tap is worth a visit for a warm and friendly welcome, fun events and its good beer selection.
The Castle Tap should be more of a destination pub, so why not make it your next destination for a pint?
The Castle Tap
Address: 120 Castle Street, Reading, RG1 7RJ View website
Open: 11am-11pm Mon-Thu, 11am-midnight Fri-Sat, 12-10.30pm Sun
Get there: Reading Buses 1,2, 26 and 33 stop at Russell Street, or it’s only a five minute walk up from St Mary’s Butts.
Want more pubs?
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.