THIRTY-FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 20 DECEMBER 2014
THIRTIETH VISIT: FRIDAY 5 DECEMBER 2014
Very probably my favourite evening in the Red Lion.
In a bid to secure the table I wanted I arrived at the reasonably early time of quarter to five. The place was busy. Most tables were occupied but thankfully the big six-seater was devoid a of life. I ordered a pint of Hop Kettle’s Flapjack Black Breakfast Stout – welcome back my lovely friend. I was probably going to be in the pub for six hours so it would’ve made more sense to start with something boasting a lower ABV than 7.6% but when you’re favourite beer is on the bar you have to drink it. I took up residence at the top table and settled down to enjoy my pint and read Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace while I awaited the arrival of my beer comrades. One by one everyone turned up. We supped ale. We laughed. We supped more ale. A grand time was had by all.
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TWENTY-NINTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 3 DECEMBER 2014
I fancied food and beer. I fancied food and beer at the Red Lion. We arrived early enough to score a table. I started with a pint of Hop Kettle Blackadder. It really is a delicious BIPA. So delicious that a second pint swiftly followed. We were getting hungry but the food menu board was being obscured by a large group of French Canadians. They might not of been French Canadians but when I squeezed past them to get to the toilet I could hear some folk speaking in French and some folk with North American accents. I’m sure if I had asked politely they would’ve happily let me see the board. But I didn’t bother asking. I had another two pints of the Blackadder – every pint gets us closer to having Flapjack Black back on the bar – and brought this visit to a close with a pint of Snake’s Head Belgian IPA. The evening ended with me singing ‘Riot Riot! Riot Riot!’ in a west Swindon chip shop.
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TWENTY-EIGHT VISIT: SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014
Whose bright idea was it to got to Cricklade when the town was switching on their Xmas Lights? The main street was road blocked so we couldn’t get to the carpark. The street ahead was full of people and stalls and bouncy castles. We should’ve turned round and went home but no. We found a street on the edge of town that still had enough space to squeeze in an estate car. It felt like the entire town was out on the High Street enjoying the festivities so maybe we’d be lucky and the pub would be empty. No. We weren’t lucky. The place was rammed. There was no chance of us scoring a table and therefore no chance of us scoring some food. I had to settle for a couple of pints of Snake’s Head Belgian IPA and a half of Dark Star Espresso. RIP MCA
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TWENTY-SEVENTH VISIT: THURSDAY 27 NOVEMEBER 2014
The night before I’d kicked the keg of Snake’s Head USA IPA so I thought it was only polite that I returned to make inroads on the keg of freshly tapped Snake’s Head Belgian IPA. I’ve previously had the Belgian edition of Snake’s Head but that was on cask. It was a good beer but the trappist yeast gave it a very unique sweetness that made the beer, for me, best only consumed as an occasional half. Thankfully, the keg version has knocked back the sweetness. I think the swerving temperature has muted the Belgian vibe but after a few minutes have passed and a little bit of warmth has soaked into the beer the flavour imparted by the yeast starts to shine through. I like the evolving taste. It adds a nice bit of depth that IPAs often lack. I popped back to the bar for a second pint. I was tempted to go for a pint of Hop Kettle Blackadder but decided to keep it Belgian. It was a good call as the second pint tasted even better than the first. I can see myself having a good stab at consuming a fifth of this keg just as I did with the USA. I fancied a third pint but I had boring growed-up stuff to do and the pub had an unusually high number of punters with very loud laughs – they were annoying but they did make it easier for me to be a responsible adult. I departed. I will return. Soon. Very soon.
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TWENTY-SIXTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2014
This week Wednesday movie was the new instalment of the Hunger Games. The best thing I can say about it is that Natalie Dormer is far more alluring when her hair is dyed blonde, half of it has been shaved off and she has tattoos on the side of her skull. Aside from that, it’s a decent enough two hours but ultimately nothing more than a set-up movie for the final instalment.
On arrival at the bar I was placed to notice that the pump clip for Snake’s Head USA IPA was still in situ. I ordered a pint. The glass was less than half full when the pump stopped dispensing the lovely liquid. Nooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooo! The barman handed me the glass and said I could have what he’d managed to pour for free. I would much rather have paid a whole pint but even a little drop of SHUSAIPA is a beautiful thing. I now needed to order a new beer. I decided to stick with keg and go with a Huntress from Wild Beer. Only a half though because I still find Wild Beer’s offerings to be a bit hit or miss and, more often than not, miss. A man sitting at the bar remarked that it was a tasty beer. He sounded like Ian Holm. If you can’t trust the word of a man who sounds like a man who has starred in Chariots of Fire who the hell can you trust? The Huntress is a Belgian PA with damsons and plums. It tastes like and orange squash with extra fruits chucked in. It’s okay. But not something I’m likely to bother with again. Next up was another Wild Beer brew – Wild Goose Chase, which is billed as a farmhouse pale with gooseberries. Again, it was okay but nothing I’m likely to return to. I decided to end this little visit with a pint of the house pale – Tricerahops. It’s a beer that is more than merely okay. I will certainly drink it again (and have done so many times in the past).
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TWENTY-FIFTH VISIT: FRIDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2014
All seats were occupied on arrival but by they time I’d been served a table had been vacated. We pounced on it and it became my home for four beautiful pints of Snake’s Head IPA. It was a busy night full of happy folk and happy talk. It’s nights like this that makes realise how lucky I am that I discovered the Red Lion. At 6.9% Snake’s Head does give you a rather pleasant buzz after four pints. I was tempted to do five pints but I got the look from my special lady friend that strongly suggested that record would have to wait for another. Instead of a mythical fifth I had to make do with a takeaway can of Gamma Ray, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.
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TWENTY-FOURTH VISIT: SATURDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2014
A Saturday lunchtime visit to the Red Lion that didn’t involve lunch!
I arrived just before twelve thirty. There were still a couple of unoccupied tables but I’d already decided that unless it was raining I’d go outside and sit in the solitude of the beer garden. It wasn’t raining. As is customary, I had a look at all the pump clips but I already knew that my opening beer would be a pint of Snake’s Head USA IPA. I took my beer outside and plonked my ass down at my favourite table. I could see Tom working away inside the brewery. It was nice to be outside drinking a beer in mid November. My first pint went down quickly. I popped back inside for another pint of Snake’s Head. On my way back to my table I stopped for a chat with Tom. He was brewing North Wall (the house best bitter). We had a chat about the Hop Kettle beers that were at the recent Swindon Beer Fest and he told me that in the next couple of weeks he’s having a half barrel ‘experimental’ kit installed. I fully expect some crazy-shit & shit-hot beers to emerge from that kit.
A fellow beer-geek arrived with his daughter. We sat and talked beer and she sat and did some colouring-in. Unfortunately, he was driving so could only stop for a half. Fortunately, I was getting the bus so could stay for a few more. In reasonably quick succession I had Tiny Rebel Loki (a decent stab at a cask BIPA), Penzance Mild (tastier than the mild tag suggests), Flying Dog Citra (there are better single hop Citras out there… but it’s 10%) and a Lord Nelson (delicious as always). It was time to go but that didn’t mean there wasn’t enough time to knock back a quick half of Snake’s Head. As I walked up the street I realised that I was ever so slightly pished. I believe that qualifies as a successful visit to the pub.
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TWENTY-THIRD VISIT: WEDNESDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2014
One of the those nights that makes me fall in love with the Red Lion all over again even though I’ve never really fallen out of love with it. On arrival the place was busy but there was some sitting space available. Throughout the evening people would come and go and most of those people were happy to have a little shuffle around so everyone who arrived could get a seat if the wanted one – it’s little things like this that elevates a pub from the realm of Good Pubs and into the Stratosphere of Great Pubs.
I had four pints of Snake’s Head USA IPA. It was delicious from cask but this new batch has been kegged and it has lifted it onto an entirely new level. I honestly thinks it stands up against any other IPA currently available in the UK. It is quite simply a stunningly delicious beer. I would’ve had a fifth pint but I decided I needed to close out the evening with a half of Lord Nelson… and after the Lord Nelson I decided I needed to close out the evening with a half of the Hop Kettle Cocos (a coconut porter)… and then I went home… via the fish and chip shop.
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TWENTY-SECOND VISIT: SATURDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2014
Earlier in the week I’d received a tweet from Tom that said he had a pre-release bottle of Hop Kettle Flapjack Black for me to collect the next time I was in the area. I’m always happy to visit the Red Lion for some beer and food and that happiness is greatly increased when there’s a free bottle of my favourite beer up for grabs.
We arrived just before twelve thirty and most of the tables we reserved or taken. Thankfully my favourite table was still available. It’s arguably a bit big for two people to claim but claim it we did. I started with a pint of Hop Kettle’s Night Porter – a 5.7% porter. I’m not a huge fan of porters as I usually find them to be wimpy stouts but this was very tasty and an admirable substitute for those times when Flapjack Black isn’t available. I followed that with a pint of Siren’s Haunted Dream. It’s an interesting little number. I’m assuming it has pumpkin in it but I’m not sure. It certainly has lots of dark malts and an big dollop of spices. It’s nice. And not just for Halloween. While drinking my Haunted Dream I munched my way through a special burger which was the pub’s (not standard) standard burger which had been levelled up by the addition of a large Portobello mushroom and some Royal Bassett blue cheese. It was very tasty but the cheese portion was a tad on the stingy side. The place was no starting to fill up I could feel people scowling at the four empty chairs at my table. I nipped back to the bar and scored a half of Lord Nelson – it’s tasting better than ever. I really fancied going back to the bar and getting a whole pint of Lord Nelson but the unspoken pressure of disgruntled seatless diners had got too much for me.
Oh… the bottle of Flapjack Black tasted absolutely delicious.
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TWENTY-FIRST VISIT: WEDNESDAY 29 OCTOBER 2014
Two months! Has it really been two months since I was last in the Red Lion? Shame one me. Shame on me.
The pub was relatively empty on arrival but little reserved signs suggested that wouldn’t be the case for much longer. Thankfully there were a couple of tables that weren’t scheduled to be occupied by people who hadn’t yet arrived. I ordered a pint of Hop Kettle’s Black Adder, which if it wasn’t for the existence of Bristol Beer Factory’s Un/limited DIPA would be my favourite new beer of 2014. I sat down at one of the free tables, took a big gulp of my beer and wondered why I’d been away from the Lion for so long. Well, I know the reason why but now the summer has departed perhaps the place won’t be quite so crazily busy. I took another gulp of Black Adder and new I had bee having two pints of it… or perhaps even three. I returned to the bar for my second pint and was served by I guy that I’d never seen before. He was good. He even has a craft beard. The second pint of Black Adder went down as beautifully as the second and I was quickly returning to the bar for a third. At 6.8% the beer packs a decent little punch so by the time I was nearing the end of my third pint I was experiencing a pleasant little buzz. I was tempted by a fourth pint but decided that I needed to have a hit of the Weird Beard and Elusive Brewing collab Lord Nelson. I’ve shared time and beers with Andy of Elusive in the Red Lion so it was nice to be able to have one of his beers on these premises. I also ordered a half of Wadworth’s Bishops Tipple. It’s a beer that’s usually okay from the cask but works slightly better from the bottle with the little bit of extra fizz. I expected the keg version to be similar to the bottled version but unfortunately it was a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, the Lord Nelson was tasting absolutely shit hot. I was tempted to have another beer but food beckoned and we were having that somewhere else so I got a bottle of Founders KBS and departed. I will certainly return before another two months have ebbed away.
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TWENTIETH VISIT: SATURDAY 23 AUGUST 2014
Another one of those days when I had no plans to visit the Red Lion but then Tom sent a tweet that contained a photo of the fantastic looking food he was planning on serving that day so I made new plans. The food in question was slow slow slow cooked brisket and an equally slowly cooked ox cheek. I couldn’t decide whether to have the brisket or the ox cheek so I had both. They were absolutely delicious. I think the brisket was possibly the best but that might be because there was more of it. But, aye, they were both delicious. The accompanying drinks were a pint of Wiper & True Table Beer – stunning! And a half of Bristol Beer Factory Un/limited Belgian Rye – disappointing (especially when compared to the glory that is their Un/limited DIPA). I was tempted to have another drink and get something takeaway but the queue at the bar was too big and I couldn’t be arsed hanging around.
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NINTEENTH VISIT: SATURDAY 26 JULY 2014
More of a trip to the off-licence than a trip to the pub. I was still smarting from not scoring any bottles of Ginlemlii on Wednesday so I decided to pay the Lion a visit in fill up my Tiny Rebel beer carrier with six bottles of the stuff. Of course I couldn’t pop in without sampling a beer or two. Lunch service was in full swing so there a a bit of a queue when I arrived (it was like I’d never left on Wednesday) but it moved along quick enough and without too much of a delay I was ordering a pint of Pale By Comparison and my takeaway. The bar manager thought my carrier was ‘cute’ and quickly took a detour out to the brewery to show it to Tom, the main man of the Lion and Hop Kettle. Perhaps we’ll see Hop Kettle beer carriers appearing in the not to distant future. As much as I love my Tiny Rebel one a Hop Kettle one would be cooler. The pint went down perfectly and, as is usually the case, it put me in the mood for another. I couldn’t resist returning to the bar and purchasing a half of the BBF DIPA – it really is a splendid beer.
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EIGHTEENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 23 JULY 2014
Another Wednesday but yet again there is only garbage on at the movies… hold on! The new Planet of the Apes movie has arrived. I love Planet of the Apes. I love the original five movies, I love the 1970s TV series and I love the first film of the recent reboot. Yeah, the Tim Burton movie is a tad shoddy but on the whole Planet of the Apes rocks primetime. Yeah! Let’s go to the flicks to see the new Apes movie… or we could go to the pub and go see the movie when the crowds have died down. Yeah, let’s go to the pub…
I started with a pint of Beer Rebel Lion from Late Knights. I’ve had a few Late Knights beers and so far not been especially impressed by any of them. Sadly, the Beer Rebel Lion did nothing to change that impression. I’m not even sure what kind of beer it was meant to be but it certainly ain’t for me. But, hey, out in the the garden the sun was shining. I went back indoors and bought a pint of Hop Kettle Respect Your Elders. As the name would suggest there is elderflower in mix. It’s a tasty little number. Nice and dry but with a fruity floral zing – a perfect summer pint. The name, although not as bad as some of its stablemates, leaves a lot to be desired. But I’d imagine it’s lot easier to criticise a beer’s name than it is to think up beer name that doesn’t already exist and says something about the beer but isn’t a daft pun. While at the bar I’d also purchased a half of the BBF DIPA. Before departing I popped back in for another two. The same beer three times in a row – that’s not meant to happen in Beergeekland.
Also out in the garden where a couple of families who were dining together. The parents talked and drank beer and wine and looked like they were well-educated and in good paying jobs The kids ran and shouted their way around the garden. A couple of the kids started picking up the apples that the trees have recently dropped they then threw them hard down onto the patio. It quickly became covered in bits of splattered apple, which I’m sure the local wasps will love. When they grew bored with splattering apples they started throwing the apples over the beer garden walls and into the gardens of the pub’s neighbours. The parents of the children never once admonished them and I didn’t even notice them glance in their direction when the kids were shouting for attention. If it was kids from council estates throwing the apples I’d imagine they’d be referred to as little yobs but as these kids hail from nice hardworking middle-class households I’d guess they are referred to as ‘free-spirits’. All parents should have to read this article by Justin Mason before they take their little yobs or free-spirits to a pub.
I had planned on getting a couple of bottles of Ginlemlii to go but the bar queue was almost as long as it was on the Friday night of the Siren Tap Takeover. The staff were doing an admirable job of getting everyone served as quickly as possible but I had in no desire to hang around. Consequently, I went to the Tesco Local and purchased two bottles of Leffe – oh the indignity!
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SEVENTEENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 16 JULY 2014
Another Wednesday and still there is nothing of worth on at the cinema. Thankfully there is always something of worth on at the Red Lion Cricklade…
I walked in and Matt asked if I’d tried that Halftime Orange from Triple fff. I hadn’t. He said it was pretty good. I ordered a pint. It was pretty good. Not as good as the pub’s own brewed saison – Ginlemlii – but it was still a tasty brew. I returned to the bar and ordered half a Stravaigin and a half of the Bristol Beer Factory Double IPA. Both are delicious. The Double IPA is currently my favourite new beer of 2014. I once again returned to the bar but this time I paired the DIPA with a Siren Americano – another top beer of 2014.
It was a very pleasant but relatively uneventful trip to the pub. Oh, apart from sitting at the table under the apple tree. Lots of apples fell and bounced off the table but not a single one hit me – victory!
Before leaving I got a couple of bottles of Ginlemlii to go. The lovely delicious stuff that it is.
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SIXTEENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 9 JULY 2014
Wednesday evening often means a trip to the movies but at the moment there’s nothing but crap on. The best on offer is Transformers. I’ve not seen any of the previous Transformers movies so it seems a bit daft to start at number four. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen a Transformers movie. I loved the cartoons when I was a kid. And I even had some of the toys. I think the toys might be the problem. Or one toy in particular. An Auntie bought me an Insecticon. When it was a robot it was cool as fuck but the fact it transformed in a giant robotic insect didn’t make any sense. I could understand why a robot would disguise itself as a car or a plane but a giant fucking robotic insect! What kind of useless disguise is that? My brief love affair with Transformers was over and it has yet to be rekindled.
So we gave the cinema a miss and hit the pub…
My opening salvo was the latest new brew from Hop Kettle, Pale By Comparison. I’ve been growing slightly concerned about the dodgy names bestowed upon recent HK beers but thankfully I’ve had no need to grow concerned by the quality of the actual beer. Pale By Comparison is a 3.8% Session Pale. It’s delicious. Light but flavoursome. Packed with hops. A beautiful thirst quencher.
The deal was that I’d have two pints and then we’d head of to a takeaway – probably the fish n chip shop at Peatmoor. I decided to maximise my returns by making the second pint two halve. One of them an old acquaintance – Stravaigan – and a new friend – Shankar IPA by Great Heck. The Shankar was good. Perhaps not quite as good as Heck’s Black Jesus but very good. By the time my two halves had been dispatched we’d decided we may as well stay in the pub and eat there. I ordered a burger served with chili jam and further tasty additions and washed it down with another pint of Pale By Comparison. Before departing I had a pint of Hop Kettle’s excellent take on an ESB and got a couple of bottles of their delicious Ginlemlii to go. And then it was time to head home and drink in the garden.
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FIFTEENTH VISIT: SATURDAY 7 JUNE 2014
After my semi-heroic exploits the previous day I wasn’t planning on returning for day two of the Siren Tap Takeover but Andy from Elusive Brewing tweeted me to say he would be attending so I consider it would be rude to pop in for at least one or two. I spent the afternoon with a two pint Growler of Shattered Dream so I was buzzing mildy but nicely. Due to public transport I’d only have a couple of hours in the pub but a couple of hours is better than no hours. The bus journey there was a little surreal. A couple of 14 year old girls were asking a man of 80 maths questions. He’d claimed that when he was younger he’d been a mathematician. They laughed at this statement so he asked them to test him. The first question was the old classic: 7 x 8. He gave them correct answer. They then asked him a series of increasingly difficult questions – most them above my level of interest. He appeared to get them all correct. Finally he was asked something that stumped him. He was ummmmming and ahhhhing but clearly going nowhere and then someone from the back of the bus shouted out the answer. Crazy times.
I decided the only correct way to opening proceedings was the same way as I done so the day before: a half of the Red Lion. I located Andy and his lovely tucked away in the corner. We chatted until they finished their food then we popped out to the garden to have a look at the brewery. Sadly, it was closed for business but like a couple of greedy kids outside a sweet shop we managed to have a gawp through the window. We stood in the garden and basked in the mid-evening Cotswold sun. It was at that moment that I decided the bus could get tae fuck – I was staying till kicking out time then getting a taxi home.
We went indoors and took a seat at the Siren table. Head Brewer Ryan was playing quizmaster. It took us a while but pretty soon we were warmed up and were answering questions with a regularity that was almost impressive but admittedly not quite as impressive as an 80 year old man answering maths questions on a bus. When the quizmaster was bored of being a quizmaster we all settled down to a nice game of Bullshit. I’d never played the game before but the rules are simple enough: you chuck cards on the table and tell lies. It was a great laugh and the laugh level was probably heightened by the fact 8 of us were playing and we were using several packs of cards and some of those packs were incomplete. While quizzing and carding we got to sample some Siren brews that aren’t currently for sale. Although I read the words on the bottles I’ve no recollection of what those words said but all the beers were pretty out-there. Time was ticking on. Kicking out time was fast approaching. There was just enough time for a quick game of Who Am I? Andy said he wasn’t able to read the name on his bit of paper. The fact that he wasn’t meant to be reading it didn’t seem to concern him. I looked at it and couldn’t work out what the freak it said. Then I looked at it again and realised that it was who had written it. Oops. I was obviously a little bit more drunk than I thought. We hadn’t managed to complete the game before we were politely but firmly asked to leave. Party over. We stood in the street and swigged rare Siren from 750ml bottles until my taxi arrived and then the party really was over. It had been a highly enjoyable evening.
Anyway, here’s what a had to drink: The Red Lion x3, Americano x3, and a Ratchet. And a two pint Growler fill of Americano to go.
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FOURTEENTH VISIT: FRIDAY 6 JUNE 2014
The day of the Siren Tap Takeover had arrived!
As luck would have it I’d managed to secure the day off work so decided to head to the Lion for a mid-afternoon beverage. Nothing too full-on and heavy, just three or four halves and then the bus back home. I started with The Red Lion. It’s a version of Siren’s Calypso Berliner that’s been aged with cherries and cranberries and raspberries – it was created especially for the tap takeover and it pours a fantastically super-sexy red. I took my beer outside and took a seat under the wisteria. The garden was practically empty – just two other folk were in attendance. Down the far end it looked like Matt was enjoying the sunshine and a beer but he had his back to me so I couldn’t be sure it was him. The only other occupant was on old dude who was sitting at the table closest to the brewery entrance. When my beer was finished I popped back the bar and got a Bière De Gouttière. I would’ve quite happily spent the rest of the day drinking The Red Lion but there’s no real point going to a tap takeover and only drinking one beer, well, there is but there isn’t. Matt stopped for a little chat on his way home and then it was just me and the old dude. While I was tapping away at my iProduct I could hear voices emanating from somewhere. I looked around to see if anybody had sneaked into the garden but it was still just me and the old dude. Then I realised that the old dude was talking to himself. Fair enough. I occasionally like to indulge in a little bit of self-chat. But I was heading back indoors to score my third beer of the day I noticed that he wasn’t speaking to himself but he was merely cautioning his dog for wandering off. I really shouldn’t judge people by my own low standards. Drink number three was a Ratchet. I’d almost pretty much nearly decided to head home after I’d finished it but up popped the Milburns so I decided to stay for a few more. So I stayed a little longer. Then I decided to phone my girlfriend to see if she fancied joining me at the pub and we could eat there. She did. So, after an initial plan that would see my heading off at 4pm I consequently stayed for an eight hour stint. Not too shabby. It was a great afternoon and evening. I had a good laugh with the Milburns and with the other members of the Twitter & Untappd Elite (Swindon & Surrounding Areas Branch). The pub was very possibly the busiest I’ve seen it. But the punters were queuing in a polite and well-mannered order and the staff were pouring the drinks at an impressive rate of knots. While one of my many visits to the gents a person who I’d never seen before answered his phone: “… yeah, mate, I’m in the toilet of a pub in the middle of nowhere… Siren tap takeover, innit… yeah, mate, diamond night, total diamond.”
Here’s the full tale of the ale: The Red Lion x3, Americano x 2, Soundwave, Ratchet, Bière De Gouttière, 10 Finger Discount, Liquid Mistress, Broken Dream, Shattered Dream, Caribbean Chocolate Cake, and a two-pint growler of Shattered Dream to go.
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THIRTEENTH VISIT: MONDAY 26 MAY 2014
As a famous poet once told me: you don’t deserved a Monday off work unless you visit your favourite pub. I’ve never been one to risk the wrath and ridicule of a famous poet so to the pub I headed. The initial plan was a brief visit – just enough time to down a pint or two of this season’s Ginlemlii. Mere moments after we arrived a table was vacated, which we duly seized. It seemed a waste to occupy a perfectly good table without indulging in a bite to eat. The plans had been upgraded.
Ginlemlii was one of my favourite beers of 2013. One of the true joys of last summer was sitting in the garden of the Red Lion knocking back a few pints of Ginlemlii. It’s a ginger and lemongrass saison that’s been dry hopped with lime leaves. It’s on cask so it arguably doesn’t have any right to taste as good as it does. Some of this year’s batch is going to be kegged – I think a little bit of a chill and a fizz will raise it to a whole new level. But I am pleased to report that this year’s cask batch is every bit as delicious as last year’s.
I was tempted to order a second helping of saison but when I was at the bar ordering food I noticed a new beer on the guest keg line up: Stravaigin from Williams Bros and Stillwater Artisanal Ales. I find Williams Bros a little bit too hit and miss. I really like their Profanity Stout and I enjoy a bottle of Hipsway far more than I am prepared to admit in polite society. But their other offerings have failed to truly grab me. I’ve not had many Stillwater beers. I’ve had their (his) collab with Mikkeller – Two Gypsies Our Side. And the collab with Mikkeller and Fanø – Gypsy Tears. And three that are entirely their own creation. The only place I’ve ever had Stillwater is Copenhagen. Until now. Copenhagen and Cricklade – it has a nice ring to it. Stravaigin is great. It’s billed as a saison. But it’s a pretty sour one. And the hopping tastes boosted up enough for it to qualify as an IPA. It seems to be coming from the same direction as Siren’s Limoncello, which is no bad thing.
The food arrived. A steak sandwich with horseradish and other things that have slipped my memory. And it was accompanied by three roast potatoes which were very probably the best roast potatoes I’ve ever shoved in my gob. Yum. I was tempted to have another Stravaigin as my parting shot but decided to invest in a 10 Finger Discount instead. The Siren tap takeover is fast approaching (6 to 8 June) and I felt I should get in some training. And 10 Finger is one of the best beers I’ve drunk this year. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more opportunities to drink Stravaigin.
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TWELFTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 21 MAY 2014
This week’s Wednesday movie was Godzilla. It starts off great but then it turns into a monster movie and for a while it is merely okay but then it turns awesome! Well worth going to see. But there is no Godzooky!
The reason for this visit to the Lion was to sample Killer Cat’s Double Seven. I had it in my head that Killer Cat are a bunch of young upstarts from a trendy London suburb but it turns out that they are from Malmesbury and are actually the craft division of Malmesbury Brewery. I also had it in my head that Double Seven was a good old-fashioned double IPA but it appears to be a smoked IPA. (Untappd has it listed as an imperial stout!) It was all very confusing. I kind of liked it. It was interesting. I doubt it has put me off trying other Killer Cat beers. But I doubt I’ll bother trying Double Seven again.
I fancied another pint so trooped back to the bar and purchased a Stags Foote. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of browns but this offering from Hop Kettle is pretty damn fine and every pint sees money donated to a local charity – Win Win. I returned to my outside table. Darkness had all but descended. A gentle breeze was blowing. A faint murmur of noise drifted out of the bar but beyond that there was silence. It’s times like this when the garden of the Red Lion is one of my favourite places on the planet. When my pint was despatched I headed home to listen to Monster Movie by Can.
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ELEVENTH VISIT: SATURDAY 17 MAY 2014
Going to the Red Lion wasn’t part of the weekend’s plans but then they sent a tweet that contained the words ‘brisket’ and ‘Snake’s Head IPA’.
I walked in shortly after noon. I didn’t even bother wasting any time seeing what other beers were available. I knew what I wanted: a pint of Hop Kettle’s Snake’s Head IPA. Although we had arrived within 10 minutes of the place opening some of the inside tables were taken and a few more had reserved signs on them. But on a day as glorious as this there was no need to remain indoors. We sat under the wisteria as it offered some shade and because it was lovely to sit under a carpet of delicate purple. The Snake’s Head vanished quickly. It’s a fantastic and it never hangs around for long. I headed back to the bar so I could score another Snake’s Head and some food. It was the brisket that had me leave the house so, naturally, it was the brisket I ordered. The garden was filling up nicely. Lots of happy people downing beer and food. Occasionally gentle breeze blew and it snow little purple flowers. The food arrived. A pile of meat stuffed into two bread rolls (which seemed a tad superfluous), fries, pickles and coleslaw. The meat was tender and juicy and packed with flavour – absolutely delicious. I decided to have one final beer before hitting the road. I was tempted to have a third pint of Snake’s Head but instead I went for a pint of Siren’s Ten Finger Discount. In a couple of weeks the Red Lion will be hosting a tap takeover for Siren and Ten Finger is going to be one of the featured beers. It’s a very good IPA I’d be happy to drink it every week but I thought it slightly odd that it had just hit the keg lines when it will also be doing so at the start of June for the TT. I guess it’s a little bit of advance advertising. If people try the Ten Finger now and like it (and I’m sure that most folk will) then it should help ensure the TT is a glorious success.
I got a two pint takeaway of Snake’s Head. I also planned to load up on Paritzan Single but sadly they had all been sold – they were hardly going to hang around for long when they were being flogged for only £1.20 a bottle. Westmalle Dubbel was also being sold off for £1.20 a bottle so I bought five of them instead. I went home and drunk the lot and shouted expletives in the general direction of Tim Sherwood.
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TENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 14 MAY 2014
The first trip to the Red Lion in 2014 where the entire session was conducted in the garden – it’s officially summer!
As per usual, there were loads of great beers to choose from. The two Hop Kettle rotating taps housed Blood, Wheat, No Tears (a wheat beer brewed with blood oranges) and Stag’s Foote (a brown ale brewed exclusively with NZ hops). The two guest keg taps boasted Wild Beer’s Madness and Bosko from Pressure Drop. I went for a pint of the Wheat. I’m not a huge fan of wheats but occasionally, and especially so when the sun is shining, I like to give one a whirl.
Most of the indoor tables were taken so we trooped out to the garden. Most of the outdoor tables were taken but there was still a few up for grabs. It was only a few minutes after 6pm but already the place was busy. Busy on a Wednesday evening – nice. Two folk came outside carrying glasses of gin (the gin list at the Red Lion is almost as impressive as the beer list). They loudly complained that there were empty glasses on a table. They collected up the empty glasses and moved them to a table that didn’t have any empty glasses on it. Quite why they choose to do that rather than sit at the empty table I do not know. I assume there was a very valid reason.
The wheat went down quickly. I headed back to the bar to make a new purchase. I decided to maximise my drinking time by getting two beers at a time: a pint of Bosko and a pint of Stag’s Foote was the order. I’m not a huge fan of browns but occasionally I give one a whirl. The Stag’s Foote was good. I often find that browns are too chewy and sludgy but this one was a good blend of malt and hops. But I couldn’t help thinking that if the sun wasn’t quite so bright it would’ve tasted even better.
Matt (barman, brewer, beer geek and all round good guy) popped out to collect some empties and paused for a little chat about Camden Town Brewery (whose Hells has recently become a permanent fixture and is selling well) and the forthcoming Siren Tap Takeover (Friday the 6th June to Sunday the 8th).
The Bosko was great. It slid down super quick and left me with a nice little beer buzz and a big desire to drink even more beer. I trotted back to the bar for another pint of it. I also decided to get a half of the Five Points Hook Island. I’m not a huge of reds (have you noticed a theme developing) but occasionally I like to give one a whirl. It was okay. Better balanced than a lot of reds but still a touch too idiosynractic for my liking. The second Bosko tasted even better than the first. I could’ve have happily sat there all evening drinking it but, alas, it was time to make a move and head for home.
On the way out I bumped into Matt and decided that was a sign that I should get 5 bottles of Partizan Single to go. One pound twenty a bottle – supreme bargain!
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NINTH VISIT: FRIDAY 25 APRIL 2014
It’s Friday evening. It’s the time that the working class people of the world unite and descend upon their favourite boozers. I earn a living by twatting about with spreadsheets and numbers. I’m not sure if that is a true working class vocation. But my father was a milkman and my mum used to make shopping trolley wheels so I believe that means I qualify via my parents. Victory! To the pub.
As expected, considering the day and the time, it was standing room only. But the bar area itself was relatively clear. I ordered a pint of Hop Kettle’s Tricerahops. It’s a good pale but I can’t help feeling that it should be better. I can’t actually fault it be I find myself wanting a little bit more something or other. As there were no tables we decided to take out drinks outside to the covered smoking area. Hardly anybody sits there so usually you can get it to yourself. This time there was a couple there but the didn’t hang around long and didn’t have a smoke while they were there. Before they left we did consider joining forces and storming the walls of a neighbouring garden so we could steal whatever it was they were cooking on their barbecue. My pint was dead so I headed back to the bar. I bought of pint of Madness IPA by Wild Beer Co. The last time I was in the Red Lion Suggs was here and now this time Madness is on – surely that’s not a coincidence. I did wonder if Mr McPherson would’ve thought someone was taking the piss if the Madness had been on when he visited – I hope not. Madness is a good IPA but every time I have it makes me want a pint of BBF’s Southville Hop – I might be wrong but I think they were created by the same person. It was getting slightly too chilly to be sitting around outside so we headed back in doors. There still wasn’t any seats but the standing room had thinned out. By the time I’d finished my Madness the table the Suggs had occupied had become free – no, seriously, I shit you not. My girlfriend secured the table while I secured the last beers of the visit: a pint of Hop Kettle ESB (as admirable as ever) and a half of Late Knight’s Hairy Dog (an acceptable but not astounding attempt at a BIPA). The drinks were duly despatched. Food time.
Oh yeah, I keep forgetting to mention: Camden Town Hells is now a permanent feature of the keg line up… but don’t let that put you off.
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EIGHTH VIST: THURSDAY 17 APRIL 2014
I was here to meet me Un-Human Cannonball dealer. As I arrived I spied him up the back. He was sitting with his family so I played it cool. I ordered a pint of Bad Seed’s South Pacific Pale Ale. It was as tasty as I hoped it would and it slipped down super quick. My contact approached the bar and we me the exchange. I was now the owner of two bottles of Un-Human Cannonball. One would be consumed after the weekend’s festivities in London and the other remain stashed in the fridge until it is (approximately) eleven weeks old.
All tables were taken but by the time I was halfway down my Bad Seed the table by the dog bowl was vacated. The dog bowl table is great as it allows you to keep an eye on the door and it means you get to say hello to loads of furry friends. If you don’t like dogs or have any enemies then the dog bowl table is probably rubbish. I trotted back to the bar and got a half of Gloucester’s Galaxy (lovely) and another half of the Bad Seed. I was stroking a dog when someone came through the door. At first glance I thought it was Suggs from Madness. But a second glance made me change my mind. I informed my girlfriend about my recent thought process and she gave me an incredulous look but then turned her gaze towards the bar. Then the man who I thought was Suggs but then thought wasn’t Suggs spoke… Shitting hell! There was no mistaking that voice. It bloody well was Suggs. Drinking with the stars!
I decided to have one final beer. Siren’s 7 Seas IPA was on. If there is a Siren on in the Red Lion I like to have a half of it before exiting. It’s a little tradition. Traditions are good. Especially when they mean you get to drink good beer.
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SEVENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 19 MARCH 2014
Another post cinema vist. Tonight’s movie of choice was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is one of those films that is great to watch but even better when you start thinking about it afterwards.
We arrived shortly before nine. The place was busy but we managed to secure the last vacant table. I ordered a pint of Mello from Penzance Brewery. I’d only previously had one Penzance beer – Pedalier Piste – and it was tasty enough to make me want to try more of their wares. Mello is a good beer: clean and easy drinking but with an interesting saison yeast tang foraging around in the undergrowth. Nice. Beer number two was the very beer that had brought me to the Red Lion this very night: 7 Seas IPA by Siren. Subtle but subtly satisfying. It’s a very clever beer. There’s a lot going on but there’s no shouting involved. Every component is quietly waiting to be discovered. I believe repeat visits will continue to bring new rewards. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to drink it again. I really fancied another pint of the 7 Seas but I decided to see how Hop Kettle’s Black Adder was tasting. Better than ever was the answer. One hour had passed and I had joyfully consumed three excellent beers that complimented each other perfectly.
And there was a good atmosphere in the pub tonight. No ear-shattering OAPs. Just the constant buzz of people enjoying good food and drink and chat.
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SIXTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2014
A post cinema beverage. Cuban Fury was the movie. And I enjoyed it far more than I will ever admit.
Hop Kettle’s Kohatu was back on the bar and I was tempted to kick off with a pint of it but I couldn’t resist a pint of Arbor C-Bomb. It was juicy and bitter and oh so tasty. I almost ordered another pint but then spied the clip for Summer Wine’s Piha so I went in that direction instead. The Piha certainly wasn’t a badly made beer but after the C-Bomb it was very restrained and consequently a bit of a let down. A swift half Downton’s Roman Imperial Stout, which was quietly decent, was followed by a half of Siren’s Neither Imperial IPA, which I believe is a bit of a beer classic. One hour had vanished.
The evening was somewhat slightly sullied by a group of noisy 60-somethings at the table next to ours. I couldn’t actually make out any of their conversation but they stuck to the same routine: one of them would say a dozen or so words and then all of them would laugh super loudly for a few seconds then the short routine would start again. Most annoying. They made it impossible to have a normal conversation. But I suppose they have just as much a right to be in a the pub as I do, possibly even more so.
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FIFTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2014
I don’t work Thursdays so Wednesdays are a great time to head out for so food and, more importantly, some beer. I’d planned to hit the Red Lion for food and beer this Wednesday but shortly before the planned departure time I spied a freshly delivered charity bag and decided to rummage through my wardrobe in an altruistic attempt to fill that bag. Consequently, we arrived at the pub at 10 to 9 instead of 10 to 7. Food was still being served for another 40 mins but somehow en route the plan was amended to drink beer then go for a kebab.
I’d been craving a big hop for most of the day and even before walking across the threshold I was pretty sure how I would achieve it: a couple of pints of Hop Kettle’s Black Adder chased down by a half pint of Siren Neither… Things didn’t go quite as planned. I ended up having four pints of the Black Adder before finishing off with the Neither. When I was up getting my third pint of Black Adder I was almost tempted to get a pint of Brightside Amarillo but Tom, the main man behind the Red Lion and Hop Kettle, informed me that it was reasonably restrained. I’m rarely in the mood for restrained.
I toyed with the idea of getting a bottle of Gamma Ray to go but after counting out my pennies I realised that would mean I’d have to use my debit card in the kebab shop. Some things should only be bought with cold hard cash.
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FOURTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2014
The Red Lion does good food. Really good food. Their good food makes it easier for me to convince my non-drinking better half to pay the place a visit. She does get amusingly irate at their use of non-standard crockery – chopping boards instead of plates, plant pots and jam jars instead of pudding bowls – but she doesn’t let such faux-hatred get in the way of a good feast.
There was a new Hop Kettle beer on the bar: Kohatu – a 4.3% single hop pale. Hop Kettle have created some excellent single hop beers including Chinook (my personal favourite), Cascade, Dr Rudi and Galaxy. I’ve probably had a beer or twelve that features Kohatu hops but I don’t believe I’ve ever had a beer brewed solely with it. Until now. Initially it tasted clean and fresh but subtle. But after a few heroic gulps it had raised its game and was tasting super fruity. Bramble Bubblegum. Yum.
Another two pints of the Kohatu followed. As did a hearty portion of sausage and mash. And a pint of Mallinsons Columbus Nelson. Proceedings were rounded off with a pint of Kernel’s London Sour. And so ends another excellent evening in the Red Lion.
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THIRD VISIT: SATURDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2014
London Sour by Kernel. Neither Imperial IPA by Siren, Cigar City & Grassroots. Two beers that are guaranteed to get any card carrying CAMRA member through a pub door. They were certainly the reason I was in the Red Lion on a Saturday afternoon.
I kicked off with a pint of the Kernel. It’s good. Really good. But it’s not as good as a Brodie’s sour. No sour is as good as a Brodie’s sour. Except another Brodie’s sour. Oh! And Sur Munk.
Time for a Neither. Only a half though cos it’s 8.3%. Delicious. This is the kind of IPA I love. The hops are big and powerful but nicely balanced with the malt so not so stupidly bitter that it is almost pointless. Although the relatively high ABV is perfectly hidden taste wise the mouth feel lets you know you’re supping a big hitter. It’s thick and wholesome but glides down beautifully. Aye, delicious. I trotted back to the bar for another half. It was gulped down far quicker than recommended by those people who recommend things that I ignore. I trotted back to bar for a third half. It was gulped down quicker than the second. I was starting to feel a good beer buzz coming on. I could’ve happily stayed and gulped half after half of Neither. But it was recommended by someone who I try not to ignore that it was time to go home.
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SECOND VISIT: SUNDAY 26 JANUARY 2014
A quick pit stop after a failed attempt to purchase some new jeans and trainers.
A tweet sent the previous evening announced the arrival of the latest Hop Kettle offering: Black Adder – a 6.7% BIPA. One of my favourite beers of 2013 was a BIPA – In The Dark We Live by Tempest. But I’m still not entirely convinced that I’m entirely convinced by the beers that fall into the BIPA category. However, the pint of Black Adder was a very good pint of beer and one that was gravitating towards the IPA end of the market instead of the stout end that some BIPAs seem to strive for. Although it doesn’t occupy the same delicious stratosphere as Snake’s Head (Hop Kettle’s USA IPA) it does provide a great and tasty hop hit and I look forward to drinking it again in the future.
I was tempted to have another pint of Black Adder but there was another beer on the bar that I was keen to try: Wadworth Brewers’ Creations No.12 – a 6.5% Saison style beer. Yup, you read that correctly. A 6.5% Saison style beer brewed by one the UK’s 100+ year old regional big boys. Crazy times. It certainly wasn’t the greatest Saison I’ve ever had – a touch too sweet and I reckon it would benefit from a bit of keg fizz – but I do hope that Wadworth continue to push out in directions like this. A valiant effort.
Next up I opted for a half of Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. It’s a beer I’ve had a few times while dossing around in London but previously I’ve never had it beyond the confines of the M25. It was on fantastic form and went down way too quickly so I trotted back to the bar for a whole pint of it. Then I got a bottle to go. Lovely.
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FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 11 JANUARY 2014
Based on my drinking experiences, the Red Lion is Wiltshire’s finest beer destination and has cask list that is as good as any you are likely to find outside of the UK’s main population centres. The bar has been home to delicious delights from the likes of Thornbridge, Arbor, Art Brew, Otley, Hardknott, Magic Rock, Moor, Tiny Rebel, Tempest and Bristol Beer Factory. Additionally, in the middle of 2012 the Red Lion opened its own 4 barrel microbrewery – Hop Kettle Brewing Co. Their Single Hop Chinook was one of my favourite beers of 2012 and their Flapjack Black (a 7.6% breakfast stout) was the best beer I encountered in 2013. There’s always 10 cask beers on sale. Wadworth 6X and Butcombe Bitter are constantly available. As are Hop Kettle’s North Wall (the house bitter) and Tricerahops (the house pale ale). Another two handpulls are reserved for seasonal/experimental Hop Kettle offerings. The final four showcase an impressive range of guest stars.
Currently the keg list permanently hosts Veltins, Kozel Pale and Maisel’s Weisse. And Carling and Guinness. A further two lines change regularly and have been home to such notable worthies as Coronado Idiot IPA, Siren Limoncello IPA, Victory Prima Pils, Fyne & Wild Cool As A Cucumber and Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye PA.
The bottle line up is always worth exploring and has witnessed appearances from (among others) Dogfish Head, Stone, Mikkeller, Weird Beard, Kernel, Cantillon and Nomada.
Fixtures and fittings wise its all very much traditional village pub: stuffed animals, old books, things made of metal and wood that probably have something to do with agriculture, an open fire and a sheet of A4 paper housed in a clip less frame that announces the winners of the weekly meat draw. (Be there Friday evening if you want to buy tickets.)
The quality of the food served at the Lion is excellent and consequently the place is very popular with diners. If you are only planning on enjoying a few beers you might find it preferable to avoid food service times. But, if the sun is shining or you don’t mind the cold, there’s a very large beer garden that’s a great place to spend some time and down some beers.
Adrian Tierney-Jones featured the Lion in his book Great British Pubs. He liked the place, which is probably why he wrote about it in a book called Great British Pubs. The rumour around town is that he likes to pop in for half a 6X every now and again. But I’ve never seen him there. But I’ve no idea what he looks like so perhaps I have. Perhaps if I order half a 6X people will think I am him. Perhaps not.
I can’t remember all the casks beers that were on during this visit but the additional Hop Kettle offerings were Blizzard (an 8.6% oak aged barley wine) and ESB. The two keg guests were Siren Half Mast (a 2.7% session IPA) and Derail Ale from Box Steam (a 5.2% IPA).
More often than not I start with a Hop Kettle beer but this time I decided to kick things off with a beer that had travelled down from way up in the north east. The evening before this visit I’d asked my girlfriend if she fancied going to the Red Lion for Saturday lunch. Her answer was a question: ‘What beer is it that you want to try?’ Sussed. Of course, her assumption was correct. And the answer to her question was Tyne Bank Cherry Stout – a beautifully smooth and super tasty oatmeal stout that’s been infused the real cherries. The pint vanished in less than 5 minutes so I headed back to the bar for another and to order the food (burger for him and ham, eggs n chips for her… both delicious, thanks for asking). The food came. The food and second pint of Cherry Stout vanished. I headed back to bar. This time I ordered a half of the Blizzard and a half of the Derail IPA. I had no idea that Box Steam did keg, which is the reason I opted for the Derail. I was impressed way more than I expected to be: a floral lick up front that’s superseded by a bitter citrus finished. Refreshing. The Blizzard was dark and chewy and the oak give it a nice woody whack – another HK success. Time to exit stage left. Don’t panic. I will return soon and often.
I love the Red Lion. You should visit the Red Lion. Then you’ll love the Red Lion.