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Red Lion, 2 Market Place, Epworth, South Yorkshire
Before I begin this week's column, here's a report from my friend Mistah Rick on the Boonville Beer Festival in Northern California:
"The tasting glasses this year were little 6-oz pint glasses. There were abundant IPAs to sample, so I concentrated on those and was never disappointed. Stumptown IPA from Guerneville made a strong start, and I could not resist following it with a Proving Ground Pale Ale from Magnolia, their most bitter offering. Next I was surprised to find a brewer from the unlikely location of San Diego with the unpromising name of Oggi's Pizza serving a cask conditioned brew, Torrey Pines IPA. It was excellent, and I wish I could have offered you a pint. (The representative of this establishment insisted that the San Diego area had many pubs offering ales on cask, so I don't know why it is so uncommon in the greater Los Angeles area.) Then I happened upon Far West Ireland from Redmond, which offered an IPA as well that lived up to its hoppy reputation rather than resembling something Irish. The first set ended with my favorite new discovery, Boundary Bay IPA from Bellingham...
"...I had a brief tasting pause when I ran into a familiar group of guys from Cato's Ale House, including Alex, their beer manager. In addition to confirming the greatness of the Torrey Pines IPA he recommended the double red from Ballast Point of San Diego, so I made that my next stop. Tongue Builder was the name they gave to this brew. I guess it's something about the malt that characterizes it as a red, but the color and lovely bitterness made it seem like a fine strong IPA to me. Eel River of Fortuna features all organic brews, including an IPA that was tasty, but perhaps a bit too clean.
"After a food break for a felafel (served by a woman sporting bunny ears) I violated my rule and went for a predictably delicious sample of Pliny the Elder IPA from Russian River. But I had to dump half of that when a passerby tipped me off to the fact that the rather secretive Unibroue of Quebec was just uncorking a bottle of their Trois Pistoles and serving limited tastes. It was a fine Belgian, I suppose, but I had to hurry through this sample and return to the realm of IPA with an excellent one from 21st Amendment of San Francisco.
"...I transitioned to a sort of dessert phase with a taste of the raspberry lambic for myself. It was nicely fruity without being excessively sweet, and I had every intention of finishing it when Yoko asked me to trade for the Triple Rock Stout, which she didn't like. Five o'clock rushed past, and all the brewers were packing up when George insisted that I have another in honor of his birthday. I found Drake's of San Leandro still draining their taps, so I got a taste of their Expedition Ale, which was more satisfying than the somewhat malty brews that I remember them for.
"Kind of a shame that I got to sample from only about a fifth of the breweries that were on hand. This should really be a week-long event."
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Andrew and I recently stopped in at the Red Lion in Epworth where we had excellent pints of Burton Ale (4.8% ABV, Marston, Thompson & Evershed, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire) and Tetley's (3.7% ABV, Carlsberg-Tetley Brewing Co., Leeds, West Yorkshire). It was a rainy day and our perfectly kept crisp pints along with the warm colourful atmosphere of the pub were comforting and restorative after our drive across Louisiana -- er, sorry, South Yorkshire.
The pub, which features a large restaurant area and accommodation, has a very inviting conservatory with a pretty stained glass roof and a view of a courtyard which trails off into an intriguing pedestrian lane. I so wanted to wander outside and around the corner to see where the lane led...but I simply couldn't abandon my fine pint. The table at which we sat also had a view of an equally inviting stairway leading up to the accommodation. Perhaps we could stay, have a few more pints, and crawl upstairs for a nap? No, we needed to get back to Baton Rouge -- oops, sorry, Sheffield. Interestingly enough John Wesley, who is famous for founding Methodism with his brother Charles, often stayed at the Red Lion and preached at the market cross opposite the pub. The brothers were born in Epworth, which hosts a biannual Wesley Day featuring a pageant and street market. Having spent most of my adult life with an extremely handsome and now legendary cat of the same name I'm pleased by the idea of a festival dedicated to him, although I doubt feline Wesley -- lover, warrior, and hunter that he was -- was a Methodist. Although I have to admit during his 17 years of life we never once discussed religion.
I suppose I should explain my confusion with Louisiana. This part of England, where South Yorkshire meets North Lincolnshire, is called the Isle of Axholme because it used to be an inland island surrounded by rivers until the 17th century, when the Dutch engineer Vermuyden drained the area. If you drive from the town of Epworth to villages in the area with odd names like Wroot and Thorne, you'll travel down long straight roads with the occasional sharp bump. As would be expected in an area once underwater the roads are flanked by dykes, with small bridges criss-crossing back and forth. I'm always reminded of the I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette in Lousiana which is similarly flanked by strips of bayou. But here in Yorkshire we never see any alligators or dead armadillos (is there really such a thing as a live armadillo?), only sheep and pigs and pheasant. But what else could South Yorkshire and Louisiana possibly have in common, except for perhaps the fact that in Louisiana -- a civilised rarity for a US state -- one can legally walk down the street with a beer in one's hand? Should our prawn sandwiches at the Red Lion have been crawfish sandwiches instead?
All I can say is thank God -- or perhaps John Wesley -- that we were drinking pints of fine cask ale instead of bottles of Dixie Beer.
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(Last updated 15 April 2007)