It is also incredibly convenient for the station, which as you might know is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction, including a new station building and all sorts of exciting railway engineering stuff. You also might not know this.
However, given that the beer drinking exploits of Reading are being split into two parts why not split the station exploits similarly?
Opened in 1840, Reading was the western terminus of the original Great Western Railway. Designed by the great man himself, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the station was of basic layout, as one would expect from a terminus. Given that it wasn't particularly 'Great' it only seems appropriate that Reading Station didn't remain 'Western' for all that long, the planned Bristol terminus of the GWR opening in 1841.
In 1860, a shiny new station building was opened, built from shiny Bath stone. This building still stands in near mint external condition, finding business these days as a pub. But more of that another day.
After the war, Reading became Reading General, to distinguish it from the stones throwaway Reading Southern. In the seventies, 'General' was dropped as the Southern traffic had a special platform in the main station.
By 1989, it was decided that a new concourse was needed and it had to look proper 80s.
The results were astounding, the new building even including a shopping arcade named after Brunel himself. A fitting tribute.
In and amongst all the usual station chains, can be found a rather good little coffee shop called Tutti Frutti. As well as coffee, they do some top cakes and ice cream all served with a smile. I'd recommend it to anyone with a few minutes to kill at the station.
Now, to the festival!
Situated practically in the shadows of Reading Station on King's Meadow, Reading Beer & Cider Festival (RBCF) is organised by Reading & Mid Berkshire CAMRA and in its 19th year, is highly regarded. A combination of it being held on May Day bank holiday, and it stocking over 550 ales, 150 ciders and perries and much more mean it pulls in the crowds in a big way. Veterans will testify to the mad queues in years past.
This year saw a new advance ticket option and the days were broken into sessions, an afternoon and an evening. This makes sure people who have passed out or simply stopped drinking don't hog a valuable space inside the marquee.
The marquee itself is well lit, with the huuuuuge bar all along one side (left in the photo). There's music at the far end and the place had a great atmosphere on a Friday evening. There's always a good mix on the Friday, with clean shirts from the office mixing with beer nerds and Morris dancers joking with goths.
Beer-wise, a good proportion of those on offer come under the CAMRA LocAle scheme. The exact details of LocAle vary branch to branch, but the essential idea is to promote pubs to stock beer brewed within n miles (where n is number of miles) of said pub. As such, RBCF stocks some real crackers from all over Berkshire. One such I tried was from the Two Cocks Brewery near Newbury. Described as a beer for people who don't like beer, Viscount is a great strong, golden ale. The Nelson Sauvin hops give it a nice fruity taste. Weighing in at 5.6%, and with no dinner inside me I opted for a half. Keep an eye out for this one in the future.
Looking further afield to Stoke on Trent, we find the stillage containing Pithead by Talke o'Th' Hill brewery. I'll admit, trying this was by sheer fluke. Being into industrial things, the name caught my eye on a page of the program that had randomly flopped open.
As they say, a picture says ten words, so I'll let this one do the talking. Out of 7 beers I sampled on the night, this was one of the highlights and I'd like to bump into it again.
I'd definitely advise putting this one in your diary. Reading Station serves trains from London, Wales, Cornwall, the south coast, northern England and even Scotland as well as the local services so its almost insultingly easy to get to.
Who knows what they have planned for the 20th anniversary?
They're not our cans, honestly.
Find out more: