The Haunt @ Phantom Brewing Co., Units 2 & 3, Meadow Rd, Reading, RG1 8LB.
Mon to Thurs – Closed, Fri – 3pm ’til 10pm, Sat – 1pm ’til 10pm, Sun – 1pm ’til 6pm
Reading has a long and illustrious history of brewing. In fact, beer is so synonymous with our town that it makes up 33.333% of our famous ‘Three B’s’: Beer, biscuits and the Butts Centre.
The Simonds Brewery, a major employer here for almost a century and a half got gobbled up and relocated by Courage a good few years ago. Since then, Reading’s been pretty bereft of breweries. Or at least I assume it has, I don’t know. I’m not in CAMRA and I’m not Simon bleedin’ Schama.
Whatever. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? It’s a segue (pronounced ‘seg-way’, not ‘sea-gwee’, God, what do they teach you young people at school these days?). It was a link to talk about craft beer and smaller brewers in Reading. Basically we’ve got four really rather decent ones here now: Siren Craft, Double-Barrelled, Loddon and Phantom.
This is a review of the taproom of that last one. There you go, there’s your introduction FFS.
A Bit of Background
The company’s been going since the end of 2017, according to my meticulous research (looking them up on the Companies House website). Presumably co-owners Dane ‘n’ Dom (in da brewery) spent a couple of years getting a load of beer-making shit together and that. In November 2019 they opened Phantom Brewery in a Reading industrial unit and started knocking out delicious beers.
They hired local face and former Sirenman Matt Crook to run the taproom, a nice little carved-out bar bit inside named ‘The Haunt’.
The lockdowns then struck and bollocksed things up. Like a lot of the industry, Phantom had to get creative. Like two male sitcom characters carrying a sofa up a flight of stairs, they had to PIVOT. So they started selling their beers via takeaway and by delivery. Of course, being an shameless grifter I blagged some free tins and merch to exploit the new direction. #ad
Let’s wrap this bit up, eh? Blah, blah, blah, lockdowns gone, they’ve reopened, doubled in size and things are kicking on.
With town centre pubs struggling to offer much in the way of outside space during the ‘BEER GARDEN ONLY’ phase of the Covid bollocks, a lot of drinkers found themselves boozing more and more in car parks on industrial estates.
Taprooms are in breweries and breweries are big buggers. In town and cities they’re often wedged in between a UPS depot and an abandoned printworks. They ain’t pretty, but craft beer places can lean into that a bit and pretend that concrete, tire yards and CAD paper sales offices are cool.
Phantom’s on an industrial estate behind the Caversham Road. It’s a short walk from town and the station. On Meadow Road, which is just off Milford Road (y’know, where 75% of all Deliveroo orders come from now).
When you nip into, say, The Bugle (I know you don’t ‘nip into The Bugle’, don’t worry), you don’t expect much beer-wise. Guinness, an ale, a couple of lagers and a Strongbow, maybe. Fine. When you head to a craft beer brewery taproom, your expectations are a little different. The buggers make loads of mad beers on site, you know you’re in for a beer-tasting extravaganza. And so it goes with this ghosty lot.
Despite running this blog, I know jack shit about beer. So I don’t really know what I’m talking about here (as per usual LOOOOOOOOL). But, whatever.
They brew and flog all sorts at Phantom. Although lager fans don’t have a huge amount to pick from, it’s better news for boozers into your IPAs, pale ales and sours. Everything’s tasty, but it’s the sours they’ve really nailed. Making a beer than tastes like beer, fruit, vinegar and a bag of Haribo Tangfastics but that’s not as vile as that sounds can’t be easy. You expect crippling heartburn, it never arrives.
They’re not precious about only showcasing their own drink, though. There are always dozens of other breweries’ cans stocked up in their generously-sized fridges. Start on the taps, then move onto the weird cans.
There’s also cider, wine, spirits and soft drinks, so don’t worry if you or a guest aren’t beer types. If you’re not, try a sour. They taste like mad squash. That’s why I drink them. Because I am a child.
‘The Haunt’, the first main bar as you go in is tastefully decorated and monochrome, with benches and industrial lighting and fixtures in keeping with the room. Head next door to ‘Neon’ and while similarly decked-out, there’s enough neon lights and sofas and the like to make it feel a little more welcoming and evening-y.
It’s a brewery, so there’s no kitchen on site, but chances are they’ll be a food van out front. We’re not talking football burgers or Mo’s Kebabs here, although both would do a fine job, of course. We’re talking fancy dan takes on staples like burritos, chips and chicken wings. You know the sort of thing, the places you get at music festivals with names like ‘El T@co Town’, ‘Jumping Frog Hot Dogs’ or ‘Creepy Uncle Bing’s ‘ding Wings’. It’s £11 for a seitan ‘chicken’ burger, but it’s good eating. And with four pints of 9% kiwi and dill citra working its way to your guts, your stomach needs lining.
40ft ceilings means there’s a lot of air to fill, but when it’s busy, there’s a decent buzz about the place. Especially when there’s an event on. Look out for beer festival things, Halloween stuff, I dunno, all sorts. We’ve been in recently when there’s been some sort of Canada Day thing AND a mariachi band.
Yeah, they’ve got them. Three well-maintained and clean cubicles in the Neon bar. One male, one female and one unisex*.
*Lads – if you use shared lavs, you’ve got a responsibility to clean up your boozepiss after spraying it all over everywhere. My old lady doesn’t need to sit on your recycled coriander and Frazzles stout. Come on now.
There are no screens for regular football or anything, so don’t ask if the Portsmouth vs. Charlton game’s one, it’s not. That said, the Euros were shown on a massive projector screen, so expect similar for the World Cup next winter.
As for games, there are a few leftfield options. A massive shuffleboard table (are they called tables?) and a couple of ‘Skee-Ball’ machines (see below). Both are free to play on Sundays. Just as The Good Lord probably intended.
The outside space is out front, so you’ll need to head out there for a crafty snout or lungful of vapour. There’s no designated smoking bit per se, so wander around wherever you like. Why not use it as an opportunity to go and have a look at the outside of Euro Car Parts or International Mailing Systems Ltd.?
They’re very welcome, dogs. Are cats allowed? I dunno. Seems a bit like discrimination if not. Maybe I’ll take ours next time I visit. There’s every chance there’s a tuna and salmon saison somewhere in those big ol’ fridges of theirs.
Taproom drinking isn’t a cheap way to get ratlegged, that’s what home drinking, ‘spoons and 2 litre bottles of Omega on a bench outside the church at St. Mary’s Butts are for. So it’s possible to have a right spend up here. That said, this place isn’t overly expensive and the beer brewed on site is reasonably priced.
Amateurs do need to ensure they don’t make the rookie mistake of assuming 2/3 is a pint. But get your nut around the measures and you’ll be fine. Pints of Phantom beer are around the £4.50 – 6 quid mark, depending on strength.
After a few, you may be tempted to look left and order from the fridge. If for no other reason than you’re easily influenced by graphic design. Be careful, though. Some of the weirder stuff is pricey. I paid £7.45 for a ‘white guava, passionfruit, lime and coconut pastry sour’ once. It happened to be the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted, though. So they got away with that.
To be fair to the staff, higher end purchases do tend to come with a polite and subtle price warning in my experience.
During The Bad Times, Phantom had a bloody good app and the table service was as prompt as you like. Normality resumed and it’s back to the good/bad old days of queuing up at the bar. It’s fine, though – service is quick and friendly. If you don’t know what you want, just look blankly at the taps and you’ll be guided to a decision by the bar staff. They know their onions.
[IDEA FOR A BEER: PICKLED ONION SOUR CALLED ‘MONSTER BRUNCH’]
There’s a tilt towards a slightly younger crowd in here, but it’s no youth club. You get a fair few older folk into their beer in too. The cliché of the craft beer ‘hipster’ is so well worn and old now it doesn’t really apply. Alright, so it doesn’t help when Wild Weather make a foam banana-flavoured beer and call it ‘John Peel’, but you get what we’re saying. Craft beer has gone mainstream.
That said, there will be a few younger, better-looking and more fashionable people than you in there. They’ll like bands you’ve never heard of and have more ‘progressive’ politics than you. It’s fine. It’s okay. You’re still kind of cool, though. Right? You have a Yo La Tengo LP in the loft somewhere. AND a pair of New Balance trainers. They’re ‘hip’ now, aren’t they? It’s so difficult to keep up nowadays, isn’t it?
C O N C L U S I O N
Taprooms and craft beer and all that can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated, but you needn’t worry here. There’s nowt pretentious going on. Pitch up, try some nice drinks, try some weird drinks, eat a burger or burrito from a van, walk home past an adhesives factory and an abandoned snooker hall. Perfect.
These places are going to be a big part of the future of brewing. With the way things are going for certain areas of the hospitality industry, they could also be an even bigger part of how we all drink socially.
What a very grown-up way to end this review, eh?
POO BUM WILLY! 💩🍑🍆