When Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer learned that Salisbury-based Hop Back Brewery own and operate a small estate of ten pubs, including one in Reading, we were eager to check them out…
One of the things we like most about the US craft brewing scene is the significant role of the brewpub or brewery taproom, something that is largely missing here. UK breweries are geared up to distribute almost exclusively to the wholesale pub and restaurant trade, with little or no direct retail channel to the public.
During recent pub visits around Reading we have come across Hop Back ales on several occasions. We had already tried Crop Circle and Summer Lightning so we already knew that Hop Back produces some really good stuff.
When Hop Back acquired the Hop Leaf pub in 1994 it was only their fourth pub and when they opened it in 1995 they incorporated a small brewhouse behind the pub to produce house beers. The pub is located just outside the town centre on Southampton Street about a mile south of Reading Station. It’s an easy walk from The Oracle, etc.
We visited on a Saturday night when you’d expect a decent mix of regulars, some newbies like us, and a welcoming atmosphere – which is what we received at The Retreat, another just out of town center pub.
However what we got at the Hop Leaf was extremely disappointing. Surprisingly it was not in the least bit busy. And if beer was ever brewed there, it isn’t anymore, plus the pub decor could use a makeover to freshen it up and make the place more inviting.
Perhaps the thing we disliked most was the pub’s poor enforcement of the indoor smoking ban. Throughout our visit a continuous plume wafted in through the open door and windows from the smokers congregating around the entrance. There was nowhere for us to escape the smoky haze.
Furthermore, the bar staff, both him and her, were pretty sullen while serving us and the locals sitting at the bar made us feel like we were intruding on their space. As much as we like Hop Back ales we felt the Hop Leaf pub isn’t the place to enjoy them. We’ll seek them out at the numerous other town center pubs – there are plenty of options.
A couple final comments: during our visit only four of six cask pumps were working. They had the aforementioned Crop Circle and Summer Lightning, the others being Redsell’s and GFB. The pub is not Cask Marque accredited however it is accredited as a CAMRA LocAle pub. This doesn’t make sense unless the pub is brewing on-premise (which I don’t think is the case). Hop Back Brewery is located over 60 miles away, well outside LocAle range by any definition.
Hop Back beer: Recommended 🙂
Hop Leaf pub: Not Recommended 😦