Like all real ales their being kept well is of critical importance. I've enjoyed them most in a small pub where, almost miraculously, they're the two beers usually available, but only one at a time. The pub - The Red Lion in Ampney St Peter - is worth writing about as it has a few peculiar features, nearly all of which I've seen in other pubs but never together in the same one.
1. There's no bar; instead there's a smallish parlour. There's a table in the middle of the room, benches and chairs around it, in one corner a real fire and in the other, on a few wall-mounted shelves, a few bottled beers, the wine and some soft drinks, the barrel (only usually the one) sitting underneath.
2. You may have noticed the shortness of the list of drinks for sale. You already know what's in the barrel; there's no draught lager. There are only two wines available: red or white, and they're only available by the bottle (less than a fiver, last time I looked). In the event that you don't finish a whole bottle in one sitting the landlord will look after it for you until your next visit.
3. The landlord, John, has presided here for as long as most people remember and has known many of his customers for decades. He's 'retired' now so works full time at the pub, but I believe he used to work at the Royal Agricultural College and do the pub part-time. I also believe him to be the fourth landlord of the Red Lion since about 1850 (I had trouble imagining that, too).
4. Food: dry roast or salted.
5. The gents always smells fresh, a bit like a wet hedge. This is not only because John runs a tight ship, it's also because year-round the door's left open (there's no way to reach them without leaving the pub and walking round, by the way). Rain doesn't get in much when it sweeps across the wolds as the entrance is underneath the eaves.
6. The pub's 400-years old, much of its decor doesn't appear to have changed for over 100 years and its furniture appears indeterminately ancient. It's wonderfully unimproved.
7. It's only open evenings Monday to Saturday and lunchtime on Sunday.
Listing The Red Lion's attributes like this makes it sound a bit austere. Nothing could be further from the truth. What with everyone sitting around the same table in the parlour and the roaring fire in winter, it's wonderfully snug. And sociable - if you want to shoot the breeze, you'll certainly get the opportunity.
In fact, if you go in there on a Friday at about 6.30pm, more often than not, you'll find my old chap. He looks a bit like a scale version of Brian Blessed but without the silly voice. He may well be smelling of sheep.