Mr Fueled by Beer has a confession to make: he has never really understood the oft-cited differences between northern and southern ales. From his point of reference: early 1980s mass-produced keg bitter, there was no difference. We had Courage Best down south and they had John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter up north. They looked and tasted the same – both crap – and they were both brewed in the same gigantic plant: the Berkshire Brewery at Worton Grange. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck: it is a duck…
Ironically, barely one mile from the site of the recently demolished brewery, quietly tucked away along the old Basingstoke Road, you’ll find The Swan Inn at Three Mile Cross.
Besides being a CAMRA LocAle pub one of The Swan’s most notable qualities is being a place where you’ll find rare Timothy Taylor Yorkshire ales side by side with some of southern England’s best, such as Wadworth’s 6X and Fullers London Pride. Timothy Taylor, established in 1858, is a widely respected and award-winning brewery from Keighley, West Yorkshire.
My visit to The Swan was on a Thursday evening; the pub was not particularly busy except for one thing, which brings me to its other notable quality. Unusual in this day and age of Pubco dominance is that The Swan has enjoyed 30 years of continuity in the hands of Vic & Jenny Harrison, landlord and landlady. The Swan is one of the few remaining examples of a true ‘free house’ where the pub is owned by the landlord/landlady and there is no tie to a brewery or Pubco.
My visit coincided with an event held by the local CAMRA branch on the outside patio in front of the pub. This was to express appreciation for Vic & Jenny’s hard work over the years and recognize their achievement.
Although a recently joined member of the branch myself, I felt a little awkward joining in the celebration, a bit of an interloper to be honest, so I observed from within the bar in the company of a couple of like-minded CAMRA members. Our conversation was long enough and engaging enough to support my consumption of halves of Timothy Taylor Boltmaker (formerly known as Best Bitter), Timothy Taylor Landlord, and the LocAle representative, Loddon Brewery’s Hoppit Bitter.
The few guests who were not part of the CAMRA group were sitting outside at the rear of the pub. It was a fine warm summer evening and the beer garden, a nice feature of the pub, was the perfect place to be. The fact that access to the car park is through this area doesn’t detract too much.
During my visit I perused the menu but I didn’t partake. I was unaccompanied so this was a purely beer tasting reconnaissance trip. However food is served seven days a week (see website for times) consisting of freshly cooked pub fare that should appeal to most tastes and most budgets. A return trip with Mrs Fueled by Beer and The Daughter will be in order for us to check out the food.
OK, so to get there: unless you live in the immediate area, The Swan requires a special trip. The Fleet Buzz route 72 and 82 bus services from Reading town center stop right outside and the pub’s car park out back has plenty of space for the car-bound. To plan your journey by bus I recommend using Traveline Southeast.
So, how did those northern ales compare to the southern brews? Well, they’re still just real ales to me, all varying across the broad spectrum of maltiness and hoppiness. I still don’t see any fundamental difference between them. Oh, well… I’ll just have to try more until I can figure them out.
The Swan Inn, Three Mile Cross: Recommended 🙂