Pub/Bar of the Month March 2014: The Red Lion, Cricklade, UK
Located at the bottom end of the high street in a fine old Wiltshire town, The Red Lion is handily placed for anyone travelling along the busy A417 between Swindon and Cirencester, or walking the Thames Path.
Its long, cream-painted, 17th-century façade is well presented with a row of floral baskets but offers little different, you would think, than many other pubs in this part of the world.
But, when you cross the threshold, the effort put in by the justly-successful licensees is all too evident.
The single bar room opens out to the right, offering a range of seating – including a fine curved pew in one corner – warmed by a crackling log fire.
Beneath the exposed beams, the décor is 'rural English', shall we say, with hunting trophies mounted on the exposed stone walls and rustic paraphernalia on display – anything from traps to stuffed animals to cartwheels.
Through the back is a snug alcove with a few tables grouped around a hearth that is now used for decorative purposes. But perhaps it is what is not in the pub – there are no amusement machines or televisions – that helps make the place so appealing.
The bar stands at the left of the main room and immediately grabs your attention with its impressive bank of handpumps, ten in all, dispensing a changing range of cask ales.
These may be familiar names, such as Wadworth 6X or Butcombe Bitter, but also included are offerings from smaller concerns – Prescott and Beerd, for example. Evidence of the variety presented can be found in the 'coming soon' display of pumpclips.
Also featuring is a selection of beers from the pub's own brewery. The Hop Kettle brewery was installed in a barn at the rear of the pub in 2012 and now offers regular beers such as North Wall (the chestnut-coloured house bitter) and Triceratops (a golden ale featuring New World hops), as well as adventurous experimental beers, such as Heather Honey Ale.
The full range of serving measures (including thirds and two-thirds) is available and a sample shot glass of each beer is drawn and placed in front of the pump to helpfully show uncertain customers the colour of each brew.
Lagers and keg ales are well chosen and bottled beers are not neglected, either, with beers from the likes of Kernel and Weird Beard from the UK and international treats such as Hitachino Nest (Japan), Stone (USA) and Belgian classics on sale.
There are summer and winter beer festivals each year and, while beer is clearly a major part of the pub's great success, it's not the only string to The Red Lion's bow.
Each evening, between 5.30 and 6.30, there's a gin hour, with fifteen different gins from various countries promoted. There are a number of ciders, too.
Food – a choice of simple pub meals or more elaborate fare served in a separate dining room – is sourced from local suppliers and is very well regarded, with beer pairings suggested for each restaurant dish.
Such attention to detail has helped the pub reap numerous awards and guidebook entries. Recent achievements include the title of Best British Pub of the Year in the 2013 BT Sport pub awards and a listing in the Publican and Morning Advertiser's list of top 50 gastropubs.
If this wasn't all, there's also a fine garden for the summer and five smart, en suite bedrooms, if you fancy a weekend break in this lovely part of the world.
In all The Red Lion does – and it certainly does a lot – the tricky balance between maintaining a beery pub atmosphere and reaching out to diners and tourists is admirably achieved.
The Red Lion, 74 High Street, Cricklade, Wiltshire SN6 6DD.
Tel. (01793) 750776
Opening Hours: 12–11; 12–midnight Friday and Saturday: 12–10.30 Sunday