We're only here for the beer

As the Campaign for Real Ale goes in search of new members, preferably without beards, Anthony Clavane offers a taste of the summer's most full- bodied beer festivals

Sonia points an accusing finger at her husband. "John," she reveals to the astonishment of her fellow real ale enthusiasts, "used to be a lager lout". John studies his pint - a fruity, full-bodied Earl Soham Albert, with an alcohol content of 4.3 per cent and a specific gravity of 1044 degrees - and wishes the sawdust-covered floor of Colchester Arts Centre would open up and swallow him.

To the real-ale enthusiast, being denounced in full view of your mates as an "adulterer" - or partaker of adulterated beer - is the ultimate humiliation. It's not John's loutishness Sonia objects to, but the way he betrayed her for a dead beer pumped with chemicals. Every mouthful of lager he gulped down was an attack on local breweries and a stab in the back for the good old British pub which, according to the newspaper produced by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), "helps define our sense of nationhood and individuality". Before he is frogmarched out by the Brit-ale drink police - two bearded bouncers sporting brash Camra T-shirts - she quickly adds that he soon saw the light, or smelled the hops.

John sighs with relief. He can vividly recall the moment he supped his first authentic pint. "It was incredible - it changed my life. I now feel passionately about real ale."

Not only did he join Colchester Camra, he became its publicity officer. These days, when he holds forth on the joys of home brewing, or the evils of micro-brewery mashing, it is with the evangelising zeal of the convert. "I believe in everything Camra stands for," he declares. Sonia nods in agreement.

Peter, a veteran of Camra festivals, asks Mike, who like him is "approaching 60" to savour Wild Thing, which is brewed in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire, and contains five per cent alcohol. Mike places his nose over the glass and sniffs. Then he takes a sip and swills the beer around in his mouth for a few seconds. "Five plus I should think." Peter carefully records the mark in the back of his programme. "You've got to smell whether it's hoppy, whether it tastes sweet or bitter," he explains, "and then, of course, there's the aftertaste."

Each pint they buy is poured into three small glasses. That way they can get through as many of the 75 ales as is humanly possible. "It's a wonderful setting," Mike enthuses, sucking on his pipe and looking around the deconsecrated church. "We go to them all. Peter was out of order at Norwich. Drunk as a skunk. A chap started waving his knife at him."

The handful of women delegates at the festival are not impressed by suggestions that beer-drinking is a male preserve. Claire, in her twenties, has been supping ale for five years. Beverley, meanwhile, says she'd hit any bloke who described her as unladylike. The female contingent is noticeably younger than the male equivalent.

This worries the Camra leadership. "YOUTH COME AND JOIN US!" screams the headline from its newspaper's front page. Anxious about its ageing membership, Camra is keen to reinvent itself as a younger, trendier model to rival "sexier" campaign groups.

"We have to attract tomorrow's drinkers today," Michael Hardman, a founder- member of Camra, warns. "We are too middle-aged in outlook. We don't attract the under-25s - they think of us as long-haired, bearded and beer-bellied, and we are not doing enough to fight that image."

John, the publicity officer of the Colchester branch of Camra, plonks down his pint of Crouch Vale Woodham and points to branch organiser Trevor Johnson: "Trev knows all about getting young people involved."

"My son," Johnson proudly declares, "was only 12 days old when he had his first sup of ale from a dummy."


Atmospheric, intimate festival in small, uncrowded hall. The emphasis is on Suffolk micro-beers. Strictly no cider or foreign beer. Live entertainment each evening plus food. Corn Exchange, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Information from Chris Curtis (01842 860063)


Held in large family room, selling 70 independent real ales and ciders. Foreign beers also available. Hot and cold food at all sessions. Leatherhead Leisure Centre, Guildford Rd, Leatherhead. Info from John Norman (01932 824362)


Inaugural event, selling 30 real ales and ciders, also perries. Live entertainment each evening. The Old Corn and Hop Exchange, Lewes Town Hall, Lewes, East Sussex. Info from Pete Coppard (01273 683322)


Features more than 100 real ales in two big bar areas, plus ciders and Belgian beers. Traditional pub games and the inimitable atmosphere of a student union bar only two minutes away from rail and bus stations. Student Union Bar & Gym, Anglia Polytechnic University, Park Rd, Chelmsford. Info from Alan Kuhnell (01245 464130)


More than 75 real beers and ciders plus foreign beers. Camping and real ale make for a great combination. Free bus shuttle 15 minutes before each session from Canterbury bus station. The Cowshed, Merton Farm, Merton Lane, Canterbury, Kent. Info from Gill Knight (01227 463478)


The mother of all fests, featuring largest selection of real ales, ciders and perries under one roof. Last year's celebrity judge, Ray Illingworth no less, was as forthright as ever. "Tastes of old clothes," was one of his informed comments. The profusion of facial hair has provoked the alternative title of Great British Beard Festival. 250,000 pints will be on sale. Grand Hall, Olympia, London W8. Info from Mandi Gilling, Camra Headquarters, St Albans, Herts


More than 100 ales and countless perries and ciders. Considered to be the best festival outside London: the last two years were sell-outs. Three minutes from Portsmouth and Southesea rail stations. Guildhall, Portsmouth. Info from John Maltby (01705 350913)


The best of the family fests with live music every evening and children's entertainment on Saturday. 200 real ales plus traditional cider, perry, fruit wines and continental bottled beers in three massive marquees by the river. The Embankment, Bishops Rd. Info from Harry Morten (home 01733 64296, work 01733 422279)


Although sniffily dismissed by Camra purists for being brewery-led, it is nevertheless the world's largest beer festival. You'll find the biggest beer halls, the largest beer gardens and the most famous breweries in the Bavarian capital, In the mid-19th century, mothers would drink up to seven pints a day while breast-feeding. By 1876, however, the state had encouraged them to cut down to two pints a day. The festival is one of Munich's main selling points; postcards are framed with the message "Munich, the Beer City" and the Bavarian state owns the 4,500-seater Hofbrauhaus. Info from German Tourist Board (0891 600100)


Running for more than 30 years, the Diksmuide takes place over five Saturdays during the autumn. Well known for its friendly atmosphere, the festival is held in a large beer hall only half an hour from Ostend. Special Belgian beer at normal pub prices and, as a special treat, the house Oom Pah band plays all night. Info: for 28 Sept, 5 & 12 Oct from Vriendenkring Stads- en Financienpersoneel, pa Handschoewerker Luc, Hoogleedsesteenwege 154 Bus 1, 8800 Roeselare (00 051 247981). Info: for 19 & 26 Oct, from SV Diksmuide, pa Vindevogel Gerard, Lara Fredericklaan 11. 8600 Dismuide 00 051 500961

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?