Following my April post Coming Soon: The Dickens Brewery the area’s newest microbrewery opened with very little fanfare over the May Day holiday. Unfortunately few people noticed because everyone’s attention was diverted by the Reading Beer Festival.
Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer stopped by Great Expectations during the following weekend however it seemed the brewery’s opening may have been premature because there were no house ales on and consequently we had nothing to report. A return visit this past weekend yielded much better results; enough to write a Fueled by Beer review…
First The Site:
Great Expectations occupies an impressive grade II listed building at 33 London Street known through most of its history as a Methodist Chapel but which was originally built for the Literary, Scientific & Mechanics’ Institute. At the building’s opening in 1843 Charles Dickens gave a public reading of his novel “Pickwick Papers” and it is this original literary connection that Great Expectations celebrates in the building’s current iteration. The Dickens Brewery was installed as part of a major renovation of the Hotel’s pub and restaurant facilities and together they now offer a pleasingly warm alternative to the cold industrial chic of Reading’s only other brewpub, Zero Degrees.*
* There is word on the street this may change: Purple Turtle is rumoured to be thinking about a microbrewery.
Now To The Beer:
Prior to this most recent visit everything we could glean from social media suggested the brewery has not been operating on a fulltime basis, which perhaps explains the limited ale availablility. Until recently there were few reports of more than one Dickens ale being on at a time but hopefully that is now changing since we were happy to find three on during our visit.
So far the Dickens Brewery has put out information on five different beers:
- Mr Bumble – 3.8% ABV – Golden Ale
- Artful Dodger – 4.0% ABV – English Bitter
- Old Curiosity – 4.8% ABV – Porter
- Chuzzlewits – 4.3% ABV – Wheat Beer (no tasting notes)
- Sikes – 5.0% ABV – IPA (no tasting notes)
During our visit we sampled Bumble, Dodger and Curiosity. According to the brewery’s tweets the wheat beer was being brewed on 26 May so should be close to ready by now. Judging by the name I presume this will be a Belgian style witbier rather than a Bavarian style hefeweizen – I guess we’ll see. The IPA hasn’t yet been brewed as far as I know and it remains to be seen whether this will be an English or American style IPA.
Based on our initial tasting of Dickens Brewery’s first three ales the fairest thing I can say is that they’re a work in progress. Style-wise they were average at best, not delivering anything the other local brewers like Binghams, Loddon and West Berkshire aren’t already offering. Compounding the bland tasting beer, condition left a lot to be desired; as if the beer had been poorly kept and/or in the cask too long. It’s important to keep in mind that Dickens is a brand new brewery so it’s reasonable to cut them a little slack in the early days while they iron out kinks in their new kit, get cellarmanship under control, etc.
I therefore look forward to tasting the results of an upward learning curve in the future and in the nearer term I eagerly await the Chuzzlewit and Sikes IPA. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see Dickens Brewery eventually grow to surpass what I consider to be the somewhat conservative ‘boring brown beers‘ of Loddon and West Berkshire to join the more adventurous Binghams, SVB, Siren and Wild Weather as a brewer of beers worth writing about.
At the end of the day the owners and managers of Great Expectations are to be applauded for their investment in the Dickens Brewery and for upping their game in the restaurant. This is now a high quality brewpub with tremendous potential and it is a terrific addition to Reading’s craft beer scene.