The Hop Leaf: a Hop Back Brewery Pub Revisited

After I posted a less than complimentary opinion about the Hop Leaf pub I received an email from a local CAMRA officer requesting that I give the pub another chance. So, in the spirit of fairness, Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer have done just that…

The Hop Leaf Pub

The Hop Leaf Pub

Our pub visits are generally limited to weekends and the Hop Leaf is no exception: our first visit was on a Saturday evening in mid-July, this revisit was on a Sunday evening in late September. We encountered essentially the same conditions both times.

By this I mean the same dynamics of clientele and staff were present: way too quiet for a Saturday, about what we’d expect on a Sunday. Nothing in our latest experience gave us any reason to change the opinions we acquired from the first time we were there.

In my original post I observed that the pub is not Cask Marque accredited – this is still the case. And I also questioned the Hop Leaf’s designation by the local CAMRA branch as a LocAle pub. It was explained to me that while the house Hop Back ales may not qualify as LocAles, accreditation was granted for 2013 by virtue of the pub offering guest ales that do meet LocAle criteria.

However in the same email it was mentioned that owner Hop Back Brewery recently directed the pub to cease offering guest ales. So I’ll stick to my original assertion that this pub is neither Cask Marque accredited or deserving of LocAle accreditation.

One hugely disappointing thing we did not encounter previously, as far as we know, but certainly did on this occasion, was poorly conditioned beer. The Americans have a great term to describe ‘off’ beer: as “Skunked”. If you’ve ever caught whiff of the odor emitted by North America’s much-maligned critter you’ll know why.

Skunk spray contains a high sulfur content and ‘off’ beer has a distinctly sulfurous odor that is unmistakable. And if the beer is really off not only will it smell like someone farted in the glass, it can taste like… too.

Unfortunately my pint of Redsell’s EKG on this second visit smelled and tasted “skunky”. This can be due to a variety of factors ranging from contaminated mash back at the brewery to poor temperature control in the pub’s cellar. Either way, my experience this time around was enough to put me off Hop Back beers and the Hop Leaf pub for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion: with so many excellent real ale breweries in the Reading area, and pubs in Reading town center supporting them. I feel no further need to spend time at the Hop Leaf.

When I speak of local breweries and pubs I refer to the West Berkshire, Wild Weather, Loddon and Binghams breweries, just to name our four nearest. And pubs like the Nags Head, Allied Arms, Ale House and Retreat, which are renowned for their cellar quality. If I come across Hop Back ales in one of these aforementioned pubs, or even one of our local Wetherspoons houses, I’ll maybe give them another try sometime.


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