Pub/Bar of the Month December 2016: Zerodegrees, Reading, UK
Zerodegrees, Reading, UK
The American concept of a brew pub is somewhat different to the one we have grown up with in the UK.
Here, the brew pub revival took place almost in secret. There were very few new builds and existing pubs that fancied the idea of having their own beer on the bar usually tucked their new little breweries away in a brick outhouse or in the cellar.
That was just as well, perhaps, because they seldom offered anything to admire – just a few stainless steel tubs and a plastic bucket.
In America, they know how to put on a show and they realised that brewing equipment – especially if highly polished, rocket-shaped and dynamic looking – could be a star attraction. Customers gazed in awe through plate-glass windows at the latest technology.
Today, open-plan pub breweries are not so rare in Britain, some newly constructed in places where the industrial chic of bare bricks and exposed ducts apes the US model even more closely.
One of the first into action was Zerodegrees when it opened its brewery/restaurant in Blackheath in 2000, the name taken from the proximity of the 0º Greenwich Meridian.
The chain has since expanded to take in venues along the M4 corridor, in Bristol, Cardiff and Reading. The Reading branch arrived in 2007 and delivers the same popular mix of fresh beer and fun food as the other outlets.
On display behind the bar, the brewery has a capacity of 1,500 litres but batches of beer only usually run to 1,000 litres at a time. Look up and you’ll see rows of horizontal conditioning tanks, where the beer matures for up to four weeks.
The core range consists of an excellent pilsner that is crisp and zings with perfumed, faintly lemony Saaz hops and a very good black lager that combines the deep bass flavours of roasted malts with the slender body expected of a cold-conditioned beer.
There’s also a very quaffable West Coast-style pale ale that exhibits plenty of lime and pine from Cascade and Centennial hops but is not so hop mad that it is challenging in any way, and a wheat beer that alternates through three styles – it could be German, Belgian or American in inspiration, depending on the rota.
Completing the core range is a big-selling mango beer that is made with fruit concentrate – it’s the sort of drink that non-beer drinkers might appreciate – while tagged on to the regulars is a selection of seasonal/special beers.
Recent offerings I tried were a blond IPA featuring the exotic fruit-and-floral influence of Nelson Sauvin hops, an amber lager that draws inspiration from Anchor Steam and a passion fruit IPA that is dominated by its fruit and notably sharp as a result.
To add to the list of beer attractions, Zerodegress has now also introduced a programme called First Sips, which sees limited-edition beers traded between its four branches.
So far, these have included an English IPA and Winter Rye. At Reading, I sampled an oatmeal pale ale, shipped in from Blackheath, which skilfully combined a silky cereal texture with spiky apricot and grapefruit notes from the hops.
I also drank a somewhat underpowered but perfectly enjoyable Belgian ale from the team in Bristol. The malt character threatened to become thick and syrupy but never did and so allowed delicate Belgian yeast notes to emerge.
From the Cardiff branch came a märzen/Oktoberfest beer that had the body and clout you’d expect from the style, topped with a slightly tart, grassy-herbal hop profile.
These beers now come and go, up to eight a month, a thousand litres at a time, so you never quite know what’s going to be on tap unless you follow the Zerodegree social media accounts and look out for the #FirstSips hashtag.
This not only alerts you to where and when these short-run beers are on sale but also encourages you to pop along to your nearest outlet for a free taste.
The Reading Zerodegrees is spacious, spread over three floors right in the town centre, next to the Oracle shopping mall.
The front of the premises is housed in an old terrace that has become a parade of bars and restaurants, while the back end extension, with its plate glass, is modern and glitzy.
The interior is L-shaped with dining along one side and a bar area along the other, all furnished in a typically minimalist and functional style that is clean and welcoming. Sofas and counter seating in the bar section contrast with the table settings of the restaurant area.
The upper storeys have balconies and there’s a small terrace adjacent to the ground floor.
Staff here are knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic, the atmosphere is bright and vibrant and the food – majoring on pizzas, pasta, mussels and salads – is just the right accompaniment to the main attraction, which is, of course, fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurised beer.
The British brew pub has come a long way.
Zerodegrees, 9 Bridge Street, Reading, Berkshire RG1 2LR.
Tel. (0118) 959 7959
Opening Hours: 12–11.30; 12–10.30 Sunday
External pictures of Zerodegrees, Reading, courtesy of Tim Thomas (@timofnewbury).